The deeper threat that leakers such as Manning and Snowden pose is more subtle than a direct assault on U.S. national security: they undermine Washington’s ability to act hypocritically and get away with it. Their danger lies not in the new information that they reveal but in the documented confirmation they provide of what the United States is actually doing and why. When these deeds turn out to clash with the government’s public rhetoric, as they so often do, it becomes harder for U.S. allies to overlook Washington’s covert behavior and easier for U.S. adversaries to justify their own.
Few U.S. officials think of their ability to act hypocritically as a key strategic resource. Indeed, one of the reasons American hypocrisy is so effective is that it stems from sincerity: most U.S. politicians do not recognize just how two-faced their country is. Yet as the United States finds itself less able to deny the gaps between its actions and its words, it will face increasingly difficult choices -- and may ultimately be compelled to start practicing what it preaches.
I was struck by one small oddity in the article:
Of course, the United States has gotten away with hypocrisy for some time now. It has long preached the virtues of nuclear nonproliferation, for example, and has coerced some states into abandoning their atomic ambitions. At the same time, it tacitly accepted Israel’s nuclearization and, in 2004, signed a formal deal affirming India’s right to civilian nuclear energy despite its having flouted the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty by acquiring nuclear weapons…
No disagreement there, but it seems to me the authors left out an even more glaring example of US nuclear hypocrisy: our own possession of thousands of nuclear weapons and simultaneous insistence that most other nations must forego such weapons.
I was also struck by the similarity of the authors' views and those of my black ops soldier, Ben Treven. In Fault Line, Treven puts it like this:
The Iranian enemies Hort was referring to were the Israelis. In fact, while he was in Istanbul, Ben had been eating food brought directly from Israel. If the op went sideways and he was killed, or if he was captured and used the cyanide pill he was carrying, there would be an autopsy, his stomach contents analyzed. Best for things to point in the direction of Israel. JSOC had laid down a few other false clues, as well, nothing too heavy-handed. Not a very nice trick to play on a friend, but the Israelis were realists and would understand. Anyway, what could Russia really do to Israel that it wasn’t doing already? Sell arms to Damascus? Deliver nuclear fuel to Tehran? And what could Iran do? Back Hezbollah? Blow up another Argentine synagogue? Yeah, one thing the Israelis had going for them was clarity. Their enemies couldn’t hate them more than they already did. Ben wished the U.S. could be equally clear-eyed. What did Caesar say? Oderint dum metuant. Let them hate us, so long as they fear us...
He thought about hate. America was hated overseas, true, but was pretty well understood, too. In fact, he thought foreigners understood Americans better than Americans understood themselves. Americans thought of themselves as a benevolent, peace-loving people. But benevolent, peace-loving peoples don’t cross oceans to new continents, exterminate the natives, expel the other foreign powers, conquer sovereign territory, win world wars, and less than two centuries after their birth stand astride the planet. The benevolent peace-lovers were the ones all that shit happened to.
It was the combination of the gentle self-image and the brutal truth that made Americans so dangerous. Because if you aggressed against such a people, who could see themselves only as innocent, the embodiment of all that was good in the world, they would react not just with anger, but with Old Testament-style moral wrath. Anyone depraved enough to attack such angels forfeited claims to adjudication, proportionality, even elemental mercy itself.
Yeah, foreigners hated that American hypocrisy. That was okay, as long as they also feared it. Oderint dum metuant.