Glenn Greenwald is a former blogger at Salon.com and currently a columnist on civil liberties and U.S. national security issues for the Guardian. His political orientation embraces a brand of “anti-imperialism” — common within the UK far-left — informed by a palpable loathing of America, a nation characterized as a dangerous force in the world. Greenwald’s anti-Americanism is so intense that he once compared the U.S. overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq to the Nazi conquest of Europe.
As is the case with many Guardian-brand commentators, Greenwald’s anti-imperialist ideological package includes a strong hostility to Israel, and a corresponding belief in the injurious influence of organized U.S. Jewry on American foreign policy in the Middle East. Indeed, Greenwald has not infrequently advanced explicitly antisemitic narratives, darkly warning of the Israel lobby’s total “stranglehold” on American policy which, he’s argued, represents a control over political debate in the U.S. so complete that it’s even eroded free speech protections afforded by the U.S. Constitution. Greenwald claims that the “real goal” of the Israel lobby is to ensure “suffocating control” on U.S. foreign policy, so that Americans aren’t even allowed to debate their country’s “indescribably self-destructive, blind support for Israeli action.”
Greenwald also often imputes the darkest, most ignoble motives to his political opponents, once, for instance, accusing conservative Jewish columnist Charles Krauthammer of possessing a “psychopathic indifference to the slaughter of innocent people in pursuit of shadowy, unstated political goals.”
Understanding Greenwald’s imputations of bad faith and conspiratorial (often bigoted) narratives is vital in contextualizing the story which he broke at the Guardian last week about the NSA collection of phone records of Verizon users, and allegations that big tech companies granted the government access to private user information via an operation called PRISM. While significant allegations included in Greenwald’s “scoop” — such as the claim that the NSA had attained “direct access” to company servers, and the casual suggestion that the NSA has been acting illegally — don’t seem to hold up to critical scrutiny, he has also engaged in characteristically risible hyperbole in attempting to frame the issues. During a recent CNN interview, he argued thusly:
There is a massive apparatus within the United States government that with complete secrecy has been building this enormous structure that has only one goal. … And that is to destroy privacy and anonymity not just in the United States but around the world.
Issues raised by the Guardian story, such as how best to balance U.S. national security while protecting the privacy of American citizens, are, of course, open to debate. However, Greenwald — who has championed the cause of Bradley Manning, labeling him a “hero” who “deserves a medal and our collective gratitude” — is not someone the media should be taking seriously to initiate such an important national discussion.
As the always lucid Walter Russell Mead has argued, it’s important to maintain our sobriety, and understand that while there are no perfect solutions to the vexing national security problems of our day, the “airing of the issues within America’s open and deliberative democratic process” should ensure a result which protects Americans from the dangerous threat of global jihad while also defending against “unreasonable searches and seizures.”
While Americans can, of course, reasonably be concerned with the level of government snooping on the internet and social media, the Guardian columnist’s hysterical suggestion that the U.S. is malevolently conspiring to “destroy privacy and anonymity” is informed by the same conspiratorial sensibilities which inspire his frequent scare rhetoric warning of a furtive attempt by organized American Jewry to stifle debate and hijack U.S. policy.
Anti-Americans and antisemites share a similar tendency to find convenient, simplistic “root causes”; tend to subscribe to deeply skewed ideas about how the world works”; and, by failing to rationally interpret complex political events, lack the cognitive tools necessary to reflectively diagnose often maddeningly complicated political phenomena.
Whatever subsequent revelations may emerge about surveillance techniques employed by U.S. security agencies, those warning that the NSA data-collection program represents the existence of a master plan to subvert freedom around the world are drawing from a conspiratorial tradition within American politics which is as politically toxic as it is intellectually unserious.