Not even a week ago, President Obama was at the Berlin Wall vowing to scale back the U.S. arsenal in good faith that Moscow would follow suit in “negotiated cuts.”
Before that, Obama was meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping in Palm Springs for a bilateral sit-down that he confidently branded as a positive step forward in U.S.-China relations.
Buoyed by NSA leaker Edward Snowden’s revelations of U.S. intelligence activities and after reportedly milking the hard drives of four laptops he carried into his Hong Kong hotel, the Chinese government defied a Washington extradition request and let Snowden leave the former British territory.
Once safely at the airport in Moscow, his U.S. passport revoked, Snowden had cover from Russia as he obtained financial and legal assistance from WikiLeaks and petitioned Ecuador for asylum.
Even if the Ecuador claim is intended to throw pursuers off his trail, any number of countries less than friendly with the Obama administration may be lining up to give the former NSA contractor safe haven. Considering Snowden was charged under the Espionage Act, there are enough political loopholes in extradition treaties to ensure the administration will have a hard time getting him back.
And considering these disastrous turns for a president who declared first-term success in improving America’s image across the globe while resetting relations with old foes, America’s superpower image has taken a super hit with these Snowden snubs.
“We understand that he departed Hong Kong yesterday and that he arrived in Russia. Beyond that, I would refer you with regards to his whereabouts to Russian authorities,” a testy Jay Carney told reporters at the White House briefing today.
“I would say that we are, obviously, in conversations, and that we are working with them or discussing with them and — or rather, expecting them to look at the options available to them to expel Mr. Snowden back to the United States to face justice for the crimes with which he is charged,” Carney continued.
On Hong Kong, Carney gave a lengthy explanation of contacts the U.S. had with the special administrative region of China regarding the provisional arrest request.
“On June 17th, Hong Kong authorities acknowledged receipt of our request. Despite repeated inquiries, Hong Kong authorities did not respond with any request for additional documents or information, stating only that the matter was under review and refusing to elaborate. On June 21, Hong Kong authorities requested additional information concerning the U.S. charges and evidence. The U.S. had been in communication about these inquiries and we were in the process of responding to the request when we learned that Hong Kong authorities have allowed the fugitive to leave Hong Kong,” the press secretary said.
“We are just not buying that this was a technical decision by a Hong Kong immigration official. This was a deliberate choice by the government to release a fugitive, despite a valid arrest warrant. And that decision unquestionably has a negative impact on the U.S.-China relationship.”
Give past capitulations, the main question hanging in the air was what standing the U.S. has to express said displeasure with China and Russia in any meaningful way. Carney had “no presidential communications to report out,” indicating Obama had not intervened with his counterparts at the presidential level.
“But, obviously, we are communicating with our counterparts at the appropriate levels,” Carney added.
When pressed repeatedly for more information about what the U.S. has done and what actions it might be willing to take — would the U.S. force a plane carrying Snowden to land? — Carney referred back to his prepared statements about Washington’s outrage.