This is the season when a number of internationally prominent media outlets select a “Person of the Year.”
—TIME did better than usual this year with its selection of Pope Francis, one of the most interesting religious leaders of our day.
—The Guardian, Huffington Post, and the Washington Post’s “The Switch” blog all chose Edward Snowden, whose disclosure of documents related to National Security Agency eavesdropping activities has rocked much of the world.
–The Washington Post’s “World View” blog chose Russian President Vladimir Putin. (With all due respect to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, we think that Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping should have received this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for their governments’ use of international law and international organizations like the United Nations Security Council to constrain an outlaw superpower—the United States. But that’s another matter.)
While these are all worthy choices, as 2013 draws to a close we want to offer our own selection for “Person of the Year.” Our pick is…Glenn Greenwald, who had the courage to take on a personally risky battle with the American national security state by reporting on and writing about the Snowden documents, enabling them to have their extraordinary impact.
We have long admired Glenn’s work as a columnist and author. As we wrote in April 2013 (before the Snowden story broke), when we posted a podcastinterview about our book, Going to Tehran, that Glenn did with us for The Guardian, “We admire Glenn deeply for all he has done and continues to do to bring reality and principle back into America’s ongoing debates about national security and about civil liberties…If our children inherit a republic still even marginally worthy of the name, it will be, in no small part, because enough people were motivated by Glenn to demand that American elites stop eviscerating our country’s international position through a counter-productive quest for imperial dominance, and stop shredding the Constitution in pursuit of an illusory notion of ‘security.’”
But Glenn’s reporting and commentary on the Snowden documents took Glenn’s contributions to a new level. As we wrote to him directly in June 2013, after the Snowden story broke, “As two former U.S. government officials who once swore to defend the Constitution, we simply want to say thank you—for it is increasingly difficult to discern that Constitution in the way our government operates.”
Internationally and in the United States, the Snowden revelations have prompted a more fundamental debate about the nature of the American state and its role in the world than we’ve seen before. We do not know how far the consequences of this debate will extend—but there already are some consequences.
–European governments (with, undoubtedly, no small measure of hypocrisy) are beginning to question publicly their long-standing intelligence cooperation with the United States—not because these governments have suddenly decided to have truly independent foreign policies, but because the outrage among European publics over Snowden’s revelations is so great.
–In the United States, we suspect that the Snowden revelations have contributed to President Obama’s plummeting poll numbers. More significantly, it is doubtful that, absent the Snowden revelations, the American public would have reacted so decisively against Obama’s call for U.S. military strikes in Syria following the use of chemical weapons there in August 2013. This episode is important—for it underscored that, after strategically failed military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, the United States cannot now credibly threaten the effective use of force for hegemonic purposes in the Middle East. And that has potentially profound ramifications for American policy toward the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Just a few days ago, a Federal judge appointed by President George W. Bush declared from the bench that the NSA wiretapping programs disclosed by Snowden are probably unconstitutional. This statement is far from the last legal word on the subject—but it is notable all the same. See here and here to watch interviews that Glenn Greenwald gave (to BBC Newsnight and Al Jazeera America, respectively) about it.
–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett