Lindsey Graham: Maybe we should boycott the Olympics if Russia grants asylum to Snowden

I thought the Snowden saga had become as much of a freak show as it could be. I was wrong.

You know Graham’s too far into the deep end of the pool when even McCain’s calling him back to the shallow side.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the U.S. should consider boycotting the 2014 Olympics Russia is set to host if Moscow grants NSA leaker Edward Snowden asylum.

“I would. I would just send the Russians the most unequivocal signal I could send them,” Graham said Tuesday when asked about the possibility of a boycott.

“It might help, because what they’re doing is outrageous,” Graham added. “We certainly haven’t reset our relationship with Russia in a positive way. At the end of the day, if they grant this guy asylum it’s a breach of the rule of law as we know it and is a slap in the face to the United States.”…

“There’s many things we can do, but I think the experience of cancelling the Olympics the last time around wasn’t very good,” McCain said.

Game this out for me. How does “U.S. boycotts Olympics” lead to “Putin caves, deports Snowden to Washington”? It’s the underpants-gnome theory of sports diplomacy, except it’s not just ineffective but actually counterproductive. Imagine how much Putin would relish watching the U.S., which lectures Russia endlessly (and correctly) about rights abuses, throw an Olympic-sized tantrum over his decision to shelter a guy who’s selling himself as a champion of international civil liberties. (I can also imagine the Kremlin press conference. “Russia will not bow to fascism,” says The Leader with a smirk.) Beyond that, how much public support would there possibly be for this? Half the public — or more than half, per some polls — is sympathetic to Snowden as a whistleblower. The rest may be unhappy with his leaking, but depriving them of the chance to see the U.S. hockey team beat Russia isn’t going to move the needle further. Graham’s foreign policy is, I thought, based on the idea of “peace through strength,” with “strength” usually a byword for “intervention.” Would you perceive the U.S. as showing strength if we decided to protest asylum for Snowden by refusing to send a curling team to Sochi?

This isn’t really diplomacy Graham’s offering, it’s spite. If you’re going to be spiteful, at least be sure that the target of your spite will be damaged by it. As it is, not only would Putin get a kick out of this, I think, but Snowden would too. His fans seem to view him as a combination of Jefferson Smith and Jesus, a creature driven purely by the civic good, but basically everything he’s leaked since the original FISA/PRISM stuff has been aimed not at vindicating Americans’ civil liberties but at embarrassing the U.S. government and damaging its relations with allies. He had the stones to say of fascist anti-American regimes like Venezuela that offered him asylum for propaganda reasons, “By refusing to compromise their principles in the face of intimidation, they have earned the respect of the world.” (At least one such fascist regime has learned an important lesson from Snowden’s leaking: Clamp down even tighter on the Internet.) His de facto spokesman, Glenn Greenwald, issues a new thinly veiled threat every few days about how much damage Snowden can do to U.S. national security if he decides to, in case you were unclear on that the first eight thousand times. And as Joshua Foust pointed out today on Twitter, it appears that Snowden is sharing dangerous U.S. secrets with newspapers and simply trusting them not to publish the information rather than redacting the information himself before leaking. A key passage from Spiegel’s report on NSA spying on Germany:

SPIEGEL has decided not to publish details it has seen about secret operations that could endanger the lives of NSA workers. Nor is it publishing the related internal code words. However, this does not apply to information about the general surveillance of communications. They don’t endanger any human lives — they simply describe a system whose dimensions go beyond the imaginable. This kind of global debate is actually precisely what Snowden intended and what motivated his breach of secrecy. “The public needs to decide whether these policies are right or wrong,” he says.

Given all that, how unhappy do you think Snowden himself would be to see the U.S. throw a tantrum and pull out of the Olympics? All it’ll do is raise diplomatic tensions further, annoy the American public, and highlight the feds’ near total impotence in bringing him home to stand trial. It would be a total propaganda victory. Leave it to Lindsey Graham, who thinks intervening in Syria is something we should have done ages ago, to embrace this especially goofy form of “sanctions.”

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Jazz Shaw 5:31 PM on February 04, 2023