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Tom Engelhardt: Edward Snowden vs. Robert Seldon Lady Shows How Our One-Superpower World Works

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Yves here. Tom Engelhardt’s latest piece discusses how, as he puts it in his setup:

Retired CIA agent Robert Seldon Lady, convicted in absentia in Italy for a rendition/kidnapping operation, is picked up in Panama on an Interpol warrant, hits the news for a day, and then is allowed to fly back to the U.S. where he disappears — and despite the Edward Snowden case, the Washington media doesn’t even blink.

Astonishingly, not only did this story come and go with remarkable speed, but there has been nada in the way of follow-up. Until now, where Engelhardt’s piece delves into how and why Lady has been disappeared in order to escape from justice in Italy.

By Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear, as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050. Cross posted from TomDispatch, which you can follow on on Twitter or join on Facebook or Tumblr

He came and he went: that was the joke that circulated in 1979 when 70-year-old former Vice President Nelson Rockefeller had a heart attack and died in his Manhattan townhouse in the presence of his evening-gown-clad 25-year-old assistant.  In a sense, the same might be said of retired CIA operative Robert Seldon Lady.

Recently, Lady proved a one-day wonder. After years in absentia — poof! — he reappeared out of nowhere on the border between Panama and Costa Rica, and made the news when Panamanian officials took him into custody on an Interpol warrant.  The CIA’s station chief in Milan back in 2003, he had achieved brief notoriety for overseeing a la dolce vita version of extraordinary rendition as part of Washington’s Global War on Terror.  His colleagues kidnapped Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, a radical Muslim cleric and terror suspect, off the streets of Milan, and rendered him via U.S. airbases in Italy and Germany to the torture chambers of Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt. Lady evidently rode shotgun on that transfer.

His Agency associates proved to be the crew that couldn’t spook straight.  They left behind such a traceable trail of five-star-hotel and restaurant bills, charges on false credit cards, and unencrypted cell phone calls that the Italian government tracked them down, identified them, and charged 23 of them, Lady included, with kidnapping.

Lady fled Italy, leaving behind a multimillion-dollar villa near Turin meant for his retirement.  (It was later confiscated and sold to make restitution payments to Nasr.)  Convicted in absentia in 2009, Lady received a nine-year sentence (later reduced to six).  He had by then essentially vanished after admitting to an Italian newspaper, “Of course it was an illegal operation. But that’s our job. We’re at war against terrorism.”

Last week, the Panamanians picked him up.  It was the real world equivalent of a magician’s trick.  He was nowhere, then suddenly in custody and in the news, and then — poof again! — he wasn’t.  Just 24 hours after the retired CIA official found himself under lock and key, he was flown out of Panama, evidently under the protection of Washington, and in mid-air, heading back to the United States, vanished a second time.

State Department spokesperson Marie Harf told reporters on July 19th, “It’s my understanding that he is in fact either en route or back in the United States.”  So there he was, possibly in mid-air heading for the homeland and, as far as we know, as far as reporting goes, nothing more.  Consider it the CIA version of a miracle.  Instead of landing, he just evaporated.

And that was that.  Not another news story here in the U.S.; no further information from government spokespeople on what happened to him, or why the administration decided to extricate him from Panama and protect him from Italian justice.  Nor, as far as I can tell, were there any further questions from the media.  When TomDispatch inquired of the State Department, all it got was this bit of stonewallese: “We understand that a U.S citizen was detained by Panamanian authorities, and that Panamanian immigration officials expelled him from Panama on July 19.  Panama’s actions are consistent with its rights to determine whether to admit or expel non-citizens from its territory.”

In other words, he came and he went.

Edward Snowden: The Opposite of a Magician’s Trick

When Lady was first detained, there was a little flurry of news stories and a little frisson of tension.  Would a retired CIA agent convicted of a serious crime involving kidnapping and torture be extradited to Italy to serve his sentence?  But that tension had no chance to build because (as anyone might have predicted) luck was a Lady that week.

After all, the country that took him into custody on that Interpol warrant was a genuine rarity in a changing Latin America.  It was still an ally of the United States, which had once built a canal across its territory, controlled its politics for years, and in 1989 sent in the U.S. military to forcefully sort out those politics once again.  Italy wanted Lady back and evidently requested that Panama hand him over (though the countries had no extradition treaty).  But could anyone be surprised by what happened or by the role Washington clearly played in settling Lady’s fate?  If you had paid any attention to the global pressure Washington was exerting in an “international manhunt” to get Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower it had already charged under the draconian Espionage Act, back to its shores, you knew which direction Robert Seldon Lady would be heading when he hit the nearest plane out of Panama — and I don’t mean Italy.

But here was the curious thing: when Panama sent him north, not east, there wasn’t the slightest ripple of U.S. media curiosity about the act or what lay behind it.  Lady simply disappeared.  While the Italian minister of justice “deeply regretted” Panama’s decision, there was not, as far as I can tell, a single editorial, outraged or otherwise, anywhere in this country questioning the Obama administration’s decision not to allow a convicted criminal to be brought to justice in the courts of a democratic ally or even praising Washington’s role in protecting him.  And we’re not talking about a media with no interest in trials in Italy.  Who doesn’t remember the wall-to-wall coverage of the murder trial (and retrial) of American student Amanda Knox there?  For the American media, however, Lady clearly lacked Knox’s sex appeal (nor would he make millions off a future account of his Italian sojourn).

In this same period, there was, of course, another man who almost magically disappeared.  In a transit area of Moscow’s international airport, Edward Snowden discovered that the U.S. government had deprived him of his passport and was determined to bring him back to Washington by just about any means to stand trial.  That included forcing the plane of Bolivian President Evo Morales, returning from Moscow, to make an unscheduled landing in Austria and be searched for Snowden.

The NSA whistleblower was trapped in a kind of no-man’s-land by an Obama administration demanding that the Russians turn him over or face the consequences.  After which, for days, he disappeared from sight.  In his case, unlike Lady’s, however, Washington never stopped talking about him and the media never stopped speculating on his fate.  It hasn’t yet.

He’s only appeared in public once since his “disappearance” — at a press conference at that airport with human rights activists from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.  The U.S. government promptly deplored and denounced the event as something Moscow “facilitated” or “orchestrated,” a “propaganda platform,” and a State Department spokesperson even suggested that Snowden, not yet convicted of anything, shouldn’t have the right to express himself in Moscow or anywhere else.

The truth is: when it comes to Snowden, official Washington can’t shut up.  Congressional figures have denounced him as a “traitor” or a “defector.”  The world has repeatedly been lectured from the bully pulpit in our national capital on how necessary his return and trial is to freedom, justice, and global peace.  Snowden, it seems, represents the opposite of a magician’s trick.  He can’t disappear even when he wants to.  Washington won’t let him, not now, not — as officials have made clear — ever.  It’s a matter of morality that he faces the law and pays the (already preordained) price for his “crime.”  This, in today’s Washington, is what passes for a self-evident truth.

The Lady Vanishes

It’s no less a self-evident truth in Washington that Robert Seldon Lady must be protected from the long (Italian) arm of the law, that he is a patriot who did his duty, that it is the job of the U.S. government to keep him safe and never allow him to be prosecuted, just as it is the job of that government to protect, not prosecute, CIA torturers who took part in George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror.

So there are two men, both of whom, Washington is convinced, must be brought in: one to face “justice,” one to escape it.  And all of this is a given, nothing that needs to be explained or justified to anyone anywhere, not even by a Constitutional law professor president.  (Of course, if someone had been accused of kidnapping and rendering an American Christian fundamentalist preacher and terror suspect off the streets of Milan to Moscow or Tehran or Beijing, it would no less self-evidently be a different matter.)

Don’t make the mistake, however, of comparing Washington’s positions on Snowden and Lady and labeling the Obama administration’s words and actions “hypocrisy.”  There’s no hypocrisy involved.  This is simply the living definition of what it means to exist in a one-superpower world for the first time in history.  For Washington, the essential rule of thumb goes something like this: we do what we want; we get to say what we want about what we do; and U.N. ambassadorial nominee Samantha Powers then gets to lecture the world on human rights and oppression.

This version of how it all works is so much the norm in Washington that few there are likely to see any contradiction at all between the Obama administration’s approaches to Snowden and Lady, nor evidently does the Washington media.  Its particular blind spots, when it comes to Washington’s actions, remain striking — as when the U.S. effectively downed the Bolivian president and his plane.  Although it was an act of seemingly self-evident illegality, there was no serious reporting, no digging when it came to the behind-the-scenes acts of the U.S. government, which clearly pressured four or five European governments (one of which may have been Italy) to collude in the act.  Nor, weeks later, has there been any follow-up by the Washington media.  In other words, an act unique in recent history, which left European powers disgruntled and left much of Latin America up in arms, has disappeared without explanation, analysis, punditry, or editorial comment here.  Undoubtedly, given the lack of substantial coverage, few Americans even know it happened.

The lucky Mr. Lady’s story has followed a similar trajectory.  Having vanished in mid-air, he has managed so far not to reappear anywhere in the U.S. press.  What followed was no further news, editorial silence, and utter indifference to an act of protection that might otherwise have seemed to define illegality on an international level.  There was no talk in the media, in Congress, or anywhere else about the U.S. handing over a convicted criminal to Italy, just about how the Russians must return a man Washington considers a criminal to justice.

This, then, is our world: a single megapower has, since September 2001, been in a financing and construction frenzy to create the first global surveillance state; its torturers run free; its kidnappers serve time at liberty in this country and are rescued if they venture abroad; and its whistleblowers — those who would let the rest of us know what “our” government is doing in our name — are pilloried.  And so it goes.

All of it adds up to a way of life and the everyday tradecraft of a one-superpower world.  Too bad Alfred Hitchcock isn’t around to remake some of his old classics.  Imagine what a thriller The Lady Vanishes would be today.

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62 comments

  1. richard bittner

    Any question regarding the continued domestic employment of the dragnet PRISM spy program has been rendered moot by the disclosure of it’s existence.Realistically, the continued use of the PRISM spy program has only one remaining target…namely US.

    1. Dikaios Logos

      I get why the NC twitter feed wanted to highlight this comment-people are vulnerable. But to me this gets people looking in almost exactly the wrong direction. I would be VERY surprised if the PRISM program wasn’t THEM and their vulnerabilities.

      Who do I mean by THEM? I mean the vast majority of people in the U.S. with wealth of at least $100 million and their many, many sychophants, serfs, etc. that depend on those plutocrats for protecting their way of life. The fact is that many of those ultra-rich and their servants face serious financial and political risks from prospect of certain foreign governments collapsing. As time has gone by and the financial system in the U.S. has come close to failure (and it might still fail) those risks have become more acute.

      The past 5 years of politics in the U.S. have largely convinced me that Americans, the electorate anyway, mostly don’t have a clue about their vulnerabilities to the current order in power. In contrast, if you talk with someone in say an Islamic country or China or India or Brazil, people are much closer to understanding how they have been abused and by whom. My guess is the first-line fear of American plutocrats is from change in those countries, not the U.S. And that the whole GWOT is largely about installing an apparatus to thwart those changes in other countries.

      1. Nathanael

        Well, that might be the purpose, but that would fail spectacularly, just like the Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Yemen wars have failed. You just can’t control the world that way, it doesn’t work.

  2. Ruben

    There is a price to pay though for all this bullying and disrespect for law and civility. A position of power is all the more stable when this position is respected. The loss of respect is serious damage to that position, and O’s administration has lost all respect it once had (or was given the benefit of doubt to have) among informed world citizens.

    The other thing to consider is that the USA has been a single world super power for just 25 years. Eroding its prestige at this rate plus its economic woes may mean a somewhat short predominance, compared to other periods of time of great State systems dominating over large herds of humans.

    1. nonclassical

      ..bushbama administration “respect”??=this from long, long ago-deal bushbama had with bushitters to NOT do accountability for war crimes; exposed by Wikileaks:

      http://jonathanturley.org/2010/12/02/wikileaks-obama-administration-secretly-worked-to-prevent-prosecution-of-war-crimes-by-the-bush-administration/

      http://readersupportednews.org/off-site-news-section/368-wikileaks/4410-wikileaks-how-obama-protected-the-bush-administration

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/31/obama-justice-department-immunity-bush-cia-torturer

  3. David Mills

    Just another example of the “presstitute” media and empire. Snowden must have something really good that hasn’t been released, he’ll need it. The assurance that AG Holder gave the Russians also seems to be largely absent from the MSM. Irony is so undervalued.

  4. Sam Davis

    The war on terror is a big lie. This is an interesting story, that rests completely on what the reader needs to take for granted, that spook work was being done to get an evil islam guy off the street, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr. What a load of crap.

      1. Screwball

        I was told by someone to watch “Enemy of the State” because it resembled the NSA stuff now. Amazon instant video removed it and it hasn’t shown up since. What’s up with that?

        1. Ames Gilbert

          The only versions available are mediocre quality DVDs; this includes the offering from Amazon for $15. So, look on eBay, where you can get the same quality for 99 cents plus minimal shipping.

  5. jdw

    It’s literally omerta. It’s inevitable at some point we’ll get to read in the New York Times “According to a high-ranking state department official, ‘snitches get stitches.”

    1. Jagger

      Remember William Shirer’s book on the rise of Hitler in the 30s? I remember one description of a short trip by Shirer to surrounding countries and his comments on the significant difference in newspaper accounts of current events. Shirer felt the German press accounts were divorced from reality and creating an alternative reality which helped control the german populace as needed to suit the purposes of the Hitler government. Sounds too much like today for my comfort.

      1. Nathanael

        One of the few differences is that the Internet exists now. And the Internet *cannot* be controlled the way the press was in the 30s. (China has been trying. It is failing.)

  6. charles sereno

    Funny piece. I’m breaking silence because I looked up an earlier comment and enjoyed my own jokes:
    charles sereno says:
    July 18, 2013 at 8:54 pm
    Breaking News: The AP has just reported a story about Mr. Lady (sorry, suppressing guffaw). The facts that seem secure are that Mr. Lady (arrgh) is 59 years old, a former CIA station chief in Milan, presently vacationing in Central America. It seems a Panamanian border guard activated an alarm when Lady attempted to ‘crossover’ from Costa Rica. Latest reports are that Panama officials are ‘straightening out’ this awkward situation. (Mr. Lady is at large from an Italian court which has convicted ‘him’ for ‘rendition’ activities) Speaking on condition of anonymity, a high Italian official has confirmed that an Alitalia Leonardo Flapper aircraft is on standby to transport Mr. Lady back to Italy to serve his sentence. Undoubtedly, there will be further developments to this story.

  7. geoswirlie

    Well sure, the legal contradictions are unspeakable and incomprehensible here inside the hermit kingdom. But in the civilized world they’re fully appreciated. To moi the question is, how did Lady get picked up and promptly PiNGed when he did? It happened at quite an awkward time, when the USG was braying extra-sanctimoniously about ‘justice,’ and it happened, as Engelhart points out, in one of the USG’s most abject satellites. It was a multilateral soft-power coup that pushed a berserk US government way out past the pale.

    All the most hopeful and constructive stuff is seeping in here from abroad: capacity-building, cultural exchange, elite suasion and acculturation. When the wheels fall off this criminal state, the US population will be the last to know.

    1. nonclassical

      …in another media contradiction, “when the wheels fall off”, it will be known as another DEpression..

  8. Eureka Springs

    While downing presidential planes over Europe and rescuing convicted torturers from Panama, Eric Holder says without a hint of irony to Russia “We will not torture or murder Snowden.”

    This is why I never find time to read fiction anymore. And why Lambert may have brilliantly summed up what we the people should do in one word – Delegitimization – a year or so ago.

  9. Jackrabbit

    First a clarification.

    I believe that I read that Lady was ‘expelled’ from Panama before Italy could file for extradition.

    1. nomoresoup

      thanks for putting up this link -read this a couple of days ago and was suprised that it was the only MSM covering the event…very illuminating

  10. Jackrabbit

    The media has not been completely silent. This July 27th McClatchy story: U.S. allowed Italian kidnap prosecution to shield higher-ups, ex-CIA officer says is very relevent and very interesting.

    Confirming for the first time that she worked undercover for the CIA in Milan when the operation took place, Sabrina De Sousa provided new details about the “extraordinary rendition” that led to the only criminal prosecution stemming from the secret Bush administration rendition and detention program launched after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

    1. Old Hickory

      Maybe it’s because I live in Hicksville, but the only time I see any stories from McClatchy is when they’re linked from a blog like this one. In other words, that story might not as well exist if it’s not picked up by NYT, CNN, etc. Am I correct?

      1. Jackrabbit

        McClatchy seems to be more independent than most MSM, and proud of it.

        They are not everywhere – 29 cities.

        1. Lambert Strether

          McClatchy was Knight-Ridder, who alone got it right on Iraq. Let us pray to The God(ess)(e)(s) Of Our Choice, If Any, that the Koch Brothers don’t buy them.

        2. nonclassical

          ..McClatchey rumored to be in the “sights” of the infamous Rupert Murdoch media empire…

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      Part of the problem is there is little in the way of any kind of media among traditional/cable sources in the U.S. The Wall Street Journal use to be a good newspaper despite being very pro-Republican, so its not merely the absence of a liberal media but any kind of media.

      What we have is closer to the anti-Federalist/pro-Federalist papers which mostly printed lies or truths about the sex lives of our notable citizens. They print tawdry details on their own or rely on the basic red/blue team good/bad narrative or print the equivalent of press releases.

      Even worse than this is the NYT which sees itself as a dignified arbiter between the two teams. The NYT sat on the warrant-less wiretapping story for fear of changing people’s minds before an election in 2004.

      I don’t think the Wall Street Journal* would have sat on that story in 1996 or 1984 despite their pro-Republican sentiment. Genuine news media would have broken the story regardless of their views, but we don’t have anything beyond a stenographers class. Part of the reason the Teabaggers get their message out is simply their Senators and elected say what they think, and the “media” does write about it.

      *I’m open to listening to counter-arguments.

      1. nonclassical

        *Wall $treet journal editorial page nearly completely Mussolini facist at this point-now owned by infamous Rupert Murdoch media…

    2. John Jones

      Say someone set up a liberal media channel, newspaper, website etc. Or just a media that just does its job properly and shows the whole truth etc.

      Do you think it would be allowed to survive or will it and its owners get pulled down one way or the other?

  11. Larry Barber

    Wouldn’t it be wonderfully ironic if someone were to arrange for Mr. Lady’s “extraordinary rendition” to Italy?

    Can you imagine the depth of the hypocrisy and double standards emanating from Washington were that to occur?

    1. steelhead23

      Funny thought that – but if one really wished to do such a thing he had better bring an army. I would bet a month’s pay that Mr. Lady is very well protected – at least until the plastic surgery is healed.

  12. p78

    http://rt.com/usa/nsa-leak-snowden-live-updates-482/

    “Saturday, July 27
    17:00 GMT: The Russian Ministry of Justice [...] also replied to US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul’s earlier tweet that the US was not seeking Snowden’s extradition, but was instead asking for his return.
    The ministry explained that it could not comply with such a request, simply because the term “forced return” does not exist in international law.
    “As a rule, the term ‘return’ in Russian law and practice is applied to voluntary entry of individuals from abroad into the country whose citizens they are,” the ministry said.”

    1. Ms G

      Hang on. The Ambassador is communicating with the Russian state by *tweeting* — about *Snowden*?!

  13. MaroonBulldog

    Can you save America by destroying what it stands for? The War on Terror destroys what American stands for, or used to: “a government of laws, and not of men” and quaint-sounding notions like that.

    The MSM fully understands and respects the new imperative, which is this: The commander-in-chief and all who obey his orders must be absolved from the law; those who expose their crimes must be prosecuted for exposing state secrets, for of course, state crimes must be kept secret.

    1. nonclassical

      …Nixonian…or more to the recent point, Bushit…”Project For A New American Century”=neocon manifest destiny…

    2. ambrit

      We are all so “Late Roman Empire” here. The end is in sight, economic collapse bought on by internal corruption. Only, todays ‘barbarians’ are really quite sophisticated chaps.

  14. serf out of control

    Unfortuntately, American will remain the world’s sole superpower for many years to come; and it’s scary to admit, but America may not yet even be in decline. Rome at it’s zenith still had ememies – it could never quite get a strong foothold in Persia, which is akin to America’s position with Russia. Rome turned from a republic in what, 44 BC, and the height of Roman power (pax romana) lasted from (27 BC to 180 AD), when arguably, one could argue that the Roman Empire was in decline from the moment Caesar was killed; but the empire lasted through Nero and Caligua and even with these inept rulers (aka Bush II,Obama, and 2016′s Hillary or Jeb), the American power it still strong, and you never know, 2000 years from now, historians may say the zenith of American superpower status may not be until 2115, because no one knows what the future holds. Sure, most of american citizens (whatever that means anymore) will be serfs and slaves to their corporate overlords, with every move watched and monitored, and death camps, in the middle of the Nevada desert, but our worldwide influence, with no real competitors for superpower status, may still be on the rise.

    Sure, American as a society is falling apart, and we’re all turning into serfs

    1. ambrit

      Dear fellow serf;
      I would propose that a socio-political version of “Moores Law” is at play. As things speed up in the real world, (the Romans didn’t have printing even,) the arcs of historical progress become shorter and shorter.
      My two bucks about it. (Inflation, you know.)

  15. backspace

    Unfortuntately, American will remain the world’s sole superpower for many years to come; and it’s scary to admit, but America may not yet even be in decline. Rome at it’s zenith still had ememies – it could never quite get a strong foothold in Persia, which is akin to America’s position with Russia. Rome turned from a republic in what, 44 BC, and the height of Roman power (pax romana) lasted from (27 BC to 180 AD), when arguably, one could argue that the Roman Empire was in decline from the moment Caesar was killed; but the empire lasted through Nero and Caligua and even with these inept rulers (aka Bush II,Obama, and 2016′s Hillary or Jeb), the American power it still strong, and you never know, 2000 years from now, historians may say the zenith of American superpower status may not be until 2115, because no one knows what the future holds. Sure, most of american citizens (whatever that means anymore) will be serfs and slaves to their corporate overlords, with every move watched and monitored, and death camps, in the middle of the Nevada desert, but our worldwide influence, with no real competitors for superpower status, may still be on the rise .

    Sure, American as a society is falling apart, and we’re all turning into serfs

    1. Waking Up

      If we in part define “superpower” as who hoards the weapons, has the largest military presence, and acts as the ‘worlds police’, perhaps the United States will continue to be a “superpower”. I think it’s more likely the few thousand wealthiest people in the world will globalize the planet and the United States will be at the epicenter as a “superpower” as far as representing their interests. The vast majority of citizens in the United States will not have any more power than the people in the poorest countries. Most people around the world will be poor and exist to make the wealthy even wealthier.

      If you need an example of the effect of this transition, stop to think about the fact that more people are dying from suicide than from car accidents now. While both types of “death from injury” are unacceptable, this speaks volumes about our country.

      Will the people of the world stop the madness?

    2. Ames Gilbert

      I have to disagree with your timeline. The cycle of rise and fall is happening much faster now, IMO. The ROI on the energy (literal, financial and psychological) is now negative, that is, it is costing more to maintain the empire than it gets back. And, the ‘sole superpower’ status is an illusion, maintained solely by the dominance of the dollar and the infinite printing press. This illusion will vanish with the inevitable fall of the dollar as a reserve currency, and with it the privilege of taxing the rest of the world as tribute for that use (for example, the payment includes the cost of military bases all over the world). Because the whole system is so much more complex and fragile than the Roman empire, any of thousands of weak points exist that can bring the whole edifice down, and rather quickly.

      1. Roland

        Empires have always been about negative returns. That’s what empires make happen. The only thing an empire does is decline and collapse.

        Despite negative EROEI, I think the American empire can last a long time. Here’s why I think that way:

        1. The living standards of many of the world’s people can still be substantially repressed. Merely in the central provinces of the American Empire, there are many millions of people whose living standards can easily be driven downward, resulting in more energy being made available for the benefit of the imperial ruling class. I expect the imperial ruling class to advocate a quasi-religious approach to environmental matters, in order to render this transition more endurable to their subjects.

        2. Thanks to modern developments in information and communications technology, political surveillance and repression has never been so cheap and so easy. Internal dissent will be easier to quell than was the case in most other empires in history. Elaboration is unnecessary. One word: Snowden.

        3. Thanks to modern developments in military technology, the American Empire will be able to maintain global dominance at a relatively lower cost than most other empires in history. For example, while critics of the American Empire like to portray the Afghan War as a costly fiasco, what is really most striking to a keen student of military history is just how very cheap and easy it was for the Americans to project their military power into a landlocked, mountainous region located in the opposite hemisphere, and to maintain it there indefinitely. Personnel losses for the empire have been negligeable, while the financial cost of the war has been so minor that it has not affected either taxation or inflation rates within the empire.

        I guess the “wild card” is whether any of the non-American elites in the world attempt to curtail the empire. I regard this as unlikely. First of all foreign elites, even in Russia or China, share many of the values of the American elite, and seem willing to accept American hegemony in exchange for a cut of the action and some token courtesies. Second, even if they wanted to challenge American hegemony, militarily it might already be too late, and in any case the would-be challengers have worse even economic and ecological vulnerabilities than the incumbent.

        This is not to say that the American Empire won’t collapse. Of course it will collapse. Collapsing is what empires do. It’s the only thing they’re good for.

        My point is that it’s probably not going to happen quickly. A very large number of people are going to get hurt before the Empire finally whimpers to its end. Many beautiful things will be lost in the process.

        Western Civilization has many faults, and perhaps to meet its end in the wreckage of the dismal American Empire is the fate it deserves. But being an Occidental myself, I can’t help but think it’s a bit of a shame. It should never have come to this.

        1. Nathanael

          “1. The living standards of many of the world’s people can still be substantially repressed. Merely in the central provinces of the American Empire, there are many millions of people whose living standards can easily be driven downward, resulting in more energy being made available for the benefit of the imperial ruling class. I expect the imperial ruling class to advocate a quasi-religious approach to environmental matters, in order to render this transition more endurable to their subjects.”

          I believe this is a wrong analysis. There really aren’t that many people left to repress or steal from. The ruling class is now going after the rest of the top 1%, having already looted much of the top 20% and nearly all of the bottom 80%.

          This is going to shrink the ruling class to an unsustainably small size.

        2. Nathanael

          “2. Thanks to modern developments in information and communications technology, political surveillance and repression has never been so cheap and so easy. Internal dissent will be easier to quell than was the case in most other empires in history. Elaboration is unnecessary. One word: Snowden.”

          Wrong again, for subtle reasons — the same reason the Stasi collapsed the moment the Red Army pulled out.

          Snowden has won. The NSA spying is utterly useless for suppressing a true mass movement. It can suppress a minority movement or blackmail Congressmen or businessmen, but it is totally useless when the mass of people are truly angry. To deal with that, you need bread and circuses, and our elites are just unwilling to provide them…

        3. Nathanael

          “3. Thanks to modern developments in military technology, the American Empire will be able to maintain global dominance at a relatively lower cost than most other empires in history. For example, while critics of the American Empire like to portray the Afghan War as a costly fiasco, what is really most striking to a keen student of military history is just how very cheap and easy it was for the Americans to project their military power into a landlocked, mountainous region located in the opposite hemisphere, and to maintain it there indefinitely. Personnel losses for the empire have been negligeable, while the financial cost of the war has been so minor that it has not affected either taxation or inflation rates within the empire.”

          And wrong again. The Roman Empire was equally good at marching around in the “barbarian lands”, but when they started being completely unable to *hold* that territory, it eventually doomed them. Personnel losses among the legions were low. It didn’t matter; eventually the *legions* started overthrowing the Emperors.

          Regarding the economic comments, the financial cost of the wars is bleeding through in a very visible manner in the current infrastructure deficit in the US. Guns or butter. It wouldn’t show up as inflation or taxation given the fiat state of the monetary system and the deliberate decision to keep the country in recession. This has *also* been seen in ancient times…

          …. it’s a recipe for internal revolutions. Not that they necessarily make things better, but when people are fed up enough…

    3. Nathanael

      Things go faster these days due (at the most basic) to faster communications. (This is played out in a number of different ways including faster technological change and faster political organization and faster social change and faster ecological change.)

      The American Empire will fall much, much, much faster than the Roman Empire.

      It took hundreds of years for the Roman Empire to fall, so it might take decades for the American empire.

  16. steelhead23

    By freeing him from justice, Lady’s handlers have ensured his loyalty. That man ain’t never coming in from the cold. Never. He’s a made man.

    1. William C

      It is all in Thucydides – in international relations the strong do what they want and the weak have to put up with it.

      In the end, very little has really changed.

      1. Emma

        I’m with Georg Simmel – It’s really about the power of secrecy. It’s the ultimate form of control in society, and coupled with the money, buys silence made-to-measure.

  17. ChrisPacific

    This is only hypocritical if you accept the premise that US law and Italian law ought to be respected equally.

    I don’t think the US has ever believed this (about Italy or any other foreign country). However for most of its history it has found it expedient to pretend that it did. That no longer seems to be the case, starting with Bush, who was always quite explicit that the security of the US came before any diplomatic or legal cross-border obligations. (After which, naturally, everything became a security matter). Obama has made occasional efforts to go back to pretending, but is clearly not trying very hard at it (as the handling of the Snowden case illustrates).

    1. Ms G

      Good point, but it goes further than the US (government) disrespecting other countries’ laws.

      BHO’s reign to date has made it pretty clear that the US (government) does not believe that the laws of the United States (Constitution, Bill of Rights, various and sundry criminal, regulatory, property, etc.) are legitimate, except insofar as they serve to bolster the elite’s iron hold on what used to be our sort-of democracy (for a few decades).

  18. high

    idk if you dont understand chain of command or you think russia has better human rights. either way you just hate america and are looking for whatever you can to complain about.

  19. Nathanael

    This article would be better if Robert Seldon Lady’s face were published, so that anyone who might happen to see this wanted criminal on their streets could arrest him and sent him to Italy to stand trial where he belongs.

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