The flight of Edward Snowden is also a political journey. It tells as much about the condition of the world as the condition of America. The more international borders Snowden gets across, the more the moral boundaries lapse. His escape helpers are no heroes, but instead remain the authoritarian figures that they always were.

Edward Snowden is traveling around the world in search of what is known in his home country as a “safe haven.” It is a flight from U.S. searchers, but also a political journey that tells as much about the condition of the world as it does about the condition of America.

However the journey of former National Security Agency (NSA) assistant Snowden might end, the U.S. doesn’t look good as the self-appointed leader of the free world. Apparently a global alliance has formed to rescue a whistle-blower from Washington’s merciless prosecutors. The more international borders Snowden gets across, the more the moral boundaries lapse. Snowden as a hero? The U.S. as the villain? Vladimir Putin as the good shepherd?

To begin with Snowden: Morally, the 30-year-old is in the best position among all involved parties. He may have violated criminal law, but this wrong could be squared by the informational service that he provided. Like all whistle-blowers, he may be driven by vanity, but there is much in favor of seeing him as a hero in spite of his weaknesses and contradictions. He made it possible for the U.S. public to see more clearly.

For now, Snowden is different from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Both are united by a correct insight: The government knows too much about its citizens, the citizens too little about their government. Assange, however, is under suspicion of alleged sexual offenses and refuses to cooperate with investigators. Those who reveal secrets must at times break laws; they may not lay claim to immunity their whole lives.

Snowden’s flight helpers, at any rate, are no heroes, but instead remain the authoritarian figures that they always were. It was a political decision of the half-democratic Russian government and the not-at-all democratic Chinese government to let him pass. Both nations are not interested in constitutionality and transparency, but instead in having their own dissidents under control. Arresting Snowden would have led to unnecessary unrest.

In addition, of course, there is enormous malicious pleasure. The U.S. has just recently made a declaration to the Chinese that one should tolerate dissidents and not hack U.S. computers. Now the Americans are hunting for a dissident who, incidentally, revealed how deeply U.S. spies are hacking into Chinese computers. Russia’s President Putin also has quite a few outstanding accounts to settle with the Americans. Beijing and Moscow are united by the dislike of Washington putting forward standards that it does not hold itself to.

A further copycat is Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa: He bullies critical media at home but plays the friend of transparency when he offers asylum to Assange and perhaps also Snowden. This reveals his convictions only so far as he finds the U.S. arrogant and wants to make it look a little bit like the fool.