The US government, in order to renormalize its dealings with its allies, needs to make a high-profile symbolic gesture that the intrusive unilateral surveillance practices of the NSA, abetted by US high tech companies, have been reined in. Once this ugly transition has been navigated, the US can reclaim the moral high ground and return to strongarming foreign countries to cooperate with the NSA (and buy American high tech products which now look pretty tainted) under the new, Snowden-approved regime.
Many of the mass-collection programs Mr. Snowden exposed would work just as well if they were reduced in scope and brought under strict outside oversight, as the presidential panel recommended.
The real question is, What is the US going to do about it? What is Fred Kaplan going to do about it?
[After posting this, it occurred to me that perhaps the Kaplan strategy is simply to unfurl the banner of defiance and stick to the line that the problem wasn't Snowden's revelations but the fact that Snowden revealed them. If so, the appearance of the New York Times editorial and the realization that the foreign policy and media elites were not standing shoulder-to-shoulder would have been a nasty knock. CH, 1/4/14]
I don't think Edward Snowden is going to get clemency. But I think it's interesting that the NYT, perhaps working with some people inside the Obama administration, decided to float this trial balloon. And I'm still struck by the emotions that this case continues to arouse.