Anyone heard from Edward Snowden recently?

Probably not. What we have heard about is the Syrian conflict, complete with the typical media coverage depicting all the badness that accompanies Middle-Eastern dictators and tyrants.

I've heard about Obama cancelling some trip to California so he can stay and lobby for war, while congressmen argue for and against intervention. Since Tuesday afternoon, I've been hearing about a tense agreement with Russia to see if we can get rid of the chemical weapons peacefully.

Don't get me wrong – the conflict in Syria is devastatingly important. Corpses of civilians are found daily in Syria, women and children are sexually mutilated, and whole families silently die from Sarin gas. I'm glad we're having a conversation about how we can help stop the slaughter — the lives of millions of victims and refugees are pleading for peace.

But man, has this war silenced the dissent.

Google Trends, which shows how often different terms are searched through the online search wizard, shows some hard evidence of the silence. Queries for 'Snowden' consistently outnumbered 'Syria' from the moment he was revealed until Obama said "bomb." Since then, the whistleblower has effectively disappeared from Google searches.

I don't want to fail to communicate the eeriness here. The White House first "confirmed" that Assad used chemical weapons almost three full months ago, on June 14. This revelation was in the midst of the NSA scandal, however, and hardly made national news.

Now the opposite is happening. On Sunday, the Guardian released documents revealing that all commercial-grade passwords, firewalls and encryption methods are useless against KEYSCORE, the agency's Internet spying program. This leak also revealed that the NSA is spying on corporations in addition to individuals.

Just yesterday, documents Snowden provided to Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian revealed that the NSA "routinely" shares Americans' data with Israel.

These are egregious privacy violations, moving the NSA out of national defense claims into international espionage. Regardless, the conversation about these abuses has stalled.

After all, there's a war going on.

John F. Kennedy pointed out during his presidency that crisis is a two-pronged idea. He noted, "When written in Chinese, the word 'crisis' is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity."

For the White House, this crisis represents an excellent opportunity. This debate is a way to escape the dissent arising over the failure of the White House to explain or respond to the privacy abuses of the NSA. It changes the conversation from "impeach Obama" to "bomb Syria."

Why is the conversation happening now? Heck, we confirmed the chemical weapons three months ago, and have known about them for almost a year. We knew that Assad's regime was murdering protesters and raping women by the thousands before the war even started.

But now the red line has been so conveniently crossed, and now it's time for America to do what America does best – join together like fingers in a stupid, blind fist so we can pummel the Middle East one more time.

What's the point of having nice, shiny, $1.5 million Tomahawk missiles if you can't shoot them at 'terrorists' every now and then?

Thinking of this war with Syria as a distraction also helps make sense of why Obama would make such a politically unwise move. Republicans nearly always disagree with Obama's policies, but the President has also alienated the Democratic core, which elected him on a platform of peace in the Middle East.

It's a lose-lose situation, politically. So why do it?

The reality is that the White House would only really lose if we kept thinking about the NSA.

This distraction explains why a President who has repeatedly argued for peace transformed into an adamant war hawk; why we suddenly threaten to take action on information we've had for months; why we're suddenly so concerned with a conflict that has raged for nearly two years and taken more than 100,000 lives.

Surely it's a matter of compassion, and ego, and money and international justice. But it's also a very convenient way to get the American people to stop focusing on the flaws in our own government.

And it's working very well.

Evan Ford is a junior in philosophy. He can be reached at eford6@utk.edu.