• Germany's news in English
 

Attacking Obama 'shows European weakness'

Published: 18 Jun 2013 17:27 GMT+02:00

Morality is the power of the powerless. America may fight wars around the world, pull down dictators, send drones on missions, have the best universities, win Nobel prizes and set the standards in Hollywood and Silicon Valley – but the country is depraved, scrupulous, ego-centric and unilateral. We, in Germany and Europe, in contrast, respect human rights, protect the climate, do not manipulate genetics and give every terrorist a fair trial.

That is - only a little exaggerated – the view here shortly before the first visit of American President Barack Obama in Berlin. Again Germany has armed itself with morals. Obama's domestic policies do not offer much – health reform is underway, immigration reform has overcome important hurdles. And America's foreign policy has become very moderate – withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, relatively stable relations with Russia and China. So another topic must be dusted off – the fight against terrorism – Guantanamo, drones, the power of secret services.

No wonder – America's economy is growing, unemployment is sinking, the country seems to be doing rather well in getting over the international finance and economic crisis. In Europe things are very different – the economy is stagnating, unemployment is high, the euro remains in danger. Demography points to trouble – in a few years the average age of an American will be 36 while that of a European will be 52. The results of this will be lower education spending, but much higher healthcare and pension costs.

He who cannot cope with a direct comparison of societies, and every reason to fear being even less able to cope with that in the future, seeks shelter in a compensatory narrative. America's amorality should balance out Europe's backwardness. The debate over drones and the so-called NSA affair gives two perfect examples.

Drones are the only option

First the drones. Obama wants to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan. He does not feel military intervention is a suitable weapon in the fight against terrorism. Al Qaida has become flexible and mobile. Smaller networks commute between Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Mali, Pakistan and other countries. Those who feel international terrorism is a grave security problem which cannot be combated with police methods alone, but against which classic wars also do not help, almost automatically land at the feet of drones. Because these weapons are becoming increasingly precise, they kill fewer civilians than any other way of waging war.

Three weeks ago Obama announced more restrictive rules for the use of drones. The inarguable results that can be achieved with these weapons must be weighed up against the creation of anti-American feelings among the people in those areas most heavily hit, such as Pakistan. And the Americans know that with these drone deployments, they are taking for themselves a kind of exceptional law for themselves – and which they do not grant other states. Yet it would be absurd if the well-meant slogan "the same rights for all", meant in reality a weakening of democracies in the fight against terrorism.

The second moral theme is the NSA. The talk is of spying, surveillance, Stasi methods. A couple of facts: The information programme which was publicized by the Guardian and the Washington Post, was based on paragraph 215 of the Patriot Act. Members of Congress knew from the beginning – what one knows about it so far was not illegal.

There is nothing new in the NSA case

Central in any case, and what is decidedly underexposed, is the difference between data collection and surveillance. Whether telephone calls, email traffic or communication via social networks: the NSA is only allowed to research who communicated when with who and from where. If that leads to a significant suspicion and endanger national security, the secret service can go to a court – the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court – which can, after weighing up all security and freedom rights, grant permission to look at the content of a communication.

So – the surveillance of private data without a court decision is factually ruled out. According to a US Constitutional Court verdict (Smith vs Maryland from 1979), it is only the content of a telephone call that is protected by a right to privacy – not the location or telephone number called.

While the American passion for collecting such data may be criticised, the Europeans should at least admit that their own secret services do not work so differently in matters of surveillance and spying. It is this that has enabled them (and the NSA) to uncover terrorist cells and stop dozens of attacks. There is no single piece of evidence of abused data.

Secret operations needed to protect open society

The New York Times columnist and three-times Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman defends the secret service operations in their current structures for another reason – exactly because he treasures an open society and wants to keep it that way, efficiency in the fight against terrorism takes a high position in his agenda. "I believe that if there were to be another 9/11 – or worse, an attack with nuclear material – it could lead to the end of an open society as we know it."

So there is no misunderstanding: yes, many questions remain open about the NSA programme. Most should be answered publicly though. And it is right, when Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks with the American President about it. In a democracy the citizens must have an idea of the structures and working methods of the secret services which are there to protect them. And private matters should remain private for at least as long as the private person is not posing a threat to others.

But to see in Obama in particular, someone who spies on peaceful Germans using Stasi methods, borders on defamation, and demonstrate ignorance. If it is correct, that morality is the power of the powerless, this country is obviously in an even worse condition than we thought.

This commentary was published with the kind permission of Cicero, where it originally appeared in German. Translation by The Local.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Germanwings tragedy
Germany learns lessons on pilots’ mental health
Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt (left) and aviation safety task force leader Matthias von Randow. Photo: DPA:

Germany learns lessons on pilots’ mental health

In response to the Germanwings flight tragedy, Minister of Transport Alexander Dobrindt presented plans to strengthen mental health care for pilots while Germanwings announced further compensation for relatives of the flight's victims. READ  

Germany: land of cheap beer and drunkards?
Getting müllered? Football star Thomas Müller enjoys a Mass. Photo: DPA

Germany: land of cheap beer and drunkards?

It's official. If getting drunk on a park bench is your thing, look no further than Germany as an ideal location. A study released on Monday shows it's cheap. And you'll have plenty of company. READ  

Greece crisis
Schäuble: Greece will stay in Euro regardless
People demonstrate in favour of a 'no' vote in Greece's Sunday referendum on Monday night. Photo: DPA

Schäuble: Greece will stay in Euro regardless

UPDATE: Speaking to MPs from his Christian Democratic Union (CDU) on Tuesday, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said that Greece will stay in the eurozone even if the Greek public vote 'no' on July 5th. READ  

Fare-dodging fine jumps from €40 to €60
Photo: DPA.

Fare-dodging fine jumps from €40 to €60

Nationwide fines for people who ride public transit without a proper ticket will increase from €40 to €60 starting on Wednesday in some cities, the first time the penalty has been increased in 12 years. READ  

Far-right attacks on asylum homes soar
A sign reading "stop Nazis" hangs from a lamppost. Photo: DPA

Far-right attacks on asylum homes soar

The number of attacks on asylum seekers' accommodation by violent far-right groups in Germany is on course to double in 2015 after tripling between 2013 and 2014, the Interior Ministry said on Tuesday. READ  

How Germany will deal with the leap second
A scientist works with an atomic clock at the Federal Physics-Technology Institute (PTB) in Braunschweig. Photo: DPA

How Germany will deal with the leap second

Germany's top time scientists are ready to spring into action in the dead of night on Tuesday, inserting an extra second into the clock while everyone else is asleep. READ  

German unemployment hits historic low
Photo: DPA

German unemployment hits historic low

German unemployment remained at historically low levels in June as the recovery in Europe's biggest economy remained on track, data showed on Tuesday. READ  

Greece crisis
Germany's Greeks look anxiously homeward
Antonius Chantzaras in his kiosk. Photo: DPA

Germany's Greeks look anxiously homeward

As crisis engulfs their homeland, members of the Greek community in Germany look anxiously homeward and reflect on how the crisis is already traveling back to Germany. READ  

Women's World Cup
Semi-final clash with US 'like a final'
Germany coach Silvia Neid. Photo: DPA

Semi-final clash with US 'like a final'

Ahead of Tuesday's semi-final clash against the Unites States in the Women's World Cup, Germany coach Silvia Neid warned that her team would not be relinquishing their status as the world's number one team yet. READ  

Germanwings co-pilot buried in silence
A man walks past a makeshift memorial to the Germanwings flight 4U9525 victims in Düsseldorf airport. Photo: DPA

Germanwings co-pilot buried in silence

As the co-pilot who steered Germanwings flight 4U9525 into the French Alps in March was buried on Monday, the authorities prepared to unveil the first steps they will take to improve air safety. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Society
An eye for an eye? Mum protects child in playground with pepperspray
Politics
Follow our LIVE blog as Europe holds breath over Greece crisis
National
As it happened: Queen Elizabeth's final day in Germany
National
As it happened: Queen Elizabeth's second day in Germany
National
Queen Elizabeth II's first day in Germany - as it happened
National
Bus passengers tell fake racists where to get off
Politics
What's really in the Queen's handbag?
National
Germans say USA doesn't respect freedom
National
Yes, you CAN buy adult e-books before 10pm in Germany
VIDEO: Watch a 93-metre turbine crash to earth in slow motion
Gallery
Who's got a shot at the German Film Awards
Rhineland
Anger over 'child-free' beer garden
National
How do you do, Majestät?
National
Man defends right to pee in public with tear gas
Features
The Germans who won Waterloo for the British
Frankfurt
Should Germany ban circus animals?
Hamburg
Where people are having the most sex in Germany
Culture
Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Not this student...
National
Dresden's three-decade-long red light
Politics
Upper house calls for gay marriage now
Berlin
Berlin named 3rd-best city worldwide
Sport
In search of the toughest firefighter
Business & Money
German firms shine for European engineering students
Gallery
Hitler's paintings up for auction
National
German's 70-year search for murdered US pilot
Politics
What the G7 leaders agreed at Elmau
Business & Money
What really makes Germans happy
National
Playmobil builder leaves worldwide legacy
National
The car share that became a drug run
Politics
What Snowden revealed to Germany
Rhineland
Why wolf cubs are being raised by hand
National
Hitler's booze cave found
National
Environment makes Germany worth living in
Culture
What's top of the charts in June
Gallery
Germany's most beautiful cycle routes
Business & Money
The business case for Britain in the EU
Rhineland
Why farmers are free to pong up the countryside
National
German restaurants among world's best
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

6,736
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd