• Germany's news in English
 
Attacking Obama 'shows European weakness'
Photo: DPA

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
Ethics Council rejects assisted suicide law
Photo: DPA

Ethics Council rejects assisted suicide law

The German Ethics Council said the law should not be changed to permit assisted suicide in a paper published on Friday. READ  

Abandoned themepark needs 14m says Berlin
Swan Lake. An abandoned ride in the Spreewald pleasure park. Photo: DPA

Abandoned themepark needs 14m says Berlin

The iconic ruined themepark in the centre of Berlin - a long-time favourite of hipster adventurers - needs a clean-up costing at least 14 million euros, the Berlin government has revealed. READ  

Police nab Nuremberg station bomb hoaxer
File photo of Nuremberg main station: Shutterstock

Police nab Nuremberg station bomb hoaxer

Officers in Nuremberg arrested a man on Thursday evening after he called in a false bomb threat against the main train station READ  

Opinion
Angela, David...and Nigel
So near...and yet so far Photo: DPA

Angela, David...and Nigel

The rise of UKIP broke up what had been a good 2014 for Cameron and Merkel. READ  

'Dr Death' corpse museum gets go-ahead
Dr Gunther von Hagens. Photo: DPA

'Dr Death' corpse museum gets go-ahead

A Berlin court has said that infamous human taxidermist Gunther von Hagens can open a museum in the capital - over objections from local officials. READ  

Presented by Phorms Education
Phorms bilingual schools boast top-notch tech
Photo: Phorms Education

Phorms bilingual schools boast top-notch tech

As parents fret over children’s internet habits, a network of bilingual schools in Germany shows that putting computers in the classroom from an early age yields positive results. READ  

Networks scramble to patch mobile security
Chancellor Angela Merkel has herself been the victim of phone hacking. Photo: DPA

Networks scramble to patch mobile security

IT experts led by Berlin-based Karsten Nohl said on Thursday they had discovered security flaws in the mobile phone networks that would allow attackers to read users' messages. READ  

Turkish 'spies' arrested at Frankfurt airport
Photo: DPA

Turkish 'spies' arrested at Frankfurt airport

Three men suspected of being Turkish agents have been arrested by police, federal prosecutors said on Thursday. READ  

Tax take jumps 7.3 percent in November
Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble is having an excellent month. Photo: DPA

Tax take jumps 7.3 percent in November

Germany collected 7.3 percent more in tax in November 2014 than the same month last year thanks to the strengthening economy, the Finance Ministry said in its monthly report on Thursday, while pollsters found rising consumer confidence. READ  

Ramelow bunks off his first Bundesrat sitting
Bodo Ramelow looking low on energy at a sitting of the Thuringia state parliament. Photo: DPA

Ramelow bunks off his first Bundesrat sitting

Controversial new Thuringia minister-president Bodo Ramelow of the Left (Linke) party missed his first session of Germany's second house of parliament, the Bundesrat, to go on holiday with his family. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Willy Brandt at his inauguration in 1972. Photo: DPA
National
Willy Brandt: the man, the chancellor... the airport?
Dresden skyline and river by night. Photo: DPA
Politics
What does Dresden have against Muslims?
Sponsored Article
Why are these International Baccalaureate students cheering?
Germany's national football team lifts the World Cup trophy
Gallery
Germany's most-Googled words of 2014
National
Why has The Local got a new logo?
Photo: DPA
National
This German was abducted and tortured by the CIA
Culture
10 top tips for partying in Germany
Sponsored Article
Top ten gifts for an expat Christmas
Photo: DPA
Technology
What does the Chancellor see as the future of the internet?
Photo: DPA
Culture
Stuff your face with these festive German cookies
Photo: DPA
Culture
What do beer, breakfast cereal and dildos have in common?
Culture
The Local's guide to German Christmas markets
Sponsored Article
Top five quirky Christmas jumpers
Photo: DPA
Culture
Get ready for Christmas like a German. We tell you how.
Photo: DPA
Munich
She did what with her dead mother?
Photo: DPA
National
Germany still paying for crisis fall out
Photo: DPA
Culture
Saxon wurst is the worst, Christmas market declares.
Photo: DPA
Politics
Can 'sorry' ever be enough for the Linke?
Sponsored Article
Shop Christmas gifts at Debenhams international store
Photo: DPA
Berlin
The Local's series on 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall
Shutterstock
Sponsored Article
Offer: Unlimited airmiles through December 19th
Photo: DPA
Gallery
See how Berlin has changed in 22 photos
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
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

3,185
jobs available
The Local Spain is hiring!
The Local is seeking a new editor for our site in Spain to join our growing team of internationally-minded, driven, ambitious and clued-up journalists.
Details and how to apply
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd