• Germany edition
 
Attacking Obama 'shows European weakness'
Photo: DPA

Attacking Obama 'shows European weakness'

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

German outrage at the US President has peaked as Barack Obama is due in Berlin. But accusing him of Stasi methods over the surveillance scandal borders on defamation, argues Malte Lehming in political magazine Cicero.

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)

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Cheap flights get pricier as airlines expand
Lufthansa's daughter company Germanwings is one of the faster-growing budget airlines in Germany. Photo: DPA

Cheap flights get pricier as airlines expand

Budget airlines are expanding their range of routes from Germany but ticket prices are climbing along with them, a report from the German Aeronautics Centre (DLR) revealed on Thursday. READ () »

Ecclestone lawyers: Bribes never happened
Bernie Ecclestone with his lawyers in a Munich court on Thursday morning. Photo: DPA

Ecclestone lawyers: Bribes never happened

UPDATE: Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone went on trial in Germany on Thursday, denying charges of bribery that threaten to land the British billionaire in jail. READ () »

Minister praises Erasmus 'success story'
Photo: DPA

Minister praises Erasmus 'success story'

A revamped version of European student exchange programme Erasmus officially launched in Berlin on Thursday with Germany's education minister praising the scheme as a Europe-wide “success story”. READ () »

Turkey tourists lose call to prayer refund bid
Photo: DPA

Turkey tourists lose call to prayer refund bid

A German couple has lost their legal fight to get a refund for a Turkish holiday which they said was ruined by the calls to prayer from a nearby mosque. It is just one of a series of court claims by picky German tourists. READ () »

Germany halts arms sales to Russia
Russian troops surround a Ukrainian base in Crimea. Photo: DPA

Germany halts arms sales to Russia

Germany has stopped selling arms to Russia due to the current “political situation”, according to reports on Thursday. The sale of military equipment to Russia by German firms has been criticized by the country’s Nato allies. READ () »

Truck kills man lying in middle of road
Photo: DPA

Truck kills man lying in middle of road

Police were searching for witnesses on Wednesday morning following a mysterious road accident in which a 25-year-old man was killed as he lay in the middle of the road. READ () »

Where are Germany's smartest towns?
Germany's cleverest town. Photo: DPA

Where are Germany's smartest towns?

A brain training website released scores on Wednesday showing which German towns performed best and worst in a range of cognitive tests - with some surprising results. READ () »

April wraps up with stormy week ahead
Lightning over Lake Starnberg, in Bavaria. Photo: DPA

April wraps up with stormy week ahead

The end of April is looking stormy for Germany with hot and cold air mixing and making for wild spring weather over the coming few days, state forecasters DWD said on Wednesday. READ () »

Germany sold €40 million of arms to Russia
Russian troops pictured in March in Crimea. Photo: DPA

Germany sold €40 million of arms to Russia

Germany arms sales to Russia have come under fire following the crisis in Ukraine. In 2012 Germany sold €40 million worth of rifles, pistols and armoured vehicles to the country. READ () »

Munich to get 'Tetris cube' hotel
Photo: Nieto Sobejano Architects, Berlin

Munich to get 'Tetris cube' hotel

Munich's old city centre is to receive an ultra modern addition to its skyline in the shape of a new hotel dubbed 'the Tetris cube'. READ () »

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Photo: DPA
National
Girls find live ammunition in Easter bonfire
Photo: Facebook/screenshot
Berlin
Germany's most viral advert for an apartment?
Gallery
11 things you need to know about German beer
Photo: DPA
Politics
Interview with AfD - 'If Britain goes, Europe is lost'
Photo: DPA
National
Police damage own water cannon with eggs
Photo: DPA
National
Let us start work later after World Cup nights, unions says
Photo: DPA
Society
Crystal meth use hits record level
Photo: DPA
Rhineland
Elderly man taped €200,000 to his genitals
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
What's the unemployment rate in your area of Germany?
Photo: Galerie Bilderwelt
Gallery
World War I in colour photos
Photo: DPA
Society
JobTalk: Why you should teach English in Germany
Photo: DPA
National
330,000 sign up against TV licence fee
Advertisement:
Photo: Submitted
Frankfurt
'I'll get even with my old pal Schwarzenegger'
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Ten great inventions you (probably) didn't know were German
Photo: J. Arthur White
Berlin
Clashes in Berlin as refugees tear down their own camp
Photo: DPA
Gallery
The 10 best German employers to work for
CurrencyFair
Sponsored Article
Why it pays to avoid banks when making overseas transfers
Mr. Lodge
Sponsored Article
How to find a furnished rental in Munich
Sponsored Article
How to make a lasting impression in business
Hult International Business School
Sponsored Article
What they don't teach you at Business School
Photo: DPA
Society
Nine jobs you can only do in Germany
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
Photo: DPA
Features
The Local List Archive - Your guide to all things German
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

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

3,077
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd