• 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
Greece crisis
Berlin's tough line splits European public opinion
Angela Merkel and Alexis Tsipras. File Photo: DPA

Berlin's tough line splits European public opinion

A study released on Tuesday shows that Germany's firm stance on Greek reforms has split European public opinion. But of all the main parties to the negotiations Berlin still fared best in the polling. READ  

Woman tries to take pony abroad in a car boot
Photo: DPA

Woman tries to take pony abroad in a car boot

A woman from Lower Saxony was stopped by police on Tuesday – for trying to carry a Shetland Pony out of the country in the boot of her Fiat Panda. READ  

Hamburg bunker blast and fire injure 38
Photo: DPA

Hamburg bunker blast and fire injure 38

UPDATE: A fire and explosion in a World War II-era bunker injured at least 38 people in Hamburg on Tuesday morning. READ  

Local list
Germany's top refreshing summer drinks
Photo: DPA

Germany's top refreshing summer drinks

Just like countries all over Europe, there's no shortage of multinational cola and other global thirst quenchers to be had in German shops. But what do you sip when you want a little local flavour? Read on to find out... READ  

Forest tragedy as best man kills groom-to-be
File photo: DPA

Forest tragedy as best man kills groom-to-be

A family outing turned into tragedy on Monday, when a best man in Thuringia accidentally killed the groom-to-be just days before his wedding. READ  

Slash CO2 emissions to save oceans: scientists
A humpback whale breaching. Photo: Wwelles14/Wikimedia Commons

Slash CO2 emissions to save oceans: scientists

German scientists said on Monday that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions must begin falling immediately if mankind is to have any hope of preserving Earth's oceans as we know them today. READ  

Weekend heatwave to follow Tuesday showers
Sun shining through an apple tree in Düsseldorf. Photo: DPA

Weekend heatwave to follow Tuesday showers

Germany can expect a cooler Tuesday with heavy showers in the west of the country before returning to high summer conditions over the weekend, the German Weather service said. READ  

Merkel's office hunted journalists' sources
Photo: DPA

Merkel's office hunted journalists' sources

The scandal around an investigation into journalists reporting on classified information deepened on Tuesday as new information showed that officials from the Chancellery and the Interior Ministry tried to uncover reporters' sources. READ  

'Hot Boy from Germany' wins Vietnam Idol
Image: Fremantle Media/YouTube

'Hot Boy from Germany' wins Vietnam Idol

A 22-year-old from Hanover has become the latest winner of Vietnam Idol – bagging $27,000 along with his new title. READ  

Man promises to stop coffin naps in public
If you want to rest in place while you're still alive, a car park isn't the place place to choose. Photo: DPA

Man promises to stop coffin naps in public

When a man walking his dog alerted police to the fact that a black coffin was lying in the middle of a public parking place, the cops were surprised to find someone inside. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Business & Money
Start-up helps new Berliners short cut bureaucracy
National
The 1,000s of Germans massacred after the Second World War
Sport
Germany star scores own goal with PR gaffe
Features
'Women-only' parking: sensible or sexist?
Politics
Satire and reality blur in parody party's strife
National
13-year-old boy detained for trying to join Isis
Culture
Berlin restaurant serves up Greek Crisis Menu
Rhineland
Doctor on trial after woman wakes in morgue
Society
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Sponsored Article
Outsourcing drives Apreel's Europe growth
Society
Police bust kinky Bavarian couple over painful love-making
Politics
Merkel brings Palestinian girl to tears
Hamburg
Amateur archaeologist finds Nazi gold hoard
National
Could Merkel learn a lesson in love from this doppelganger?
Travel
Why you should stay in Germany for the summer holidays
Sport
German press tell Schweinsteiger 'good riddance'
National
Hamburg gets a bouncing 100kg baby girl
Society
In North Germany, money sometimes DOES grow on trees
National
Hero mechanics stop Bavaria shooting spree
International
Denmark says that border controls are coming
National
Did hackers take control of German missile battery?
Politics
Munich gives gay pride green light
Business & Money
Berlin rent controls hit prices hard
National
Fighting to breastfeed in public without shame
Society
Ice cream for dogs 'gobbled up in one gulp'
Education
Are hotpants a feminist issue?
Rhineland
Lion cub reunited with mother
National
How the heatwave is cracking Germany's Autobahns
International
Why the French are more sympathetic to Greece than the Germans
Sponsored Article
Crans-Montana: International expat hub
Gallery
Police seize pensioner's WW2 heavy weapons haul
National
How to survive the Europe-wide heatwave
Sport
Is Schweini already out of the door at Bayern?
Politics
How German media shaped the Greece crisis
National
Car assembly robot crushes worker at Volkswagen
Rhineland
Weathermen red-faced over heatwave snow warning
Society
An eye for an eye? Mum protects child in playground with pepperspray
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
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

7,097
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd