Sunday, October 27, 2013

Trust US

Revelations this week that the US may have monitored the phone calls of up to 35 world leaders have been making significant diplomatic waves in American relations with several powerful countries, and prove that the Edward Snowden saga is far from over. This week the German newspaper Der Spiegel published a damning article outlining the evidence for, extent of, and political effects of the NSA’s alleged surveillance program run out of the US embassy in Berlin, with targets including the cell phone of Chancellor Angela Merkel herself since 2002. Outrage is mounting in allies as far afield as Mexico, France, and Germany as citizens question an already unpopular superpower’s intentions.

While surveillance centers operating from within embassies technically enjoy diplomatic immunity for their actions, when they get caught as they have now the backlash is swift and harsh. The United States is already viewed throughout the world as a self-centered bully, willing to push its policies on supposed friends and pressure countries into taking actions they would not normally. The current scandal only serves to augment the image of the US as an irresponsible, overbearing hegemon. That an intelligence agency would secretly listen in on the phone calls of not only the citizens of our allies but their leaders themselves is politically unethical and extremely damaging. Today reports are surfacing that President Obama himself was told of the surveillance of Chancellor Merkel in 2010 and has repeatedly re-approved the program, further damaging US-German relations although he denies the allegations.

The files used by Der Spiegel and other news sources to ascertain the extent and targets of the NSA’s surveillance program were obtained from the files released by Edward Snowden earlier this year. The ongoing political headache of the Snowden chapter was thought to be over after the initial reports of the NSA spying on US citizens blew over. He would remain a thorn in US-Russian relations for the moment, but the primary damage was believed to be done. Merkel’s own chief of staff Ronald Pofalla went so far as to say that the NSA scandal was over in August. Yet as more and more details surface of extensive US surveillance of our allies’ governments, the diplomatic ramifications of the Agency’s actions are only starting to manifest.

In Germany, public opinion is at a boiling point over the scandal, with 58% of Germans saying that the current Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement talks should be put on hold until the issue is resolved. The EU’s session in Brussels this week became largely devoted to tackling other possible ongoing surveillance programs. Twenty-one countries have decided to draft a General Resolution promoting the right of privacy on the Internet and put it before the UN to avoid such situations in the future. US efforts to increase cooperation with Mexico on the drug war are also now in jeopardy as it was revealed that President Enrique Pinedo Nieta’s emails also may have been monitored. The statements of officials echo the same theme over and over: we expected this of states like Russia and China, but not of our friend America. For their part, the Russians could not be happier that their biggest competitor seems to be blundering its way to its own demise.

In the decade since the ill-fated invasion and occupation of Iraq, global opinions about the United States have shown widespread discontentment with the way the world’s only superpower handles its foreign relations. Viewed as alternately brutal, reckless, and irresponsible, the image of the United States has suffered repeated bruising lately on the tails of the government shutdown. The NSA findings only serve to increase the perception of America as an inept and untrustworthy ally. The less stock our longtime partners put in our friendship, the less likely they will be to accede to even mutually beneficial measures such as the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement. Yet if history serves as any guide, the United States does not have great prospects for curtailing its offensive behavior simply because our allies mislike it. If the country does not seriously reassess its intelligence collection and surveillance policies, we may one day find ourselves backed into a corner by a rising power such as China with no more friends to bail us out.

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