Buyer’s re­morse in Europe

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

Pres­i­dent Obama of­fered a half­grovel last week when he asked Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel to for­give him for the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency’s tap on her cell­phone. What he didn’t of­fer was an ad­mis­sion of wrong­do­ing or au­then­tic con­tri­tion. He merely in­voked the Sgt. Schultz de­fense: He “knew noth­ing, ab­so­lutely noth­ing” about what his spooks were up to.

No pres­i­dent can af­ford to sound like the bum­bling guard in the Ger­man pris­oner-of-war camp in the pop­u­lar 1960s sit­com “Ho­gan’s He­roes.” But to hear him tell it, Barack Obama never knows what’s go­ing on in his ad­min­is­tra­tion, whether about Beng­hazi, the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s Fast and Fu­ri­ous gun­run­ning scheme, IRS abuse of con­ser­va­tive groups, or the health care roll­out that was clearly not ready for prime time. He has made the United States the punch line for jokes around the world.

Ei­ther Mr. Obama didn’t know that U.S. gov­ern­ment agen­cies have been snoop­ing on dozens of world lead­ers, in­clud­ing Mrs. Merkel, or he’s not be­ing straight with our al­lies and the Amer­i­can pub­lic. Nei­ther is ac­cept­able.

The con­cept of plau­si­ble de­ni­a­bil­ity is be­ing stretched to its lim­its. The Ger­man news­pa­per Bild am Son­ntag re­ported Sun­day that Mr. Obama was told of the tap on Mrs. Merkel’s tele­phone in 2010 by Gen. Keith Alexan­der, the chief of the NSA. Mr. Obama “not only did not stop the op­er­a­tion, but he also or­dered it to con­tinue,” an uniden­ti­fied, but high-rank­ing NSA of­fi­cial was quoted as say­ing. The Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency dis­puted the re­port.

Mrs. Merkel was not pla­cated by the apol­ogy. She is send­ing Ger­man in­tel­li­gence chiefs to Wash­ing­ton this week to con­front the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. “We need trust among al­lies and part­ners,” Frau Merkel told re­porters in Brus­sels. “Such trust now has to be built anew.” The Ger­man chan­cel­lor will have to get in line. Other heads of state, among them French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande, are equally in­censed by th­ese rev­e­la­tions of Ed­ward Snow­den. Brazil­ian Pres­i­dent Vilma Rouss­eff de­clined to at­tend a White House state din­ner in Wash­ing­ton last week be­cause her tele­phone and email ac­counts were com­pro­mised.

Dick Cheney, the for­mer vice pres­i­dent, was asked by ABC News on Sun­day about wan­ing U.S. in­flu­ence in the Mid­dle East, and what he said also could ap­ply to Mr. Obama’s other for­eign poli­cies. “Our friends no longer count on us, no longer trust us, and our ad­ver­saries don’t fear us,” said Mr. Cheney. “That was the cor­ner­stone and the ba­sis of the U.S. abil­ity and in­flu­ence.”

This furor con­trasts sharply with the rock-star re­cep­tion Mr. Obama re­ceived in Ber­lin in July 2008, when he as­sured swoon­ing Euro­peans that he would re­pair re­la­tions strained by Mr. Cheney’s boss, Ge­orge W. Bush. “The walls be­tween old al­lies on ei­ther side of the At­lantic can­not stand,” Mr. Obama said, speak­ing not far from the place where the Ber­lin Wall di­vided the city for nearly three decades. Euro­peans, like Amer­i­cans vot­ers, are pained now with buyer’s re­morse.

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