Back in 2008, then-Senator Obama gave a speech in Berlin to around 200,000 raving and adoring Germans. The Germans, in this case effectively representing generic Europeans, saw the young senator as the fully polar opposite of everything that Europe had come to dislike about America (read: George W. Bush) in the years before then.
At the time, the contrast between Obama and Bush could not have been starker: Obama was running on a platform with, among other things, a distinctly globalist perspective on foreign policy that was nothing short of a full-throated rebuke of “The Bush Doctrine” and “the surveillance state.” Above all else in this, Senator Obama promised a fervent commitment to governmental transparency.
Fast-forward to today, and President Obama would unfortunately no longer be met in Berlin with a fanatical legion of supporters; if anything, he’d be liable to be egged. However, this change of attitude is only partially due to the revelations concerning the dragnet NSA domestic surveillance programs – Bush Administration programs that Obama quietly continued.
Indeed, modern-day Berliners have a much more personal gripe with the American President: information leaked by Edward Snowden (which is of course an unfortunately illegitimate source of international news, but the cat is out of the bag nonetheless) has revealed that the US has been bugging the offices and embassies of European Union nations in New York City and Washington, DC.
This means we weren’t just spying on our “friends” – we were spying on surely many NATO military allies. Now to be fair: friend or foe, everyone spies on everyone. But that unspoken acknowledgment is exactly that: unspoken! Here in the US, we aren’t supposed to know about how the British or Israelis are spying on us; even in lack of public evidence we can assume it is happening, but the important thing is that most people are content with that so long as it isn’t actually known.
To be frank, and regardless of the fact that the information came from an illegal leaker, Obama (the buck has to stop with him on this one) got caught with his hand in the cookie jar and the only thing he has to say is…We all do it! Responding to international outrage, Obama said:
“We should stipulate that every intelligence service – not just ours, but every European intelligence service, every Asian intelligence service, wherever there’s an intelligence service – here’s one thing that they’re going to be doing: they’re going to be trying to understand the world better and what’s going on in world capitals around the world…”
The President is of course right about that, but the fact remains that, as the international community will see it, Big Brother US is spying on its closest Western allies, and that will almost certainly (once again) breed anti-American sentiment among the European people. The irony is that despite responding publicly with shock and surprise, the chance that Merkel, Hollande, and others were genuinely unaware that any amount of spying was occurring is next to nil. Simply put, they won’t lose trust in Obama because he was spying on them; they will lose trust in Obama because he got caught.
However, the problem here is not just that America got caught spying on allies – it’s that Obama got caught spying on allies. Frankly, you cannot configure your platform to be antithetical to exactly this sort of subterfuge and then indulge in it when in office. This shift cannot be explained away by some sort of dramatic change in the need for international intelligence or even by Obama having matured in the realities of being president. Those sweeping speeches, those resolute condemnations of secrecy and surveillance; it was all just pandering to popular anti-Bush opinion. I will not criticize the president for policies that I support simply because he is in a weak position, but on personal terms I will now confidently say this: Obama the Man is a hypocrite.