PRESIDENT Obama’s visit to Germany last week exposed a disagreement between the U.S. and its historically strong ally.
Revelations about the U.S. National Security Agency’s worldwide data-surveillance program, including in Germany, dominated the private meeting Obama had with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the following news conference at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.
Members of the Berlin crowd voiced frustrations with the Obama administration’s close surveillance of European communications with placards reading: “Yes We Scan,” a cheeky reference to president’s 2008 campaign slogan. Americans are troubled to be sure, but for Germans, haunted by the Communist government spying on Eastern Germans during the Cold War, the surveillance program is uncomfortably familiar.
Merkel voiced concern about Obama’s NSA surveillance, but Obama revealed that surveillance had already prevented dozens of attacks in Germany. The chancellor conceded that fact.
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Germany, with Merkel at its helm, is a rising power in Europe. Its economy is stable and productive where other European Union countries still are struggling out of the economic downturn. Many European leaders are following Germany’s lead.
That’s one of the many reasons why Obama should ensure the relationship remains strong. The two leaders also discussed plans for a July conference to discuss a free-trade agreement between the U.S. and the EU. The agreement, expected to remove trade barriers, could be jeopardized by several other issues discussed during Obama’s speech.
Interestingly, only 4,000 people attended, although there was a capacity of 6,000. That’s a stark contrast to the 200,000 who showed up for candidate Obama’s speech in Berlin five years ago.
Some audience members chided Obama for unmet campaign promises, including renewal of climate-change-prevention efforts and closure of the U.S. detention center at Guantánamo.
Meanwhile, the German government is concerned about the U.S. military operating part of its killing-drone program, aimed at foreign terrorists, out of German bases.
The importance of civil-liberty protections in German politics must not be underestimated. The Obama administration must answer the concerns of Merkel and other Germans. The relationship between the two counties is too important.
A strong relationship will shape global politics, whether it’s the trade agreement or an allied response to the Syrian uprising, in positive ways.