The Merkel Phone Tap: Obama as “Unilateral” in His Own Way as Bush?

German Chancellor Merkel and President Obama in happier times. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

German Chancellor Merkel and President Obama in happier times. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

While some would argue that the United States and its allies routinely spy each other, it’s one thing to bug the Germany embassy in Washington, but another to tap into the phone of the leader of the country, as well as other officials. As we recently posted, spying by the Obama administration on German Chancellor Angela Merkel was a “nadir of sorts for the United States, an utter embarrassment.” Furthermore, as McClatchy reported:

The German allegations came the same week as similar charges from France and Mexico and fast on the heels of angry allegations out of Brazil.

Adding insult to injury (McClatchy again)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said President Barack Obama was “obviously aware” that privacy was an especially sensitive issue in Germany, given the history of the Stasi, East Germany’s secret police force. Merkel grew up in East Germany.

To Gregor Peter Schmitz of Der Spiegel, though, it’s emblematic of the Obama administration’s relationship with foreign leaders in general.

During a recent visit by a European head of government to Washington, the atmosphere was described as frosty by those in the entourage from Europe. Obama didn’t find the time for even a little small talk, the sources said, and “it seemed to some like an appointment with a lawyer.”

Obama angered Nicolas Sarkozy by choosing to dine with his family instead of with France’s then-president during his visit to Paris. The Polish and Czech heads of state were informed by telephone by the president that a long-planned missile defense system would not be installed in their countries. … An African head of government said during a visit to Washington that he longed for the days of George W. Bush. At least with him, he said, one knew where one stood.

As he continues to compare Obama and Bush, though, Schmitz might be making it a little too personal.

Unlike his predecessor George W. Bush, Obama is loved by the people of the world, but much less by their heads of government. On the heels of recent revelations that US spy agencies might have monitored Chancellor Merkel’s cell phone, the complaints about Merkel’s “lost friend” Obama are misplaced. Obama doesn’t want to be a friend.

Meanwhile, as McClatchy reported, the inevitable question arose:

“What terrorists did the NSA hope to find on the chancellor’s cellphone?” Hans-Christian Stroebele, another member of Parliament, asked during an appearance on ARD television.


German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere told ARD that Washington and Berlin couldn’t return to business as usual until the scandal was sorted out.

In the end, Amy Davidson writes in the New Yorker of the NSA:

If we grant ourselves the prerogative to listen in on foreign leaders, then we can’t really mind if they decide they have the right to be outraged about it—and to share less information voluntarily, to be less good friends themselves.