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US-German Relations on Hold

Rampaging Surveillance

by NORMAN POLLACK

Consuming guilt, especially when buried deeply in the American institutional framework of government, requires global surveillance, both to maximize hegemonic effectiveness (in order to anticipate and parry countermoves) and prevent exposure—to ourselves and the world at large—of the political-ideological- military drive for unilateral power. The more engaged in the hegemonic enterprise, the greater is there the necessity for stifling criticism and seeking its universal detection at home and abroad. Hegemony is cause and consequence of massive surveillance, here at home (per se vitiating any claim to a democratic society) and, presently in the spotlight, Germany, a full-court CIA-NSA press, beyond eavesdropping on Merkel’s cell phone to include the German population and foreign ministry in America’s state-of-the-art Vacuum Cleaner (even a listening device on the roof of the American Embassy in Berlin).

Why pick on a close ally? The core of the hegemonic quest, along side of suppressed guilt, is insecurity, not just the anxiety of discovery but also the rigidity of the authoritarian pattern which fears disclosure will spoil the whole game plan. For Obama, transparent government is inimical to the stealth required for ruling-groups’ ascendance in America (itself a defining purpose of his presidency and administration) and the acute militarization of US foreign policy (Kennan’s containment, Dulles’s liberation policy, is now amplified to include simultaneous confrontation on two fronts—China and Russia—in a manner perhaps signaling the willingness to go to the mat: the nuclear option.

Obama, for all his “charm,” has something to prove, a bottomless pit of envy, ambition, obtuseness as a way of confronting moral principles, together a boiling cauldron on the need for personal recognition in ever-defensive mode lest he be found out for the charlatan he really is. As in the German spying case(s), for now we have another, but on the first, the news spread everywhere, we have Mazzetti and Landler in The Times, the article, “Spying Case Left Obama in Dark, U.S. Officials Say,’ affording him deniability from being caught flatfooted for CIA spying on a close ally. Usually very good reporters on intelligence activities, here they futz around straining to give Obama an out for his accountability on a highly serious matter: the potential rupture in relations, wherein US policy makers view Germany as central to the EU’s cohesion in staring down Putin and ultimately weakening if not dismembering Russia. And with Russia in decline, next in line is China (for which Obama’s Pacific-first strategy, already concentrating military resources in the region, along with beefing up alliances, conducting joint-maneuvers, and pushing the Trans-Pacific Partnership), which, from that point, places America at the pinnacle of power.

So, the German spying case may seem unimportant (and administration figureheads are doing their best to downgrade its significance), yet Merkel’s vigorous response, which has come after so much else, the expulsion of the CIA station chief being a decisive act, suggests the united front against Russia (as well as EU’s hostility to Russia) may be breaking down. The house of cards is in danger of falling. Thus Obama’s call to Merkel (July 3) was “to consult with a close ally and to mobilize wavering Europeans to put more pressure on Russia to end its covert incursions in Ukraine,” an important agenda (whether or not correct about “covert incursions,” to which The Times dutifully follows the party line), sufficiently important as to place Obama above the fray: “What Mr. Obama did not know was that a day earlier, a young German intelligence operative had been arrested and had admitted that he had been passing secrets to the Central Intelligence Agency.”

Whether the reporters were being disingenuous or simply relying too heavily on their government sources (as though an Iron Curtain was raised in Washington to surround and protect Obama), the natural inclination was to find a scapegoat, uncharacteristically, the CIA itself: “While Ms. Merkel chose not to raise the issue during the call, the fact that the president was kept in the dark about the blown spying operation at a particularly delicate moment in American relations with Germany has led frustrated White House officials to question who in the C.I.A.’s chain of command was aware of the case—and why that information did not make it to the Oval House before the call.” Given Merkel’s politeness, how far the information went is irrelevant, for bringing it up would have stirred a hornet’s nest, the last thing Obama wanted after the Snowden revelations, i.e., “that the N.S.A. had tapped Ms. Merkel’s cellphone.”

Nevertheless, the CIA was Obama’s safety hatch to escape: “A central question, one American official said, is how high the information [CIA knew three weeks before about the planned arrest of its agent] about the agent went in the C.I.A.’s command—whether it was bottled up at the level of the station chief in Berlin or transmitted to senior officials, including the director, John O. Brennan, who is responsible for briefing the White House.” It is doubtful that heads will roll, but the reporters make a significant point (in line with my foregoing characterization of Obama), his obduracy, his absolute refusal to admit a wrong: “For all his concerns, Mr. Obama does not plan any extraordinary outreach to Ms. Merkel, an official said, noting that some in the administration also feel that Germany should not overreact to the case or conflate it with the privacy issues raised by the N.S.A.’s surveillance.” Heaven forbid such conflation (!)—in reality, the unified pattern (here NSA and CIA appear to be wearing each other’s shoes), this with respect to Germany, but in the larger picture conflation in the US as well under different terms: massive surveillance and abridgment of civil liberties.

If we go back four days, to Alison Smale’s article in The Times, “German Man Arrested as Spy Implicates U.S.,” we find that as the story breaks, other newsworthy aspects of the US-German relationship come to light, first, a reason for the tension, beyond the obvious spying, is that the American government has not been forthcoming “with what German officials called a swift clarification of the case.” That was July 4th; one week later, still little or none. For want of a better term, let’s call USG’s response, stonewalling. This comes, incidentally, as Smale notes, “just months after the collapse of an effort by Germany to strike a ‘no spy” accord with the White House.” That in fact is the third stumbling block before the recent case: NSA’s “monitoring of Germans’ electronic data,” covering millions of German citizens; the Merkel eavesdropping; and America’s unwillingness to sign an accord. Related to all three, Obama “ordered a complete review of spying on allies and partners,” and as is the wont of these reviews, nothing was done. On stopping the practices: “But in conversations with German officials over the past year, the Obama administration has made clear that its commitment extends only to Ms. Merkel herself, and not other German officials.” As to the German public, any cessation of spying is doubtful—hence the growing distrust of the US.

On July 7, still before the deniability piece, Jane Perlez wrote in The Times, “Spy Scandal Tails Merkel All the Way to Beijing,” that Merkel was truly angered by what happened, enough to say, in undiplomatic language in her meeting with Prime Minister Li, “’If the reports are correct it would be a serious case,’” And all the Embassy, breaking its official silence, could say, was: “’We are working with the German government to ensure this issue is resolved appropriately.’” One consequence of US spying is that it was drawing Germany and China closer together, already on a firm footing with Volkswagen’s $2.4B investment in China and Lufthansa’s code-sharing agreement with Air China. Li stated at their news conference: “’China and Germany, it can be said, are both victims of hacking attacks.’” The common culprit did not have to be named.

And with all that transpired in just one week, we also see Smale’s second piece, “New Case of Spying Is Alleged by Germany,” July 9, in which she nails down the broader picture, a questioning of the alliance itself: “Anger at Washington mounted Wednesday with the disclosure that American intelligence agents were suspected of having recruited a second spy in Germany, this time linked to its Defense Ministry, prompting even robust allies of the United States to suggest that a fundamental reset was needed in one of the most important of trans-Atlantic partnerships.” This second case led to a German Parliamentary Committee hurrying to New York and Washington, its head stating in a telephone interview: “’The U.S. must understand what psychological damage it is inflicting. I think that will be a difficult process.”

At the moment of writing (July 10), we see a more-than-minor diplomatic bombshell dropped by the German government, reported in Smale and Melissa Eddy’s article in The Times, “Germany Demands Top U.S. Intelligence Officer Be Expelled,” in which they write: “Germany’s relations with the United States plunged to a low point Thursday, with the government demanding the expulsion of the chief American intelligence official stationed here because, it said, Washington has refused to cooperate with German inquiries into United State intelligence activities.” Yes, Obama’s obduracy, USG as a whole, in stonewalling mode. The German anger rests on well-nurtured ground, NSA’s “monitoring the digital communications of millions of Germans,” and the agency’s monitoring of Merkel’s cellphone. The State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, has been the public face of USG obtuseness, mixed with cunning, as of late: ”’Our relationship with Germany is extremely important. We’ll continue our dialogue through senior officials in the days and weeks ahead.’” What DIALOGUE?

My New York Times Comment on the Smale-Eddy article, same date, follows:

As an advocate for American moderation in world affairs, as opposed to what, in the period since World War 2′s aftermath, obsessed with unilateral global hegemony, the US has become, I’m not surprised at the friction. Stupidity is hardly what matters; amoral cynicism, hubris, delusions of grandeur, arrogance, singly and combined, describes America’s foreign policy–and as a result, we will see continued friction, ultimately, the break-up of the alliance system and the US universally deemed a Pariah Nation (to go along with an already-realized National Security State).

Massive surveillance is a spreading cancer, the NSA a genteel version of the Gestapo, and Obama, who in the revelation of the first spying case has been afforded deniability, presides over a process of the liberalization of fascism, i.e., humanitarian rhetoric to disguise war, intervention, and, his specialty, drone assassination.

Merkel is no Left figure, which makes her anger all the germane to the issue of just how far America has moved to the Right. One cannot shake off her criticism, and the recall of our top intelligence agent in Germany speaks volumes for the rapidly disintegrating trust necessary to the alliance.

Obama is a menace to civil liberties at home and abroad. Yet his supporters are either complicit in his depredations or are simply blind, the kind that see no evil, hear no evil. Sorry, but there’s plenty of EVIL out there, as in openly provoking hostilities with both Russia and China.

Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.