In recent days, the ugly scandal of America’s surveillance program has continued to ferment: German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s personal cell phone has long since been a target of U.S. surveillance, and she may be just one among many other multinational dignitaries. Not only has this angered the German public, but it has caused an uproar throughout all of Europe. "We need trust among allies and partners. Such trust now has to be built anew," Merkel has stated directly to U.S. President Barack Obama. Leaders across Europe have demanded that the U.S. offer an explanation, but Obama and White House spokespersons have either declined to comment or given evasive replies. The U.S. may have a difficult time pacifying its dissatisfied allies and friends.
For the United States, which has consistently used phrases such as “respect for human rights” and “the interest of our allies” to justify its actions, this is an unprecedented crisis of reputation. While the U.S. is overtly pious, it secretly holds no regard for its own constitution, international law or the basic rights of its citizens and others abroad to privacy in life and in their communications. The U.S. has gone so far as to make the leader of an allied country a surveillance target. This kind of behavior makes it impossible not to question what this country is capable of.
A person with no regard for trustworthiness is capable of doing anything. Each new revelation of the National Security Agency’s surveillance program has led to another slap in the face for America as more of this “moralist” country’s true colors come out. Oct. 26 is the twelth anniversary of the Patriot Act, a bill that gave support to U.S. practices that violated human rights. That said, if eavesdropping on certain portions of the U.S. population and certain other countries can be justified under the pretext of “fighting terrorism,” what explanation can there be for tapping the cell phone of the leader of an allied country? Just as other countries cannot use the excuse of protecting their national security to endanger U.S. security, the U.S. should demonstrate equal respect to the human rights and security issues of other countries.
Another key problem is that, even today, the U.S. has yet to demonstrate any signs of introspection or reflection. Since the NSA surveillance scandal unfolded five months ago, this country that claims to have unrivaled mechanisms for self-correction and self-improvement has shown no intention of changing its methods. Not only has it failed to question its own actions, but it has even expressed “dissatisfaction” on multiple occasions with countries that have been targets of its surveillance. This is simply too ironic.
If you don’t want people to know of your dirty deeds, the only solution is to stop doing them. Since this scandal has fermented, the U.S. has owed an explanation to China, to Germany, to the world — and it also owes an apology. Moral debts obviously do not have the same weight of law as financial debts, yet moral debts can erode an entire country’s prestige and influence. America’s reputation and influence are bleeding. The America of today seems to have long since lost its former sense of courage and willingness to take on new burdens and responsibilities. The consequences of this are predictable and obvious — even allies that once had extremely close ties are now demanding that the U.S. sign a “no spying” agreement. This is akin to two good buddies who must sign a contract not to harm or betray the other. What kind of trust is there to be spoken of between friends like these?
No matter who it is in this world, unbridled arrogance inevitably carries a heavy price. Once the U.S. loses Europe’s vigorous support and assistance, its only remaining influence might be its military strength, which is often unwelcome. America’s decline may come sooner than predicted. The U.S. needs to reflect on its actions, and it needs to apologize. A famous American politician once said that a country’s power must be caged. This sentence holds deep meaning for the U.S. today.
Edited by Gillian Palmer