Caught red-handed spying on the private life of Angela Merkel, the Obama administration and its supporters in both parties have chanted the same responses: "Allies always spy on each other," and "our monitoring activities in Europe have thwarted terrorist attacks." True enough, but as everyone knows, politicians only tell the truth when it serves a lie.
Allies do spy on each other to gain practical advantages in matters of trade, diplomacy, and weapons development. Which of these (or any other) routine purposes is served by the bugging of hundreds of thousands of people or by listening in on Merkel's private telephone conversations? No one at the NSA or in intelligence circles is willing to say. Why should they? Espionage is always an exercise in deception, and spiers are by definition liars. Someone has to do it, but the fact that someone has to assassinate an enemy does not make the assassin--or the spy--an honorable man.
American "experts" and their flunkeys in the UK keep on saying that Merkel, Hollande, and the other heads of state are hypocritically playing politics. It is true that attacking the US is usually a popular strategy, but not in countries that have persuaded themselves that Obama is the greatest man in American history, and not when they stand to lose more than they could possibly gain. Besides, the ordinarily stolid and boring Merkel seems genuinely outraged. It's a bit much to imagine that she either possesses such histrionic ability or would use it on what the experts claim is so petty an occasion.
Then why is she so angry? Because the German chancellor knows that there can be only one purpose in tapping the private line of an allied head of state, and that is blackmail. Imagine the hold we would have over Merkel, if we caught her with her hand in the till or a lover of either sex. In terms of private life, Merkel is a friend or close relative of the American government. Would any sort of normal person bug his friend, his sister, or his wife? How do you think a friend or relative would respond to the revelation that her brother or friend was listening to her telephone calls? She would be as outraged as Merkel is.
US officials are denying the German allegation that Obama has known about the tap on Merkel's telephone for several years. "The President doesn't sign off on this stuff," and unnamed NSA staffer told the Wall Street Journal. Why dissimulate? Not to inform the President of such monitoring would be a grotesque abuse of authority. Obama could only save his "integrity" by firing everyone who did know, from the top on down. But he did know, and Merkel knows that he knew.
There is nothing trivial in these revelations and little hypocrisy in the anger of leaders who have been spied upon. As usual, the American press is lying to protect the liars in the administration. If a Republican were in the White House, we would be hearing demands for the appointment of a special prosecutor. As it is, the American people will close their eyes and smile, pretending nothing has happened. The Democrats have to protect their leader, and the Republicans have to defend their own commitment to world domination.
Thomas Fleming is the former editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of The Politics of Human Nature, Montenegro: The Divided Land, and The Morality of Everyday Life, named Editors' Choice in philosophy by Booklist in 2005. He is the coauthor of The Conservative Movement and the editor of Immigration and the American Identity. He holds a Ph.D. in classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Before joining the Rockford Institute, he taught classics at the University of Miami of Ohio, served as an advisor to the U.S. Department of Education, and was headmaster at the Archibald Rutledge Academy. He has been published in, among others, The Spectator (London), Independent on Sunday (London), Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Chicago Sun-Times, National Review, Classical Journal, Telos, and Modern Age. He and his wife, Gail, have four children and four grandchildren.