This past week, with little public fanfare, the CIA station chief in Berlin packed his bags and left town at the request — or should I say “demand”? — of the ostensibly friendly US ally Angela Merkel, because of the revelation of not one but two German government bureaucrats that the US turned into spies against their own government. As Der Spiegel described things on Monday:
[T]he German government offered an unambiguous response [to the recent two spying revelations]. Last Thursday, it took the unprecedented step of asking the senior CIA representative in Berlin, known as the chief of station, to leave Germany. Some 13 months after the beginning of the NSA scandal, it was the Germans’ brusquest response yet to the Americans’ blatant spying activities in their country. In taking this step, Chancellor Angela Merkel was sending the message that her views on the matter are now more in line with those of German President Joachim Gauck: She is fed up.
At the same time, the government hoped that its diplomatic bombshell could improve its position in a scandal that doesn’t seem to want to end. Derision of Germany’s coalition government, which pairs Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats with the center-left Social Democrats — for being underhanded and overly compliant with US President Barack Obama’s wishes has expanded beyond the ranks of the opposition. The ritual outrage coming from the chancellor and cabinet members after each new affront by the NSA, the CIA and others had long been exhausted. At least the expulsion of the CIA official suggests some gumption on Berlin’s part.
I say “little fanfare” because what would have been the huge front page story for weeks in ordinary times took second place to something else. Obama and the CIA ought to thank Thomas Müller and Die Mannschaft for winning the World Cup and driving this story off the front pages of the German news media, at least for a few days. If nothing else, if gave them time to prepare a response, rather than being badgered immediately and persistently over the revelations.
But the party is over and the reality of the damage that the US continues to inflict on the US/German alliance is as ugly as ever and getting worse. Sounding like a boyfriend caught going through his girlfriend’s cell phone and trying to put on a good face when speaking with her pals, John Kerry says the US and Germany are “great friends.” On the other hand, former US ambassador to Germany and one of the most respected US career foreign service officers, John Kornblum, spoke more in tune with the German foreign minister: “Nations have no friends; only interests.”
Back in 2000, while he was still the US ambassador in Berlin, Kornblum gave a speech assessing the US/Germany relationship. Speaking at the Bertelsmann Forum to an audience of business leaders, Kornblum adopted an interesting form for presenting his thoughts:
I will attempt this evening to adapt corporate practice and provide a sort of annual report. An annual report on the state of our transatlantic family business.
I have chosen to present this report at the Bertelsmann Forum, because your company epitomizes the attitudes necessary to deal successfully with the challenges we are facing. The criteria you apply to business decisions fit perfectly into this picture. For this reason, I have sought to prepare for you a detailed “business analysis ” on the state of our joint enterprise – the Euro-Atlantic Community Inc.
Kornblum opened by speaking of the strengths of the relationship, starting with the “clear and convincing” vision of freedom and democracy shared by this joint enterprise. This could have been said last week without any objections. His second point, however, could not:
2. A Winning Strategy
Our second key asset is our strategy. Our methods and means of working towards our vision of free, prosperous societies have been very successful. By working as a team to achieve smoothly-functioning market economies and to instill strong democratic values in every aspect of our societies, we found that we can achieve freedom and prosperity within our nations without sacrificing stability or economic growth.
In fifty years of unified effort, we worked together to first rebuild from the devastation of the Second World War, and then to build strong, solid societies and economies. We created strong tools in the form of institutions to help us achieve our goals. Without firing a shot, we prevailed over a hostile, competing ideology. Today we are ensuring our own stability and prosperity in part by assisting the new European democracies to complete their transitions.
Disagreements and difficulties have arisen, but conflicts within the corporation have rarely affected our ability to act in concert. Indeed, our open way of dealing with each other has often resulted in a drive to modernize.
In the absence of an overwhelming ideological threat, we must not forget that our basic strategy is still the key to our future success.
The whole “by working as a team” strategy is taking a real beating these days. Internal conflicts are now affecting the ability of the US and Germany to act in concert. But the most anachronistic line of all — and the most out-of-place in 2014 — is when he spoke about “our open way of dealing with each other.”
Edward Snowden’s revelations called this into question — questions the German media have been asking with increasing regularity. The expulsion of the CIA station chief demonstrates how far this winning strategy of teamwork has fallen. Indeed, Stefan Kornelius, the chief foreign affairs correspondent of the Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote on Thursday that the relationship is “in free fall.”
All the language by Obama, Kerry, and other US politicians about our enduring friendship with Germany cannot obscure the distinctly unfriendly ways in which we have treated Germany and its leaders. Merkel may yet decide to continue cooperation with the US on various espionage efforts, but it will be on distinctly different terms in the future.
Last January, I tried to call attention to Martin Luther King Jr’s understanding of direct action as a tool of negotiation and how the Obama administration fails to grasp King’s basic thesis. Said King in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”
The US intelligence community is continuing to fan the flames in Germany for direct action to force a reassessment of the US-Germany relationship. At best, the terms of cooperation will be clarified; at worst the US will find more than its CIA station chief being asked to leave. The NSA has enormous facilities in Germany, and increasing arrogance by the US will only increase the pressure on German politicians to ask that those running these facilities be sent packing as well.
But to borrow from John Kerry and his boyfriend language, I can hear the Germans now: “Yes, we’re breaking up, but we can still be friends.”
h/t to Christiaan Tribert for the photo of the protester in Berlin at last September’s “Stop Watching Us” protests. Used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.