At this point we must reserve judgment about the allegations of American spying on our European allies, as the information that has thus far surfaced in the international press is quite incomplete. If it turns out that the National Security Agency has been snooping around only in the communications of Frenchmen and Germans who are Islamist nutcases planning acts of terror against the United States we will not be offended, nor care much if the French and Germans are offended, but if the spying turns out to be of a broader and more capricious nature and the allegation that European Union diplomatic offices were bugged is proved we will be forced to concede the Europeans have grounds to be irked.
No matter what the next news cycle might bring, however, there is already a guilty sense of satisfaction in seeing Europe suddenly disillusioned with President Barack Obama. French President Francois Hollande is so incensed with his American counterpart that he’s threatening to block a trans-Atlantic free trade pact, the German government has directed its prosecutors to commence a criminal investigation into the matter, and across the continent newspaper and television commentators are resorting to such foul language as “Bush” and “Cheney.” European patience had already been tested by Obama’s failure to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center, his expanded campaign of drone strikes into Pakistan and other Middle Eastern countries, and an American economy that hasn’t exactly kick-started a global boom, but the latest controversy seems to have at last turned European opinion against Obama.
One can only imagine the Europeans’ disappointment, given the high hopes that they had for Obama during the ’08 presidential campaign. During his triumphant tour of the continent that year he was greeted by massive crowds of adoring fans, the press was even more enraptured of his persona than its star-struck American counterpart, and both popular and elite opinion favored him with something scarily close to unanimity. Obama made much of the fact that he “looked different” than previous American presidents, and his dark skin provided Europeans with the same giddy sense of being absolved of racism that so many Americans found in supporting him, but more importantly the Europeans could look at his soft-power foreign policy promises, his spread-the-wealth domestic programs, and his post-nationalist philosophy of the world and see someone who looked very much like themselves. All of the European fears of American power, and all of the resentments that derived from the embarrassing fact that American power had thrice saved Europe from itself during the 20th Century, were alleviated by Obama’s smooth baritone voice and citizen-of-the-world oratory before those adoring crowds.
It was all simplistic nonsense that would inevitably be exposed by the harsh realities of the complicated world, but Europe’s enthusiasm was nonetheless one of the often-mentioned selling points for Obama’s candidacy back home. Self-styled sophisticates in the media and at your local barroom cited Obama’s sky-high approval ratings in Europe as proof of his messianic qualities. After eight years of international ignominy under the oh-so-gauche Bush, Obama’s supporters promised, America would once again be able to sit with the cool kids in the international high school cafeteria. Why supposedly smart Americans should be so concerned with what a bunch European rubes think is a question best left to future historians and psychoanalysts, but it will be interesting to see how the up-date-leftist in America responds to this recent change of international opinion.
— Bud Norman