Friends with Benefits

“Have you met us?” Jon Stewart, host of the satirical American TV-show, The Daily Show, asked the rest of the world. “Meddling in your affairs for our national self-interest is kind of our thing.”

Recent revelations have further damaged U.S. credibility among its allies, as broad-sweep surveillance operations on foreign nationals and world leaders are far harder to justify than the monitoring of individual terror suspects.

The White House has now moved to limit some of its surveillance programmes, including one that tapped the mobile phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The furore reached a new level when Merkel personally called Obama demanding an explanation and to tell him to quit bugging her phone.

Of course, no one is denying that nations spy on one another, even among friends. And in the case of Merkel, Germany’s “Americophile” chancellor who was awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011 and has been a major U.S. ally, it seems hard to justify.

As a result, Washington’s addiction to information gathering has left Obama with the humiliating task of conciliating political leaders in Europe, Brazil and Mexico, as allies feel betrayed by what they see as a breach in trust. Much is needed to make amends.

At the same time, Obama is facing severe pressure from home. According to Republican U.S. Representative Peter King, “the president should stop apologizing, stop being defensive,” for the NSA’s telephone-surveillance program that has “saved thousands of lives.”

This may or may not be true, as the American spying yielded “little reportable intelligence,” according to one memo made public by NSA leaker Edward Snowden. And it has carried a high political cost.

Jon Stewart finished with an apology.

“You want an apology? Fine. We’re sorry,” Stewart said, before adding, “that you forgot that we’re kind of dicks.”

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