US-German Relations: The View From Berlin
Image Credit: White House Photo

US-German Relations: The View From Berlin


A quick note about the political climate in Western Europe as I enjoy a weekend of sightseeing in Berlin — a gray weekend, alas — before heading home. It was good to discover that I can still read German despite seldom doing so these days. It seems all those years spent conjugating verbs, etc., weren't in vain. But what I read about transatlantic relations in leading newspapers this week — and heard from talking with Germans at our conference and traipsing the streets amid ordinary folk — should give Washington pause.

To take one front-page story at random, a commentator for Die Welt proclaimed the death of the Obama administration's soft-power policy in the wake of allegations that U.S. intelligence services have been surreptitiously monitoring Chancellor Angela Merkel's communications. Soft power is a power of attraction deriving from culture, institutions, and policies. Many Germans were feeling repelled rather than attracted this week.

Think about what binds alliances together: common interests, chiefly, and social and cultural affinities. The Abhöraffäre, as the German press calls it — the bugging affair, roughly translated — strikes at perceptions of common interest between long-time allies. And remember that the North Atlantic community is an idea as much as anything. Ideas, and the affections to which they give rise, demand care and feeding to thrive.

Australians were having a good laugh at our expense when I was Down Under a few weeks ago, during the government shutdown. But that episode arose from political parties' accepting the Founding Fathers' invitation to struggle over important questions. Though messy (and painful for, ahem, some of us), the system was working, or not, as designed. The Abhöraffäre is a product of conscious U.S. policy, and thus is something different. One hopes U.S. officials will find a way to repair the damage to transatlantic relations, and soon.

November 1, 2013 at 14:46

Is anyone really surprised by this revelation ? Germany is probably spying in the U.S. vise-verse, it was not long ago that, France's intelligence groups came out and publically asked the U.S. to stop spying on them. Post 09/11 all countries friend or foe have known about U.S. intelligence gathering. The days of the CIA, NSA etc. just being guys with briefcases are over.

October 31, 2013 at 17:12

Germany always see themselves  as a superior race on earth.Therefore,deep in their mind they see the US presence in German after WW II as occupation forces rather than a savior who saved them from Soviet Union tyrannical rule.Angela Merkel grew up in Communist environment.Therefore, more or less she was influenced by some sorts of Communism.

German now wants EU sees it as a real economic ,political head of EU states and it wants US treats it as an equal partner like  Putin of Russia  has pulicly expressed his own desire to Obama recently.

October 30, 2013 at 19:09

Much about nothing. Six weeks from now no one will remember this.


October 30, 2013 at 03:08

The German response to allegations that the NSA listened in on Angela Merkel's cellphone is way over the top and is, in many ways, demonstrative of the breakdown in US/German relations after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In fact, the German/American alliance was one of necessity. There are no close historic ties between the two countries and, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the liberation of Eastern Europe, there is no rationale behind NATO and any strategic alliance between the two countries. What is curious is the belief amongst the liberal foreign policy elite that the US needs Germany more than Germany needs the US. This is Cold War thinking and 25 years out of date. There is no need to station US troops in Germany and there is no need for Americans to defend Germany. Indeed the foreign policy elites in the US have completely forgotten German attempts to foster a relationship with Putin's Russia that is deleterious to American interests. There is a very significant slice of Germany that is irrationally anti-American.

It is a myth that Angela Merkel is some kind of particular friend of the United States. She has always held the US at arm's length and never has gone out of her way to be helpful if there was even the slightest possibility that it would hurt even a scintilla of her personal political standing in Germany. Not even a fair weather friend. Of course, the US is going to "spy" on Germany; just as Germany "spies" on the US.

October 29, 2013 at 04:50

As you can read German, I guess this on is for you:

Given that "Die Welt" belongs to the bourgeois-conservative Springer group and that Elfriede Springer is friend with Angela Merkel I am ready to give it credibility; at least it might not be to far away from what Ms. Merkel thinks even if not everything is literally true.


P.S.: The paragraph on the Lybia resolution was new to me, although the story on the Syria piece has been told quite similar already.

P.P.S.: Actually even my most leftist friend said that W. was for sure a guy to sit down and have a beer with.

October 29, 2013 at 01:32

I believe history has proven it is a good idea to fully understand the German leadership and their intentions. This may be somewhat offensive to Germans but this practice makes sense for US interests. Its not like the US is arresting politicians or Jews for disagreeing. And wouldn't China be spying on Germany in this manner anyways? The US cannot let China or any adversary know more than we do about anything as important as Germany. The US is responsible for German security because of Germans primarily remember.

Wandering Ronin
October 29, 2013 at 01:18

Americans are daughters and sons of Russia and Germany. A mother betrays and a father abandons. oBAMa ford up the dam of The Little Boy Blue rivulet. Germany and America should consider themselves brothers and sisters not just friends else the cruel step mother tries to release a flood on her children.

October 28, 2013 at 22:55

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