Germans are not naive: They know that states spy, and that attempts to listen in to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conversations were to be expected. But they didn’t expect that the United States would do this, for a decade.
Trust needs to be rebuilt. We must go beyond an exchange of accusations and counter-accusations over this issue. As allies and democracies, the United States and Germany can do this, with some imagination and effort, and the relationship can be improved as a result.
From a U.S. perspective, the specific alleged offense — listening to Merkel’s cell phone conversations — has been remedied. President Barack Obama says the U.S. government is not doing this and will not do this.
From a German perspective, however, a host of questions remain. Most relate to why the NSA, as it seems, had to spy on Merkel of all people. Didn’t the president recognize her as an important ally by awarding her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011?
The chancellor’s own public comments following “cell-gate” have been measured. She obviously views the issue within the framework of a bilateral relationship between two countries, not two individuals.