The Edward Snowden surveillance affair opens a window onto bizarre manifestations of anti-Americanism in Germany.
Take the example of Jakob Augstein, the Spiegel columnist and part owner of the Hamburg-based media enterprise, who wrote a column urging Europe to “protect itself from America” because “a regime is ruling in the United States today that acts in totalitarian ways.” For Augstein, the U.S. government’s “soft totalitarianism is still totalitarianism.”
The hyperbolic anti-American rhetoric of the extreme left-wing columnist Augstein is unsurprising. After all, he described Republicans as “insane and unscrupulous” because, he believes, they are responsible for the outbreaks of violence in Middle Eastern and North African countries in the post-Arab spring world.
However, the anti-American media echo was not limited to print publications like Der Spiegel. TV host Sonia Mikich delivered a commentary on the news show Tagesthemen in which she termed the NSA’s leaked PRISM program as the “United Stasi of America” — a reference to the now-defunct repressive intelligence agency of the former socialist East German state.
To her credit, Chancellor Angela Merkel flatly rejected the comparison between the NSA and the Stasi.
But her opponents are stoking anti-American sentiments. The head of the formidable Green Party in the Bundestag, Jürgen Trittin – who once sought enhanced political relations with Hezbollah because, he said, the terrorist entity plays a “very positive“ role in Lebanese politics — urged the right of asylum for Snowden in the Federal Republic.
Similarly, the popular German playwright Rolf Hochhuth called on Merkel to grant asylum to Snowden. He argued that Snowden embodies the resistance against the Hitler movement, and equated the weird IT specialist with Hitler’s military intelligence head Wilhelm Franz Canaris, who sought to oust the Nazi leader in a failed plot.
Growing anti-Americanism prompted John Kornblum, a former U.S. ambassador to Germany, to defend U.S. counter-terrorism polices in a Die Welt article titled: When will the Germans finally grow up?
Former German interior minister Otto Schily cut against the mainstream opinion, saying, “The greatest danger is from terrorism and organized crime” and not from the NSA.
He urged his party – the Social Democrats – to not exploit the NSA surveillance controversy for electoral gains in the upcoming September federal elections. The Left Party, the Greens, and the Social Democrats have relentlessly bashed Merkel over her handling of the NSA.
For the U.S. and its military and diplomatic personnel in Germany, insufficient intelligence gathering has deadly consequences. That helps to explain U.S. worries about Germany’s porous counter-terrorism polices. In 2011, the Frankfurt Airport employee Arid Uka, who was born in Kosovo and raised in Germany, gunned down two U.S. servicemen at the airport.
Uka learned his terror craftwork as an online jihadi activist in the months prior to the shootings. German police officials confessed to the lack of Arab-language security personnel required to analyze the German-Muslim jihadi networks.
Tens of thousands of U.S. troops and personnel stationed in Germany surely deserve the protections of the NSA and its modernized methods of intelligence gathering to prevent terror attacks. It is worth recalling that U.S. intelligence has thwarted multiple terror attacks over the years on German soil and thereby saved German lives.
Just last month, it was revealed that U.S. intelligence alerted the German authorities of an Iranian-German group that provided Iran’s regime with illicit technology for its Arak nuclear plant.
Though feelings of schadenfreude about the NSA scandal bruising the U.S. may provide comfort to certain sections of Europe’s elite, it is not a recipe for blunting the real and pressing security threats of Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and radical Islam.
— Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow Benjamin on Twitter@BenWeinthal