America is not very popular on the world stage these days. After eight years of George W. Bush’s unilateral approach to foreign policy and constitutionally questionable counterterrorism methods, many thought it couldn’t get any worse. Barack Obama campaigned on a promise to restore America’s reputation abroad. With a charismatic smile and a flowery speech read from a teleprompter, he seemed to believe that diplomacy consisted of little more than the sheer force of his personality. It turned out to be one of the more naive assumptions that resulted from his lack of experience, and that’s saying something.
Now, five years into his presidency, the country is more reviled than ever, its allies alternately outraged and disappointed at a continuous barrage of inept policy decisions that somehow manage to exceed Bush both in arrogance and political tone-deafness.
Wars have increased, world leaders have been insulted with thoughtless and self-centered gifts and secret prisons have remained open despite promises to the contrary. But perhaps the greatest embarrassment for America’s reputation abroad is the ever increasing evidence that the government is spying, not just on its own citizens, but on the citizens of other countries as well.
When it came out that the United Nations chamber was bugged, no one was really surprised, although a few feigned outrage. Spying kind of comes with the territory of being a diplomat, so although this behavior was always assumed to go on, it is exceedingly bad form to get caught.
More disturbing, however, is the recent revelation that the NSA has been spying on the phone calls of ordinary Norwegian citizens. Not suspected terrorists, not convicted criminals, just regular Norwegians trying to go about their business.
The last time I checked, Norway was not regarded as a major threat to world peace. Its reputation is not exactly one of aggression and subterfuge. For the most part, the Norwegians quietly go about their socialist business, having gotten all those warlike tendencies out of their system with the Vikings a fair few centuries ago.
The Norwegian government is, understandably, upset by this. Norway’s Prime Minister, Erna Solberg, had the following to say about the issue:
“”Friends should not monitor each other. It is legitimate to engage in intelligence, but it should be targeted and suspect based.”
That’s right, friends should not monitor each other, but the U.S. government is proving again and again that it regards its allies not as friends, but rather as tools in massive game of foreign policy checkers. It’s hard to see what the NSA hoped to gain from this wanton and unmotivated spying, and it’s even harder to see how continuously giving American allies cause to distrust the government serves any political interests. Instead, this appears to be a “because we can” sort of surveillance program that further demonstrates why governments should not be entrusted with large amounts of unbounded power. Abuse will always follow.
If this is happening in the decidedly non-threatening nation of Norway, you know it must be happening elsewhere as well. How long will it be before more leaks reveal the abuses of government power relating to Canada, Britain or even Israel? If America continues to treat its friends like enemies, soon it will have no friends at all.