Too many Americans believe all means are justifiable in the fight against terrorism

Stephan Richter and Jan Philipp Albrecht write: The latest wave of spying scandals should prompt close scrutiny of the often bizarre mechanisms that shape the transatlantic relationship. There are of course numerous European transatlantic apologists. For them, any hint of holding the US accountable as a responsible global power goes out the window. Such lofty talk is reserved for China.

And then there is a group of largely American analysts, diplomats and journalists who make a point of challenging the Europeans on any point of principle. Their mantra goes: everyone spies on everyone – what else did you expect? They regard Europeans collectively as naive, not cut out for the tough world that’s out there.

What gets lost in all this is the root cause of the current scandals. It is decidedly not that Europeans live on Venus. It is the catastrophic lack of effective checks and balances in the US.

In one sense the spying revelations show that other nations have little to complain about. They are, after all, not being treated any worse by US authorities than American citizens themselves.

What the European unease, at both the popular and senior political levels, highlights, however, is the big difference between the US and Europe. Europeans still operate under the assumption that it is critical to uphold the rule of law. The US government is more than flexible with the rule of law by turning any notion of privacy into Swiss cheese. The dangerous implications this holds for the core ideas of democracy are obvious.

But it isn’t just that the US government has undermined the rule of law at home. It is that American citizens themselves, to a stunningly large extent, have bought into the notion that the “war on terror” and “Islamic extremism” justify all means. Their acquiescence, if not active tolerance, is what allows Washington to operate above the law, from drones to routinely spying on the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the Spanish people, to name but a few of the targets. [Continue reading…]

To be blunt, what this boils down to is America’s ill-conceived response to 9/11.

No doubt, the attacks were devastating to those directly affected and had a traumatic effect on the whole nation. Yet the appropriate function of political leadership in a democratic country at such a moment was not to channel and amplify collective fear; neither was it to allow fear to legitimize a desire for revenge; nor was there a need for trumpeting American pride.

The need at that moment was to express grief, clean up the mess, and take stock. The need above all was for an expression of wisdom, not power.

Al Qaeda’s goal was to trigger an over-reaction which would itself then serve as a global rallying cry for jihad. George Bush and Dick Cheney rose straight for the bait without a moment’s hesitation. They delivered a simple-minded response — a war on terrorism — for a nation that had forgotten how to think straight.

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