It’s something domestic politicians can only dream of – when Barack Obama was elected to a second term as US president, 90 percent of the citizens of Germany were satisfied with his work. That’s according to federal public broadcaster ARD’s opinion survey unit, Deutschlandtrend.
But then came the plunge. By November 2013, only 43 percent of respondents were happy with Barack Obama – and 52 percent were dissatisfied with his work. No US president has had such a resounding thumbs-down from the Germans for 15 years.
But this is not just about the president. A mere 35 percent of citizens of Germans currently regard the United States as a reliable partner. In other words, 61 percent no longer trust America. Germans didn’t have such a poor opinion of the US even during the presidency of George W. Bush.
The reasons are obvious. It appears that one of the US secret services, the NSA, has collected the telephone and email data of German citizens for years, even monitoring calls by Chancellor Angel Merkel. Her cellphone – which many consider to be one of the most important tools at her disposal – is believed to have been tapped by Germany’s American allies from 2002 until mid-2013.
That is not acceptable between friends, said the chancellor when the scandal was made public by former US secret services employee Edward Snowden. Now 60 percent of Germans consider Snowden to be a hero. 46 percent want Germany to offer him political asylum. And only 14 percent share the official US line that he is a criminal.
These are results the United States can be proud of. Because the German attitude to state spying is a consequence of postwar reeducation programs. And it was the US that pushed that successful attempt to make democrats out of Nazis and a free republic out of a dictatorship.
Without our American friends – as longtime Chancellor Helmut Kohl liked to call the US – today’s liberal and democratic Federal Republic of Germany would not exist. We Germans know this – and as a result, we are usually willing to look the other way when the US does something we disapprove of.
So it is cause for concern that this time, the Germans don’t even believe that US intelligence agencies will start behaving decently in friendly states like Germany in the wake of Snowden’s revelations. Eighty-two percent even think that the US will not even keep its side of the bargain in the proposed bilateral no-spy agreement.
Their doubts are not even based on the idea that “once a liar, always a liar.” Rather, Germans fear that the US no longer takes seriously the principles enshrined in its own constitution – from whence they entered the German constitution.
Germans are defending American values. Americans should be proud. And the powers that be in Washington should pause for thought when good old friends begin to show such mistrust.