Dr. Christopher Brooks – Guest contributor
(Originally posted in The Morning Call on July 16, 2014. )
There has been a German presence in America since 1608. Germans have worked side by side with British North American colonists and, eventually, U.S. citizens. They have challenged us. They have loved us. They have condemned us. In many respects, they are just like us.
The Pew Research Center reports that, before Mexican immigration surged, Germany provided the United States the lion’s share of its immigrant population. There are nearly 50 million people of German ancestry in the U.S., a number larger than any other group, including Irish, Italian, Mexican or even English, Scottish and Welsh combined.
So, why do we (allegedly) spy on them in the Vaterland? During World War II — or even during the Cold War — one might have seen the sense, but why now?
Pundits have generally replied by saying we all spy on each other. I am no position to judge, but it sounds on the surface at least like the typical “two wrongs make it right.” Who really knows?
Curiously, the alleged spying against Germany even includes surreptitiously listening to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone. Why? Merkel is the woman who, against all odds, threw caution to the wind Feb. 20, 2003, when she published an op-ed in The Washington Post supporting German involvement in the Iraq war.
In that article she wrote about the importance of the transatlantic relationship in the post-9/11 world, commenting that “Europe and the United States now must redefine the nucleus of their domestic, foreign and security policy principles.”
In the same article, she observed, “The United States is the only remaining superpower, but even so it will have to rely on dependable partners over the long term.”
Is not Germany one of those dependable partners? If so, then what has happened between the U.S. and Germany in the past 11 years that prevented this partnership from flourishing?
As a fluent German speaker who studied and worked extensively in Germany for more than four of those 11 years and who teaches German history, legal system and politics, I have witnessed this relationship’s doldrums throughout the first years of this century.
Indeed, many ordinary Germans across the ideological spectrum and irrespective of educational attainment took great issue with actions taken by the George W. Bush administration. They hoped Barack Obama would be the great healer — a hope that has been shattered.
These latest faux pas — two double-agent allegations, the U.S. Berlin station chief being asked to leave Germany — come during an administration that many thought would be healing relations.
Remember President Obama’s July 2008 Brandenburg Gate speech, where he spoke “not as a candidate for president, but as a citizen — a proud citizen of the United States, and a fellow citizen of the world?” Where he admitted that “In Europe, the view that America is part of what has gone wrong in our world, rather than a force to help make it right,” had become commonplace? Where he also stated that “the burdens of global citizenship continue to bind us together …” Partnership and cooperation among nations is not a choice; it is the one way, the only way, to protect our common security and advance our common humanity”? If you don’t remember, current events might explain why you forgot.
Fast forwarding to 2013 at the same Berlin landmark, Obama touted that, “Our alliance is the foundation of global security. Our trade and our commerce is the engine of our global economy. Our values call upon us to care about the lives of people we will never meet.”
If so, why would those under his leadership allow for actions that might endanger, among other things, discussions on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, one that cannot be attained absent German support?
What’s more is that this is the partnership considered by many as the potential counterbalance to concerns and allegations about Chinese trade imbalances, lower standards, violations of patents and copyrights, commercial and industrial information spying.
Apropos, it was only a few days ago that Hans-Georg Massen, the president of the German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, warned that “the Chinese technical information service has over 100,000 employees,” and that this made many mid-sized German companies “easy prey.”
At the same time, the last visits the chancellor has made to Washington have only included that: visits to Washington. Her visits to China have included excursions and talk of a strategic partnership, one that would put the U.S. on par with China.
This could be a big blow to the U.S.-German relationship, as, among other things, putting a damper to the flow of cheaper products. However, the door is still open for this administration to work on healing this wound and — hopefully — resume a healthy relationship with a partner whose leader has supported us through thick and thin.
Dr. Christopher Brooks is an Associate Professor of Legal, Constitutional, and Intellectual History at East Stroudsburg University. He also heads the Eta Tau Chapter of the Phi Alpha Theta International History Honors Society. Dr. Brooks earned his MA of American Legal and Constitutional History at East Stroudsburg University and his Dr. phil (the German PhD equivalent) in Legal and Constitutional History at Universität Kassel in Kassel Germany.
Dr. Brooks is also a published historian, his most recent book being in business law. That book, German Employment Laws: 500 Questions Frequently Asked by Foreigners, which he co-authored Dr. Nicole Elert is currently available. He has several articles and book reviews for both history and legal publications. Along with his professorship at East Stroudsburg University, Dr. Brooks is also the proprietor of The Bill Holland Legal and Business English, LLC.
Graphic Source: The Morning Call
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