I love this headline on the front page of today’s Washington Post (print edition): “Officials: Obama unaware U.S. spied on allied leaders.” The locution is, I think, the Post’s way of signaling that it doesn’t really believe what the “officials” are saying.
Nor should we. As John Yoo argues, spying on European leaders is something the U.S. has long done and should do, and this is common knowledge:
Of course the Europeans have known for a long time that the U.S. intercepts their communications. It is the original mission of the NSA. . . .
[I]t is in U.S. interests to keep an eye on the Europeans. In the short term, Europe has caused the U.S. diplomatic problems. Just ten years ago, the leaders of France and Germany conspired to block the U.S. decision to invade Iraq. In the decades before, socialist governments in Germany played detente with the Soviets, De Gaulle kicked NATO out of Paris, and the Italian government almost fell to Soviet-backed Communists but for the timely intervention of the CIA. . . .
It is in U.S. interests to spy on other nations, especially their leaders. One of the problems that leads to international conflicts is misunderstanding other nations’ intentions. We usually know their capabilities, but we need to know the range of outcomes that they will accept; the better the intelligence, the more that nations can negotiate a solution to their conflicts.
There’s much President Obama doesn’t know that he should know. But it’s extremely unlikely that he didn’t know about U.S. spying on European leaders. Captain Renault, call your office.
The Obama administration’s claim that the president didn’t know about this spying is part of the game — “ As always, should you or any of your I.M. Force be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions” — just as expressions of outrage from European leaders are. Their real outrage stems from dismay that the U.S. is too weak and/or incompetent to keep its spying a secret.
Phony as it is, the White House’s disavowal of “any knowledge” by Obama of the spying will hurt his standing with a gullible public. Thus, we find Jon Stewart complaining about Obama’s “total ignorance” of what’s going on in his administration. Stewart’s “White House correspondent” (comedians, it seems, have White House correspondents these days) tells him that “the president is in a bubble” and that nobody tells him anything because they “don’t want to bum him out.”