The Germans are in a frenzy over the disclosure that the National Security Agency (NSA) tapped Angela Merkel’s private telephone, along with the telephones of three-dozen other world leaders. It’s an embarrassment of the second magnitude, and all Barack Obama knows about it is what he reads in the newspapers.
“Senior government officials” tell The Wall Street Journal that the spooks didn’t tell the president about the wiretaps “because it wouldn’t have been practical to brief him on all of them.” (He was working on his hook shot and couldn’t be disturbed.)
It’s hard to imagine that the Germans believe a word of this excuse, and the NSA doesn’t expect them to. The president gets a daily intelligence briefing; the briefer would not tell the president about a betrayal of a major European ally? A fib that big is meant only for public consumption.
This is “the mushroom treatment” that rarely works. Mushrooms like the dark, so mushroom growers are careful to keep them there under a blanket of bull manure. It’s good for mushrooms, not so good for presidents. Mushrooms grow, but presidents, as we’re seeing now, shrink.
What the Europeans are at last learning is something that it took Americans five years to learn; that Barack Obama is the master salesman of shiny but shoddy goods. Spying on your friends is not nice, even if the wary and the careful sometimes do it anyway.
But it’s important to never, ever get caught at it. Mr. Obama seems to think it’s OK if he does it, and he expects only applause.
One of his enablers, Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, says the story is all a “misinterpretation,” and if the French, for example, actually knew what was going on “they would be applauding and popping champagne corks.”
The ineptitude of this White House continues to amaze and astonish. We’re learning how Casey Stengel felt when, managing the woeful New York Mets in their inaugural season, he threw up his hands at the stumbling and bungling on the field and cried out to the heavens: “Can’t anybody here play this game?”
Mr. Obama has traveled a long way on white liberal guilt and the indulgence of those who ought to know better, but the Europeans and the oil sheiks with no American history to atone recognize betrayal. His credibility, the only currency of leader-to-leader relationships, lies shredded underfoot and by his own hand.
He drew red lines in Syria and the Syrians treated them as suggestions. He turned to Vladimir Putin to rescue him with a chemical-arms deal of unknown detail, and blew off Saudi Arabia, a crucial ally in a region of the world where reliable friends are hard to find, to pursue a private deal with Iran, a deceitful enemy.
He dumped Hosni Mubarak in Cairo without consulting Arab allies and applauded the installation of Mohammed Morsi and a radical Islamic replacement.
When John Kerry, the secretary of state, showed up in Riyadh begging Prince Bandar, the Saudi intelligence chief, to see him, the prince said he was leaving town, but if Mr. Kerry wanted to meet him at the airport he would spare a few minutes. Not so long ago, no one dared treat the United States this way.
Mr. Obama wants no grown-ups around him, only the adulation of groupies. Valerie Jarrett, the head groupie who enforces worship services at the White House, once set the proper temperature of passion for the object of her affection to David Remnick for his book “The Bridge.”
Miss Jarrett, who was a real-estate saleswoman in Chicago before she became an Obama groupie, reprised the spiel she might have used to unload a house with a leaking roof and termites in the basement:
“I think Barack knew that he had God-given talents that were extraordinary. He know exactly how smart he is … . He knows how perceptive he is.
He knows what a good reader of people he is. And he knows he has the ability — the extraordinary, uncanny ability — to take a thousand different perspectives, digest them and make sense of them, and I think he has never been challenged intellectually … . So what I sensed in him was not just a restless spirit, but somebody with such extraordinary talents that had to be really taxed in order for him to be happy … . He’s been bored to death his whole life. He’s just too talented to do what ordinary people do.”
Once upon a time the rest of the world thought Americans were arrogant. Now they just think we’re stupid. Arrogant was better.
Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.