The NYTimes has just published one of its brilliant series of debates, this time on the question of whether it is appropriate to spy on allies. The writers line up more or less two for, two against. Within the for camp there is a split between the world-weary cynical academic Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones, and Bush-era senior Homeland Security official Stewart Baker’s raving paranoia. His headline is “Allies aren’t always friends”, but what he really means is, there are no friends, only enemies we’re not at war with yet. The world is divided up into current enemies and future enemies. He writes
Even the countries we usually see as friends sometimes take actions that quite deliberately harm the United States and its interests. Ten years ago, when the U.S. went to war with Iraq, France and Germany were not our allies. They were not even neutral. They actively worked with Russia and China to thwart the U.S. military’s mission. Could they act against U.S. interests again in the future – in trade or climate change negotiations, in Syria, Libya or Iran?
This is, to put it briefly, insane. It’s like saying, “You’re not my friend. You actively worked to take away my car keys and thwart my plan to drive home from the party yesterday,” after you managed to get the keys back and then ran the car into a tree. Anyone who followed the discussion in France in Germany at the time of the Iraq war would have to acknowledge that “harming the United States and its interests” was nowhere part of the justification for opposing the war. It wasn’t even a matter of seeing the US and Europe as having opposing interests that demand a compromise, that of course can happen between friends. The general belief was that the US and Europe had one common interest, and the US was screwing it up with its obsession with the “military mission”.
Now, the public debate may have been a charade. Perhaps Mr Baker has seen NSA-procured films of clandestine meetings between Schröder and Chirac, with Chirac twirling the thin moustache that he had specially attached by state cosmeticians for such meetings, and saying, “Of course, you are right, cher Ger’art, my plan to deploy the Force de Frappe to obliterate Washington and that freedom-loving Bush and the ‘orrible MacDo, lacks sufficient, how you say, finesse. Far better to allow our good friend Saddam ‘ussein do our dirty work.” And then they pinned the European Star, first class, to Osama bin Laden’s robe, and apologised that his great service could not yet be publicly acknowledged, but that he would be shining beacon to enemies of freedom down through the ages.
It’s a shame that they can’t publish that. Everyone would understand then why spying on our not-yet-enemies is so important. Until then, our spies will have to remain sadly misunderstood.