Finally, how can Obama explain to the EU — whose delegation in Washington was also bugged — that it is crucially important to enter into honest, serious and comprehensive negotiations to conclude a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)? Prominent voices in Europe, including European Parliament President Martin Shulz and the leader of Germany’s Social Democrats — who is about to form a coalition government with Merkel — are already demanding a suspension of the TTIP talks.
The potential economic cost of a delay or a failure to achieve closer transatlantic economic integration could total hundreds of billions of dollars, in addition to the incalculable damage done to the US’ credibility in Europe.
There is much talk today about the risks of a new era of US isolationism and a lack of US leadership in the world. It is important to remember that isolationism can be triggered not only by a potential retreat from global affairs, but also by the rather imprudent use of Washington’s hard and soft power on the world stage.
To escape the NSA mess, various options will be discussed. The new Franco-German push for an intelligence-sharing agreement with the US is probably difficult to put into practice, especially considering that spy services operating around the world are not always fully controllable.
As a first step, Obama must rediscover the great communications skills that propelled him to the White House in the first place. From a public diplomacy perspective, his handling of the surveillance scandal has been a complete failure.
To contain the damage and begin to rebuild much-needed trust, Obama must issue a credible apology to Merkel, other Western allies and their citizens.
In the US political context, issuing an apology — especially to foreign governments — is often viewed as a sign of weakness. In the case of the NSA scandal, an unequivocal apology by Obama is the only viable solution to leave the past behind and move forward. Unfortunately, the window of opportunity for such a gesture to be viewed in Europe as a much-awaited olive branch and a sign of real US strength and conviction is closing fast.
Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg has served as German minister of defense and minister of economics and technology.
Copyright: Project Syndicate