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With friends like Washington, Brussels needs no enemies

Robert Bridge
Robert Bridge

Robert Bridge is an American writer and journalist. He is the author of 'Midnight in the American Empire,' How Corporations and Their Political Servants are Destroying the American Dream. @Robert_Bridge

Robert Bridge is an American writer and journalist. He is the author of 'Midnight in the American Empire,' How Corporations and Their Political Servants are Destroying the American Dream. @Robert_Bridge

With friends like Washington, Brussels needs no enemies
US President Barack Obama addressed the ministers of the EU-US Summit in Brussels with high-sounding, candy-coated phrases in an apparent effort to mask deep strains in the transatlantic partnership.

Very little of what Obama said in Brussels on Wednesday was any different from anything he’d already said before in Prague, London or Lisbon: “Europe is America’s closest partner. Europe, including the European Union, is the cornerstone of our engagement around the globe. We are more secure and we are more prosperous, the world is safer and more just when Europe and America stand as one…”

It leaves the listless listener wondering if somebody on Obama’s team forgot to change the tape in the teleprompter.

In any case, although the US leader’s velvety-smooth oratory has barely skipped a beat since the morning of April 5, 2009, when he delivered his first speech to a European audience in the heart of Prague, the actions coming out of Pennsylvania Avenue certainly have.

So let us be fair and admit that at least one half of Obama’s promise of “hope and change” – specifically the change part - has turned out to be entirely and unfortunately accurate. The true face of that “change” was revealed by former NSA consultant-turned whistleblower Edward J. Snowden, who fled from the United States last summer with thousands of classified US documents in his possession.

This was not your typical espionage case. Snowden’s revelations provided stark evidence that the US National Security Agency (NSA) was - and probably still is - conducting a massive data-mining surveillance campaign against any person on the planet who presently communicates over the internet or by cell phone.

Bad as that may sound, the news got worse. The NSA, as the main partner in the supra-national intelligence organization known as the Five Eyes (comprised of non-European members Australia, Canada, New Zealand, as well as the United Kingdom and US), was found to be gathering information on the communications of international leaders, many of whom are trusted US allies.

Although European and Latin American leaders (specifically German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff) severely rebuked the United States and its partners for the unprecedented invasion of privacy and security breach, bilateral relations seemed blissfully business-as-usual yesterday in Brussels. Which means, of course, the NSA breach was completely ignored, while the Ukrainian crisis was front and center.

“Events in Ukraine and elsewhere go to show that there are many unsettling uncertainties. That is why the solid certainty of the transatlantic relationship is so crucial,” commented President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy. “It is the bedrock to face these challenges: a bond of friendship, tested by history. And that bond is shock-proof.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (Reuters / Bart Maat)

Clearly, the EU is dancing around transatlantic landmines, choosing to ignore serious bilateral issues by focusing attention on Crimea’s decision to join the Russian Federation in a landslide referendum. Certainly at least a mention of the NSA spy ring is worthy of some public comment. If nothing else, the United States should know better than to resort to such underhanded tactics. After all, it was precisely such activities that led to the political downfall of Richard M. Nixon in the wake of the Watergate Scandal. Nixon and dozens of staff members were accused of bugging the offices of political opponents, a charge that forced the US leader to resign on August 9, 1974, rather than face near-certain impeachment. Nixon has the unique historical distinction of being the only American president to resign the office.

However, even drawing attention to the Ukrainian crisis will force some Europeans to remember the undiplomatic comments uttered by Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland in a phone call with US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt — a conversation that speaks volumes about Washington’s behind-the-scenes manipulation of Ukrainian politics.

After much discussion over Ukrainian political personalities, specifically Vitaly Klitschko, leader of the opposition Strike party, Nuland is heard saying, “I don't think Klitsch should go into the government. I don't think it's necessary, I don't think it's a good idea.” Later in the conversation she says “F**k the EU” after expressing hope that the United Nations would “help glue this thing.”

After these back-to-back ballistic assaults – one physical, one very verbal – it is worth questioning exactly how much third-world treatment Brussels is willing to take from Washington.

Meanwhile, attention out of Washington continues to be unfairly distributed on Russia’s response to the Ukrainian crisis.

Fortunately, there are many sober-minded Europeans not afraid to speak openly on the issue.

Former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt blasted the Western reaction to the peninsula’s reunification with Russia, saying he can sympathize with Moscow’s actions in Crimea. President Vladimir Putin’s approach to the Crimean issue is “completely understandable,” Schmidt wrote in Die Zeit newspaper, where he’s employed as an editor.

The situation in Ukraine is “dangerous because the West is terribly upset” and it’s “agitation” leads to “corresponding agitation among Russian public opinion and political circles.

Any sanctions aimed against Russia as a form of punishment are “a stupid idea,” he warned.

German Chancellor Merkel agreed, saying on Thursday she is “not interested in escalation” of tensions with Russia.

“On the contrary, I am working on de-escalation of the situation,” she added.

While that is certainly a goal worth pursuing, it is unfortunate and increasingly inconceivable that the European Union continues to give Uncle Sam a free pass on bad behavior, while Russia must endure lectures, the threat of sanctions, even its exclusion from the G8.

Brussels’ unwillingness to call a spade a spade regarding Washington’s activities against the EU, which are in reality far more damaging in the long-term to EU security than anything that Moscow has done since before the collapse of the Soviet Union, will only continue to weaken the transatlantic partnership.

After all, friends should also be counted on to condemn when necessary, not merely toe the line.

Robert Bridge is the author of the book,Midnight in the American Empire, which examines the dangerous consequences of extreme corporate power in the United States.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.