Here’s looking at you: Why America spies on its allies (and probably should)
By MAX FISHER — The Washington Post
A week now after the initial revelation that the United States might have monitored the cellphone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, there’s little doubt that the story has been damaging for this country and for the National Security Agency, which earned the wrath of even longtime defender Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who oversees it as the Senate Intelligence Committee chair. At the same time, though, the initial anger appears to be giving way to debate: Is it, in fact, a bad idea for the United States to spy on friendly foreign leaders such as Merkel? That question might sound counterintuitive, even cynical, a sign of the depth of Americans’ hubris that we would even consider it. After all, friends don’t spy on each other, right? But I’m going to let you in on a little secret: The international system is, and always has been, inherently adversarial, even among allies. To paraphrase the 19th-century British statesman Lord Palmerston, countries don’t have friends, they have interests. Spying on friendly foreign nations does not actually violate the standard practices of international relations and in many ways is consistent with those norms. The close U.S. allies France and Israel are particularly known for it. Still, something as explicit as tapping Merkel’s cellphone is a big and legitimately surprising step, one that may well go too far.
Here is an...