It’s often been said that trust is something that you earn — or that you completely destroy in irredeemable ways. So it’s a little bizarre to see President Obama trying to restore German trust in the US (and specifically over NSA surveillance) with a bogus “hey, trust us” line, when his own government has spent the past few years doing everything possible to undermine any residual trust. Yet here he is, in a joint appearance with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, asking for “the benefit of the doubt.”
There are going to still be areas where we’ve got to work through these issues. We have to internally work through some of these issues, because they’re complicated, they’re difficult. If we are trying to track a network that is planning to carry out attacks in New York or Berlin or Paris, and they are communicating primarily in cyberspace, and we have the capacity to stop an attack like that, but that requires us then being able to operate within that cyberspace, how do we make sure that we’re able to do that, carry out those functions, while still meeting our core principles of respecting the privacy of all our people?
And given Germany’s history, I recognize the sensitivities around this issue. What I would ask would be that the German people recognize that the United States has always been on the forefront of trying to promote civil liberties, that we have traditions of due process that we respect, that we have been a consistent partner of yours in the course of the last 70 years, and certainly the last 25 years, in reinforcing the values that we share. And so occasionally I would like the German people to give us the benefit of the doubt, given our history, as opposed to assuming the worst — assuming that we have been consistently your strong partners and that we share a common set of values.
And if we have that fundamental, underlying trust, there are going to be times where there are disagreements, and both sides may make mistakes, and there are going to be irritants like there are between friends, but the underlying foundation for the relationship remains sound.