World leaders are pretty upset about revelations from National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden suggesting that the U.S. spy agency has monitored their phone conversations. In a 2006 memo just unveiled by The Guardian, the NSA appears to admit to eavesdropping on 35 unidentified world leaders.
If you want to understand why the NSA monitors the communications of world leaders — even of allies like Germany and France — read Marc Ambinder's explanation. (Hint: It's the agency's job.) If you want a more entertaining take, watch Jon Stewart on Thursday night's Daily Show.
Stewart started out with Pakistan, and the allegations from human rights groups that U.S. drones are killing civilians. Things got pretty awkward when Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited President Obama right after that report came out, Stewart said, and thornier still when Secretary of State John Kerry, visiting France, had to deal with allegations that the U.S. spied on millions of French citizens.
It's not really spying, Stewart said, it's just that French phone calls are so sexy that the NSA can't resist listening in. To make his point, he broke out a French accent that sounded more like Speedy Gonzales.
The embarrassment for the White House reached its peak, though, in an uncomfortable phone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who called Obama to complain about allegations that the NSA tapped her cellphone. Then there's Mexico, Brazil, and the other 30 or so nations upset about alleged U.S. monitoring of their internal communications. "Awkward," said Stewart.
But here's the thing: "Have you met us?" Stewart asked the world. "Meddling in your affairs for our self-interest is sort of our thing. What part of everything we've done since the Monroe Doctrine don't you get?" In fact, tapping phones is "pretty weak tea," he added — before telling the world that the U.S. is sorry… "sorry that you forgot that we are kind of dicks."
And then Stewart brought down the hammer: "Every nation acts in their own self-interest," and that includes all these whining allies and frenemies. He reminded France that it "handed off the Vietnam War" to America while it invaded Algeria, Pakistan that it requested some of the drone strikes and sheltered Osama bin Laden for years, and Germany… "Do I really have to justify myself to a country that invaded Poland because they thought Poland was looking at them funny?"
Don't think of the U.S. as "an overly aggressive, paranoid superpower," Stewart advised. "Think of us as what anyone's looking for in a partner: A good listener. A great listener. The best listener in the history of the world."
Foreign anger over NSA spying isn't Obama's only problem, Stewart noted. Nor is the glitchy rollout of ObamaCare's health-insurance exchange website. The president just fired a high-ranking national security adviser for tweeting rude things under the handle @NatSecWonk. At first Stewart feigned confusion about why Jofi Joseph was canned — "Oh, so it's less Deep Throat and more Gossip Girl," he quipped — but then, after reading some of his awful tweets, he saw the problem.
Still, how did it take the White House so long to figure out the identity of the mystery tweeter, Stewart asked, incredulously. "You can tap the German chancellor's phone, but Bitchy McSnarkeson was three cubicles away and no one knew what's going on?"
Still, Stewart wasn't convinced that kicking Joseph to the curb was the right move. Yes, he's a jerk, but he had a huge Twitter following among Washington's foreign policy elite. That means "someone at the White House knows how to used the internet and give people what they want," Stewart said. So maybe instead of firing the guy, "Maybe they put him in charge of running the ol' HealthCare.gov." Zing!
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why atheism doesn't have the upper hand over religion
- The world's dumbest idea: Taxing solar energy
- 31 TV shows to watch in 2014
- He said he was leaving. She ignored him.
- 10 things you need to know today: April 19, 2014
- Attack of the invasive species
- 14 wonderful words with no English equivalent
- Why we can't stop procrastinating, according to science
- Why would a young person today be religious?
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
Subscribe to the Week