Gentlemen's Mail

October 29, 2013 - 4:36 AM

From Newport Beach, California

When Senator Barack Obama became President-elect Barack Obama, then President Barack Obama there was not-so-secret high-fiving in newsrooms and editorial offices world-wide that after eight years of plundering and bumbling by that cowboy George W. Bush, finally America's foreign policy would be led by a sophisticated internationalist sitting in the White House.

America's foreign policy, after four years, nine months, and one week under the guidance of that sophisticated internationalist is as scrambled as a Rotary Club golf tournament on a summer Tuesday afternoon in Beverly, Ohio.

Forget about the Sunday talk shows yesterday that had guest-after-guest quacking over one another about the state of the Obamacare website and whether the ACA would ever work.

We'll know that in about 18 months when people who are supposed to have signed up either have or haven't, whether health insurance is cheaper and better, or more expensive and worse or some combination.

The only thing we know at this moment is that the ACA is going to go into effect sometime in 2014 and by the next Presidential election will either be a success or a failure. Neither side can wish its desired result to come true.

Let's look at what's going on outside our borders - the kind of events that led the geniuses at the Nobel Peace Prize committee to award it to President Barack Obama on October 9, 2009 for his "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."

How far we've come in just four years, huh?

Last week it came to light that the U.S. has been intercepting signals from German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cell phone since 2002. She didn't become Chancellor until November 2005, so who knows what George W. and Dick Cheney were listening for in those first three years?

When asked about the tapping of Chancellor Merkel's phone, CBS news reported White House Press Secretary Jay Carney as saying: "The president assured the chancellor that the United States is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of the chancellor."

That leaves open the question: Did the United States EVER monitor the communications of German Chancellor Angela Merkel?

The German Newspaper Die Welt, The World, (as I know from my three years of German I in high school) claimed Obama had been told about tapping Merkel's phone in 2010.

The head of the NSA, according to Reuters' excellent translation, "General Keith Alexander informed Obama in person about it in 2010."

The NSA said that Gen. Alexander never had that meeting with President Obama, but stopped short of saying no one had informed the U.S. President.

BBC.com is reporting this morning that the NSA monitored 60 million phone calls made by Spaniards -- in one month.

The U.K. Guardian published more previously Way-Beyond-Top-Secret information stolen by Edward Snowden including this: "The National Security Agency monitored the phone conversations of 35 world leaders after being given the numbers by an official in another US government department..."

Add to the general anger aimed at Mr. Obama by our allies - including, as we mentioned last week, Saudi Arabia - the huge boost in stature the President granted to Vladimir Putin by his bungling of the Syria issue, the Iranians now perhaps no more than weeks away from having a nuclear weapon, the growing rift between the U.S. and Pakistan over drone strikes and the continuing crisis of the coup in Egypt, it is fair to say the bloom is off the Obama rose among our foreign friends.

I understand that everyone spies on everyone else and everyone else knows they are being spied upon by everyone.

But even among spies one might imagine there being rules of engagement. And, as the technology of communications continues to advance, even the unwritten rules of engagement are being broken by the Obama Administration.

Henry L. Simpson was one of the 20th centuries most gifted public servants. According to some sources, when he was Secretary of State in 1929, he closed the cryptanalytic bureau of his Department with the statement: "Gentlemen don't read each other's mail."

Simpson recanted that in later years, but it is now up to others to decide whether the information gathered through these wiretaps has been worth the loss of trust and prestige that the rest of the world has had in the President of the United States.

On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to the definition of a "scramble," to the CBS coverage of Merkel, to the Guardian's assertion that we've tapped 35 foreign leaders, and to a source for the year of the Simpson quote. Also a Mullfoto from last week at a stop light in downtown Washington, DC.