How Obama Can Win Back Europe's Trust

Monday, 28 Oct 2013 09:33 AM

By Jon Friedman

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This was all President Obama needed — headlines screaming that some of our staunchest and most critical allies were deeply offended by the latest disclosures of the United States' loutish acts. 
 
For much of his four-plus years in the White House, the POTUS has had to shore up his relations with his political base, which has tacitly and loudly accused him of being too conciliatory and not strident enough in his dealings. If only that was his problem with Europe's leaders, who look at him as a symbol of betrayal.
 
When foreign powers hurl mud at President Obama, they are talking to all of us. Nobody should use this occasion for political gain.
 
Bloomberg News noted: "European Union leaders said last week they would seek a trans-Atlantic accord on espionage after Der Spiegel magazine reported the NSA targeted German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone and Le Monde newspaper said the agency collected telecommunications data in France."
 
Now, the question is: Can the president win back the trust and loyalty of the European leaders? Yes, but he might prefer to undergo a root canal — without any Novocaine.
 
The president will have to eat crow. Lots of crow. In public. With his hands. And act like he is enjoying the experience.
 
It isn't good enough for Obama's supporters (even if they're absolutely correct) to remind the world that he isn't the first president who has committed these kinds of dastardly deeds. Obama doesn't have the luxury of hiding behind others' historical misdeeds. He has to stand up for his administration, his legacy, and his citizens all by himself. He has to take the media — and he has to do it with a smile on his face (yes, a wan smile will do).
 
Like it or not, the U.S. seems to have been caught in the act of snooping recklessly. As any lifelong journalist will tell you, it usually isn't merely the heinous or stupid or crooked act that gets someone into hot water forever — not, it is the cover-up.
 
It is the guilty party's refusal to admit his or her guilt that seals the media's rancor. Journalists don't like to give someone the benefit of the doubt and then feel as if they've been made to look like idiots and dupes. If someone simply says mea culpa, the plea will probably be accepted and everyone will soon move on. 
 
In an unrelated matter (but comparable in terms of teaching us a lesson), who has suffered the most in baseball's steroids scandal? It has been the figures who insisted that they were innocent and acted seriously affronted by the accusations. The players who admitted their wrongdoing, apologized and asked for forgiveness were generally re-accepted into baseball society in good stead (former New York Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte, for instance).
 
If President Obama agrees to swallow his pride and throw his presidency on the mercy of Europe's haughty leaders, he'd be taking a proactive (though painful) step toward reclaiming their good graces. The U.S. media would (probably) back off in general, too. 
 
So, the question becomes: Where does the buck stop here?
 
Jon Friedman writes the Media Matrix blog for Indiewire.com. He is also the author of "Forget About Today: Bob Dylan's Genius for (Re)Invention, Shunning the Naysayers, and Creating a Personal Revolution." Read more reports from Jon Friedman — Click Here Now.
 
 
 
 

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