The Blog

Obama on Limiting NSA: 'I Am One Figure, One Man'

11:13 AM, Jan 24, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

In a little noticed interview President Obama did with German media last weekend, he defended his positioning on the NSA by saying, "I am one figure, one man in this broader process."

CK: On a personal note a last question, although I am getting a signal. I was there covering your speech at the victory column, standing about one hundred feet from you, one of the most exciting assignments I had. What you cannot know that hundreds of meters away, people who couldn’t even see the stage, certainly not you, were listening in a way that you heard a pin drop. There was so much hope and expectation in the air of Berlin on that day. And to- day, five years into the presidency, our polls indicate this has basically melted away. A lot of disappointment in your policy and performance has established itself. So how do you think that could happen?

BO: Well, look. I think that the nature of being president of the United States is that you are steer- ing a massive ship. And I have a clear vision, which I described in Berlin that day and which I described in speeches that I made when I was running for office in 2008, of where I think we need to go, of how we uphold dignity and freedom of all individuals, of how countries should relate to each other, of how we should promote economic growth that is good for all people and not just those at the very top. And those values continue to drive what I do every day. Where disappointment typically comes in, and this is natural, is that people think I am driving a speed boat and that I can…

CK: You would rather.

BO: …quickly move in that direction and I get there and by this time, four years after the fact, I would have ended all wars and I would have brought the world together and the economy would be humming along. And, unfortunately, although I would love to be in that position, the president of the United States is not emperor of the world. I am one figure, one man in this broader process and what I try to do, then, is to, every single day, move us a little bit closer to that vision I set. And my hope is that at the end of my presidency, over the course of eight years, there will be a body of work where people will say: He ended the war in Iraq responsi- bly. He ended the war in Afghanistan responsibly. He was able to move our war footing after 9/11 into a greater focus on diplomacy and building multi-lateral agreements and institutions, that he advanced the cause of dealing with climate change, even if it is not completely solved. If I can show that, as a consequence to the work that I did, we are closer to that vi- sion that I described in Berlin, then it will have been time well spent.

But I assure you that anybody who feels frustrated at the slow pace of our progress in some of these areas is probably less impatient than I am. I would love to get there faster, but it’s the nature of this job and the nature of history that sometimes things take longer than we would like.

CK: You have nine-hundred or so days left. Good luck.

Malte Lehming comments at the National Interest: "There are more than a few German words that have been adopted straight into English without undergoing the baptism of a translation—Autobahn, Kindergarten, Angst, and Schadenfreude. Since the past weekend a new one should be added, namely, the term Fremdschamen. Its a verb that means to remain passive but so flagrantly that others become embarrassed for you because your passivity causes them such profound embarrassment. Recall the appearance of Colin Powell before the UN Security Council in which he declared beyond a shadow of a doubt that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.

Now a fresh example can be added: On late Saturday night Barack Obama gave a fifteen minute interview on German television that piled on one embarrassment after another. German television never asked the White House for the interview. Rather, the National Security Council asked for it. The goal was clear: a charm offensive because of the spying scandal in Germany. The president pleaded for understanding for the practices of the NSA. He acted contemplative, feeling himself, you could say, into the feelings of the Germans. He declared that he could not allow the relationship between Germany and America to be damaged through surveillance. The interview reached its highpoint with Obama's characterization of himself that is surely unique in the history of the presidency. He announced that he is not the ruler of the world. No, he's an average guy. Obama said that he is only "one man, one person," in a long "process." This sort of self-pity is no substitute for policy.

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 15 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers