Why spying on Merkel is so damaging

The episode poses its greatest danger if it seriously damages America’s ability to obtain badly needed allied intelligence and allied help in dealing with terrorism and terrorist-backing states. We are doubly at risk of losing that sort of cooperation because our allies are already wary of the U.S., having seen less American leadership in recent years on a number of important issues.

Syria is probably the most dramatic case of the U.S. not even leading from behind but rather stumbling along behind. Wavering American leadership has also led the Europeans to fear that their tough economic sanctions on Iran may be subjected to a pre-emptive weakening, now that the Obama administration is avidly pursuing talks with Tehran over its nuclear program. The Europeans also have not forgotten that in 2009 the Obama administration abandoned plans to install antiballistic-missile sites in the Czech Republic and Poland, to the deep concern of both nations and to Moscow’s pure delight.

In addition to France’s being a far better leader than the U.S. on Syria—they were ready to punish Bashar Assad for his chemical-weapons use, no need for a parliamentary vote of approval—the French also took charge in Mali earlier this year to combat Islamist rebels. Germany has long stood beside us in Afghanistan. In short, our allies over the past several years, almost always including Britain, have taken action that is in America’s interest on more than one occasion.