Misunderstood? US political insiders in Brussels on NSA, TTIP and the great partisan divide

John Mearsheimer wrote that  IMG_0842 (Kopie) „great powers must be forever vigilant and never subordinate survival to any other goal.” These might have been the words of Kevin Gundersen, former policy advisor to the Romney Presidential Campaign and Staff Director of the House Subcomittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, when he rationalized the effects the revelations over the NSA’s activities have had in the US and Europe. Whereas there is great concern over the collection of metadata of US citizens domestically, with Senator Sensenbrenner, the man behind the Patriot Act which empowered the NSA after 9/11, questioning its purpose, the sentiments change drastically with regards to foreign citizens or heads of states. “US citizens are not outraged that the NSA collected data abroad. On the contrary, if they didn’t, the intelligence community would be perceived of not doing their job,” goes Gundersen’s argument. With allegedly over 50,000 pages of documents up his sleeve, Snowden is the big wild card and much depends on his next moves.

However, it remains to be seen whether the waves that the NSA scandal has caused in Europe will truly not “cause long-term damage to the US-EU relationship” nor “get in the way of the TTIP negotiations,” as Gundersen claims. What seems pretty clear is that the notion of “partnership” has to be de-romanticized and to be returned to its pragmatic foundations. The main question for the future of the transatlantic relationship will be whether common values matter only as long as they are in line with common interests. Keeping that in mind, TTIP then might just save the transatlantic relationship.

With TTIP much is at stake and both “partners” stand to gain sizably from the successful conclusion of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). A positive message is that domestically in the US, the TTIP is not in the least bit controversial. On the other hand, Mark Pfeifle, former Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy national Security Advisor for Strategic Communication and Global Outreach at the White House during the Bush Administration, reports that it “has not gained attention past the Foreign policy world, as the affordable health care act or immigration policy are firmly rooted at the top of the DC policymakers’ agendas”. Even if somewhat sidelined by “hotter” political discussions, trade is one of the few nonpartisan issues that receive widespread support. In this case even trade agreements’ usual critics – trade unions – are engaging in positive agenda-setting, since they hope to benefit from the strong position trade unions hold in Europe, so Pfeifle.

IMG_0766 (Kopie)TTIP in fact, should be President Obama’s pet project, since it seems to be one of the few not fraught with problems. Domestically, the last couple of months have been quite exhausting for the President. “The public debates over NSA, IRS and finally the great embarrassments over the malfunctioning healthcare.gov website have weakened the current administration,” Marygrace Galston, former National Campaign for Change Director during the Obama Presidential Campaign, concludes.  However, “looking ahead to the 2014 elections, the advantage for Democrats is that they will be running against a deeply divided GOP,” claims Gundersen. Thad Huguley, Founder and CEP of Huguley Consulting, LLC, agrees, pointing out that the “internal civil war within the GOP is a new phenomenon” speculating that “Democrats will unite behind a competent and battle-tested Hillary Clinton”.

IMG_0850 (Kopie)The main domestic political question is not, however, which way the pendulum will swing in 2014, but rather, how to bridge a deeply partisan division that has all branches of government immobilized.  Currently, the Senate is dominated by Democrats, the House as well as the judges on the Supreme Court are by the majority Republican. While checks and balances are an integral part of the US political system, it currently fails to deliver due to partisanship. Huguley explains that this extreme development of partisanship has its roots in the redistricting that occurs after every census. “Redistricting is driven by self-preservation. It is a system that rewards extremes, in which incumbents cannot lose, because they don’t have to answer to a broad constituency,” Huguley explains. And because incumbents are not driven to take moderate positions but rather extremes, deadlock is inevitable and everything becomes a partisan issue. However, redistricting is deeply entrenched in the system and the big question remains how to roll-back the system. “If Europeans were to look across the Atlantic and think that the US political system is broken and dysfunctional, they would be right,” Huguley jokes.

Susan Schneider

Foto Source: fnf-europe