German Politics

Auch wenn man es eigentlich nicht glauben will…

Kein Wunder, daß die Bundesregierung nichts von den illegalen CIA-Gefangenentransporten durch deutschen Luftraum wußte – sie wollte ja gar nichts wissen…

Bundesinnenminister Schäuble hat es vor dem BND-Untersuchungsausschuss abgelehnt, dass der Verfassungsschutz die Aktivitäten von US-Geheimdiensten in Deutschland mit nachrichtdienstlichen Mitteln beobachtet. Die US-Regierung habe erklärt, dass sie im „Kampf gegen den Terrorismus“ die Souveränität und Gesetze anderer Staaten achte. „Ich habe keinen Anlass, daran zu zweifeln“, sagte Schäuble. (via fefes Blog)

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oddly enough, traveling

Mona Lisa’s Lächeln

Mona Lisa (source: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bild:Mona_Lisa.jpg)ist schon was besonderes. Auch wenn ich persönlich das Bild weniger beeindruckend finde, als manch anderen Schatz, den es im Louvre zu bewundern gibt, ist das Bild Leonardo da Vincis wohl immer noch die massenwirksamste Attraktion des Museums. Bis zu 65.000 Besucher sollen es sein, tagein, tagaus, die sie sehen wollen. Definitiv zuviele, zumindest nach Auffassung der für ihre Sicherheit verantwortlichen Louvre Aufseher, die nun laut Spiegel Online für eine „Mona Lisa Zulage“ streiken.

Vor Leonardo da Vincis Bildnis der jungen Frau drängte sich immer die größte Schar von Besuchern. „Das Gequassel der Menge tut richtig weh“, sagte ein Aufseher heute. … Und immer wieder müsse man das Fotografieren mit Blitzlicht unterbinden.

Man sollte allerdings auch bemerken, daß der Amüsationsfaktor angesichsts der anwesenden Massen dort ebenfalls am größten ist. Als ich Mona Lisa zum ersten Mal gegenüber trat, stand rechts von mir ein amerikanisches Paar, dessen Ehrgeiz, sich mit klassischer europäischer Kunst auseinander zu setzen, seinem Patriotismus keinen Abbruch tat. Und so identifizierte die Frau nach einiger Überlegung konsequent, was dem Bild Leonardos zur tatsächlichen Perfektion fehlt:

„Would have been better, had it been painted in America.“

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almost a diary, Iraq

A little disappointment.

Did you know that, on average, it takes ten new year’s resolutions until there is even a small effect in the direction of one of them? That could be a good excuse for not posting my song tonight, but, gentle readers, I will be honest with you: I was not yet able to get it into streaming format. So you will have to bear with me and my computer for a day or so.

Not being able to present you with my musical commentary on the current American Commander in Chief is particularly unfortunate as there are new readers who have been told by a web special of the PBS foreign affairs news programme Frontline World that my blog is focusing on the US and the American elections from a German point of view.

The latter is certainly correct, I am always presenting a German point of view, which is inevitable given that I am German. I would, however, like to emphasize that it is highly unlikely that my view will actually be reflected or even taken into account by those who determine „the“ German point of view, aka the German government’s foreign policy – after all, both of us, Germany and me, are entitled to our proper opinion.

With respect to the „American“ focus, well, I certainly tried to put in prespective some of the political rethoric that created the alleged rift through „the West“. The rift in through the West is, in essence, a rift through the US, actually one that goes right through the Republican party along the authoritarian/libertarian axis. However, given the particularities of the American electoral math and political system the rift tends to be pronounced rather than bridged. America is a big country, some of whose regions are (for the better or worse) at the leading edge of human/technological development while others still seem to be premodern. A country where it is illegal to sell „neck-massagers“ in Alabama while thousands of people gather annully for a masturbate-athon in San Francisco.

It is these differences that usually fall between the cracks of news coverage that tends to focus on labels and statements rather than fundamentals and processes. However, I wrote most of my „corrections“ in 2003. So feel free to browse the archives until I present you with GW’s Blues.

And while you’re waiting, gentle new readers, why don’t you head over to afoe – a group blog focusing on European affairs, of which I am a proud (though currently rather silent) contributor.

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Iraq, US Politics

Colin Powell. The Sad Truth.

Colin Powell seems to be a man whose pride apparently gets in the way of seeing the world as it is. Recently, he contested a statement by the likely democratic nominee for President, J.F. Kerry, that he had been marginalised in the Bush administration’s foreign policy.

Yet as a list compiled by Brad DeLong amply demonstrates, this is exactly what happened.

But there is an item missing on the list that I find particularly telling about the way in which Mr Powell has been treated by his colleagues, and, in particular, by the President. Last May, when the White House tried to slowly improve relations with the allies it had seriously alienated with its pre-war behavior, Colin Powell was sent to Berlin for the first meeting with the German administration after the heydey of conflict in the UN security council in February 2003.

But while Colin Powell met with the Chancellor, the President had nothing better to do than embarrass the German government, but even more so his own Secretary of State, by „accidentally“ running into a meeting of VP Cheney with Roland Koch, the truly conservative Primeminister of the German state of Hessen. Here is what I wrote about their meeting last May.

Of course, everybody got the message… as did Colin Powell.

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compulsory reading, Germany, USA

Sophie and Hans Scholl, Our Best.

I’m still not writing much these days because of my broken elbow, but today I just had to say something. Today, Papascott links to Bill Dawson, a US expat, living in and blogging from Vienna, who has written a wonderful post about Sophie Scholl and others who lost their lives in the almost hopeless struggle for human decency during the Nazi regime. For all of you who might not know how and why Sophie Scholl died, I’ll quote from Bill’s post –

„A man lifted her small body and placed it flat on a platform, and a blade from high above came crashing down and severed her twenty-one year-old head from her twenty-one year-old body. Yes, she died on the Guillotine, as did her brother and a close friend on that same day. Her murderers are well-known to us: Die Geheime Staatspolizei, the Secret State Police, the Gestapo. Sophie Scholl was a young lady both of words and of action. She was arrested with her brother Hans on February 18, 1943, one day after that final letter of hers cited above. Their friend Christoph Probst was arrested soon thereafter, and all three were murdered on the same day, February 22, 1943. The Gestapo, though they didn’t know precisely who their prey was, had been hunting them for some time, because leaflets from a group calling itself Die Weisse Rose, the White Rose, had been distributed on multiple occasions in Munich and other cities since the second-half of 1942. On February 18, 1943, Hans and Sophie Scholl were observed by a custodian of the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich as they quickly distributed leaflets inside an otherwise empty hall of the university. This „loyal“ janitor, Jakob Schmied, raised the alarm, and the resistance movement called the White Rose came to an end.“

Bill’s post comes as a reply to the least creative Kraut Bashing article I have come across in quite some time, written by a certain Ralph Peters for the New York Post, the newspaper which started the sophisticated „Axis of Weasels“ campaign back in February. On the surface, Mr Peters is concerned with the bulls**t talk given on October 3rd by soon to be former CDU MP Martin Hohmann, but the gist of his argument can safely be induced from the following statement –

„The whopping difference between the Allied occupation of Germany and our occupation of Iraq is that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis welcomed their liberation. We had to force freedom and democracy on the Germans at gunpoint.“

Tell that to my mother and my father, who, just like millions of other German kids, took chocolate bars from GIs. Anyway, Mr Peters‘ article is not worthy of any extended refutation, which is the only objection I have with respect to Bill Dawson’s otherwise great post – he tries to rationlize Peters‘ article by explaining that –

„[i]t’s the disgusting mindlessness of anti-Americanism here in Europe that offends Peters, myself and many others and which makes us want to hit back. With this gargantuan post I simply mean to show that one can both express disgust and disapproval towards the mindlessness here in Europe and at the same time recognize that the condition is not entirely universal.“

Here I can’t quite follow. By putting his post in this context, by saying that there are exceptions to the „current mindlessness of anti-Americanism“ in Europe just like Sophie Scholl was an exception to the appaling cowardice that held this country, and much of Europe, in grip during the Third Reich, he – I am almost certain accidentally – gives the impression that these two things were actually comparable – which could not be further from the truth.

Last Friday, ZDF tv broadcast „Unsere Besten“ („our best“), the local version of a BBC programme, that allowed tv viewers to cast votes for 300 „cultural Germans“, including celebrity PR nominations like „German Idol“ juror Dieter Bohlen, who was ranked 30th, but excluding Hitler and those in his gang. Sophie and her brother Hans made it to the top ten shortlist from which „the best“ German will be chosen, once more fulfilling Thomas Mann’s prediction that one day Germany would build monuments to commemorate the courage of these young people – although putting them on the shortlist of a meaningless tv show was probably not what they had in mind.

Just as the other nominees, from Albert Einstein to Johann Sebastian Bach, Sophie and Hans Scholl were primarily exceptional humans, not Germans. But there is something about them that stands out. Something that Bill captures rather well by saying –

„[W]e tend to learn about such people – who by all accounts seem fairly normal to their contemporaries – only via extraordinary circumstances. Were it not for the fact that she lived – and died – when she did, she may never have become so remarkable that we would know anything at all about her today.“

More than for anyone on the list, for Sophie and Hans Scholl, just as for those whom they represent in our collective memory, being exceptional humans meant being exceptional Germans. They were truly „our best“. So go and vote for them. I did.

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Germany, USA

A Friend in Need.

Markus of Dormouse Dreaming points to a comment by Richard Cohen, published today in the Washington Post. Mr Cohen is apparently travelling in Germany these days and his observations made him write a manual for future American administrations about „how to loose a friend.“ While his observations are certainly accurate –

„… the indulgence that was granted other presidents is not offered Bush. It is his manner, his rhetoric, his bristling unilateralism that make the United States not so much an exceptional nation but a nation that demands exceptions [very well put, the ed.]. … With the collapse of the Soviet Union, German-American relations were bound to change. The common enemy was gone. But whatever differences were going to emerge have been exacerbated by the Bush administration’s haughty and abrasive style. Might may make right but, as America will discover when it needs them, it does not make friends.“

I would not yet say that Germany has been lost as a friend of the US yet. Although it has taken quite some time for the American administration to understand that when forced to choose between France and the US, it would certainly choose France.

With respect to Mr Cohen’s column, Markus is predominantly concerned About his interpretation of a bizarre, inconclusive poll saying that 20% of Germans believe that the official version of the events of 911 *could* not be the real one, and who do *not rule out* the possibility of American governmental involvement. By contrast, I am not concerned about this at all. And I don’t think this number would have been significantly lower without the American administration preemptively following Mr Cohen’s cliff notes about how to diss old Europe.

I have already written about the possible beneficial effects of intelligent conspiracy theories as well as the dead weight loss of stupid ones when I met a Japanese actress last year who explained to me that the Nazis were actually alien-run puppets – and she wasn’t kidding.

„Now you might reply that conspiracy theories can be valuable – some sort of intellectual modelling, an intelligent fictional exercise trying to identify fundamental causes behind the events that shape the world in our framed perception – even though evidently wrong, most of the times. But the important part of the last argument is intelligent – unintelligent conspiracy theories simply are pulp fiction. Moreover, unintelligent conspiracy theories are plainly dangerous, because they appear to be no longer checks and balances to a possibly framed official version of history but ot have become a „Matrix“ themselves.“

Sure. But even unintelligent ones serve a purpose: when seemingly isolated events seem to shape history, many people will turn to conspiracy theories because they offer the comfort of some kind of deductive logic within their framework when the alternative would be to accept the rough, dark truth that chaos rules, that some mad individuals can change the world, and threaten our way of life, simply by using carpet knives, hijack some planes, and crash them into the World Trade Center.

As for the 20% who „want to believe“ – of course I can’t prove this for no one will have a time series about the number of people (or Germans) who contemplate about the possibility of an American administration using force against its own people because of some secret agenda – I suggest that it is predominantly the discourse, and the tone, that have changed. Suddenly some people get offered microphones who did not before – this, of course, is a direct consequence of the current transatlantic communicative problems.

An American friend once told me that it is a mark of good manners „to say nothing, if you can’t say something nice“. Maybe less people would look for explanations that vilify President Bush and his team had they practiced abstinence as much as they preach it…

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almost a diary, Iraq

The Next Tirpitz?

The older Tirpitz. Ha – I knew it. My gentle readers, I am going to tell you a little secret.

On last new years eve I bet a young German Navy officer for six bottles of Champagne that, in ten years, Germany would have at least ordered a brand new Aircraft carrier… and today – according to Spiegel Online – Roland Koch, the premier of the German state of Hessen and friend of George W. and eternal conservative hopeful in the CDU took advantage of a day trip to the coast to explain that, well, the changed requirements of military interventions might very well include ordering an Aircraft Carrier…

Don’t worry, Roland Koch is not quite the next Tirpitz. This is, above all, funny – for the time being. But yes, the Navy brass will vote CDU next time… ;).

And for the real deal, Harvard’s Andrew Moravcsik shares his thoughts about „Striking a New Transatlantic Bargain“ (full text requires subscription) in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs, entitled „After Saddam“.

Here’s Moravcsik’s brief sketch of the current transatlantic reality –

„The Iraq crisis offers two basic lessons. The first, for Europeans, is that American hawks were right. Unilateral intervention to coerce regime change can be a cost-effective way to deal with rogue states. In military matters, there is only one superpower — the United States — and it can go it alone if it has to. It is time to accept this fact and move on.

The second lesson, for Americans, is that moderate skeptics on both sides of the Atlantic were also right. Winning a peace is much harder than winning a war. Intervention is cheap in the short run but expensive in the long run. And when it comes to the essential instruments for avoiding chaos or quagmire once the fighting stops — trade, aid, peacekeeping, international monitoring, and multilateral legitimacy — Europe remains indispensable. In this respect, the unipolar world turns out to be bipolar after all.

Given these truths, it is now time to work out a new transatlantic bargain, one that redirects complementary military and civilian instruments toward common ends and new security threats. Without such a deal, danger exists that Europeans — who were rolled over in the run-up to the war, frozen out by unilateral U.S. nation building, disparaged by triumphalist American pundits and politicians, and who lack sufficiently unified regional institutions — will keep their distance and leave the United States to its own devices. Although understandable, this reaction would be a recipe for disaster, since the United States lacks both the will and the institutional capacity to follow up its military triumphs properly — as the initial haphazard efforts at Iraqi reconstruction demonstrate.

To get things back on track, both in Iraq and elsewhere, Washington must shift course and accept multilateral conditions for intervention. The Europeans, meanwhile, must shed their resentment of American power and be prepared to pick up much of the burden of conflict prevention and postconflict engagement. Complementarity, not conflict, should be the transatlantic watchword.

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German Politics, Iraq, US Politics

The Next Tirpitz?

Ha – I knew it. My gentle readers, I am going to tell you a little secret.

On last new years eve I bet a young German Navy officer for six bottles of Champagne that, in ten years, Germany would have at least ordered a brand new Aircraft carrier… and today – according to Spiegel Online – Roland Koch, the premier of the German state of Hessen and friend of George W. and eternal conservative hopeful in the CDU took advantage of a day trip to the coast to explain that, well, the changed requirements of military interventions might very well include ordering an Aircraft Carrier…

Don’t worry, Roland Koch is not quite the next Tirpitz. This is, above all, funny – for the time being. But yes, the Navy brass will vote CDU next time… ;).

And for the real deal, Harvard’s Andrew Moravcsik shares his thoughts about „Striking a New Transatlantic Bargain“ (full text requires subscription) in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs, entitled „After Saddam“.

Here’s Moravcsik’s brief sketch of the current transatlantic reality –

„The Iraq crisis offers two basic lessons. The first, for Europeans, is that American hawks were right. Unilateral intervention to coerce regime change can be a cost-effective way to deal with rogue states. In military matters, there is only one superpower — the United States — and it can go it alone if it has to. It is time to accept this fact and move on.

The second lesson, for Americans, is that moderate skeptics on both sides of the Atlantic were also right. Winning a peace is much harder than winning a war. Intervention is cheap in the short run but expensive in the long run. And when it comes to the essential instruments for avoiding chaos or quagmire once the fighting stops — trade, aid, peacekeeping, international monitoring, and multilateral legitimacy — Europe remains indispensable. In this respect, the unipolar world turns out to be bipolar after all.

Given these truths, it is now time to work out a new transatlantic bargain, one that redirects complementary military and civilian instruments toward common ends and new security threats. Without such a deal, danger exists that Europeans — who were rolled over in the run-up to the war, frozen out by unilateral U.S. nation building, disparaged by triumphalist American pundits and politicians, and who lack sufficiently unified regional institutions — will keep their distance and leave the United States to its own devices. Although understandable, this reaction would be a recipe for disaster, since the United States lacks both the will and the institutional capacity to follow up its military triumphs properly — as the initial haphazard efforts at Iraqi reconstruction demonstrate.

To get things back on track, both in Iraq and elsewhere, Washington must shift course and accept multilateral conditions for intervention. The Europeans, meanwhile, must shed their resentment of American power and be prepared to pick up much of the burden of conflict prevention and postconflict engagement. Complementarity, not conflict, should be the transatlantic watchword.

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