German Politics, Iraq

Dear Gerhard,

Why can’t you just cut the crap and just tell us what we already know. Now I know you might not have spoken to many ordinary (that is non party-affiliated) people lately to avoid a heavy beating by angry tax payers. So believe me if I’m telling you that, really, everybody in this country knows that,

  • no, German troops will not actively participate in conquering Bagdad. And let’s face it, Donny & Conny & Tommy (Rumsfeld, Rice, Franks…) are most likely rather grateful that the US armed forces will not have to babysit ze Tschermans while trying ot invade Iraq, but
  • yes, Germany (ahm, you) will do pretty much everything else the US ask for to facilitate their (and token British) strike on Saddam’s regime. Yes, we know that includes all the „eventualities“ you still refuse to discuss, especially some sort of involvement of the ABC clearing tanks only deployed in Kuwait for operation Enduring Freedom and those German soldiers in NATO AWACS planes – only „protecting“ NATO territory, of course.

Ple-heease. We know you’ve been „framing the truth“ all along. And yes, even those who voted for you two months ago knew it. But they liked your irredentist behavior. Bashing the rich and powerful is a natural socialist instinct (which, by the way, all too often led to schizophrenia once socialists had become rich and powerful…) and we like some good political entertainment.

But now we know how the story ends and there’s not too much repeat viewing value to it. So can you please save yourself and all others a lot of time by just telling us what we all know?

P.S.: And while you’re about to make some useful decisions, please fire Olaf Scholz (your party’s general secretary who does not believe Germany needs a makeover). I guess you hired him to make yourself look better in comparison. That’s fair enough. And I guess he did not even understand why he got that job… but seriously, that guy is lowering the level of this comparison to levels rarely seen in postwar politics.

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US Politics

Still in love! Bush caught nibbling Schroeder’s earlobe!

bu_schroePrague. 21/11/02. In what must be regarded as a striking revelation given recent public rows, the two world leaders weren’t ashamed to demonstrate their feelings toward each other publicly during yesterday’s NATO summit in Praque. The only remaining question is what George W whispered in Gerhard’s ear. I suppose it was something like „And they all believed we were actually fighting. We should do that more often! See ya later…“

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German Politics, Germany

Am I giving Schröder too much credit?

The reelected German SPD-led government is having a hard time these days. An opposition spokesperson yesterday stated that it was now offically allowed to call Hans Eichel, the finance minister, a liar (for he said he did not know about the looming deficit before the election) and it will be next to impossible to find a paper not bashing the government for its troubled first weeks. The Economist is no exception here.

While almost everybody (except for the powerful service union leader Bsirske, who publicly stated this weekend that he has yet to see the crisis) agrees that Germany is badly in need of some deregulation, especially concerning the labour market, things are a lot harder to do than to talk about. Especially given the troubled economy which will make it much more difficult for the government to produce visible results after much needed structural reforms.

To reform the labour markets is one important step. But it is a politically troublesome one if it only means to cut welfare without more people actually getting jobs because of lacking demand.

And it is a politically even more troublesome step if the powerful unions, as always pursuing their insider-ousider game, are cashing in their price for supporting the chancellor when his campaign looked the bleakest last summer.

So what is the government doing? It is proposing a problematic incoherent austerity package in combination with redistributive measures which the unions approve of but which are increasingly despised of by a growing majority of people.

However, I believe, the chancellor thinks he can play a game because most of those laws have to be approved by the upper chamber of the Bundestag, the Bundesrat, in which the conservative opposition (CDU) currently holds a majority. So he proposes legislation to service the unions knowing it does not pose a great risk supposing the opposition will block it anyway.

After that he will be able to tell the unions to keep quiet whilst actually going to reform things.

Am I giving Schröder too much credit? There’s one big problem with such a strategy: It depends on the key players to silently cooperate. If the CDU actually lets some the „union-reforms“ get through the upper chamber in the hopes that the following implementation will anger a significant amount of previous Schröder voters it won’t work. And if Schröder can’t credibly blame the opposition for blocking the union-proposals, he will not be able to escape the unions‘ embrace.

It’s a risky strategy and, of course, I don’t know if it’s actually what is happening. But it does make strategic sense to me. The SPD has probably already lost the two upcoming regional elections because of the revelation of the ever increasing deficit just after the general elections (which the government is only partly to blame for). Should that also be the perception of the government and the opposition leaders, the silent cooperation may have already begun.

We’ll see.

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German Politics, Germany, Iraq, Political Theory, US Politics, USA

A deeper rift? Some context…

Firstly, a noteworthy article by Robert Kagan concerning the fundamental policy-style differences between Europe and the US, published in May in the Washington Post.

Secondly, The Economist’s analysis of these differences. Thirdly, a paper called „Mutual Perceptions“ by Peter Rudolf of the German Institute for Foreign and Strategic Policy (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP), Berlin), presented at a conference of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies on Sept. 10, 2002.

Some key quotes from the latter :

„The American and the European publics, including the German public are also not so far apart in their view of the world. They do not live on different planets, the one on Mars, the other on Venus, as Robert Kagan`s now famous dictum says. Looking at the collective preferences on both sides of the Atlantic, we are no way drifting apart. In their majority, Americans and Europeans do share a positive view of international institutions, Americans are more multilateral than unilateral oriented; Europeans, even Germans, are by far less opposed to the use of military force, although they are inclined to support it for humanitarian purpose and for upholding international law. Although the use of military means for combating terrorism finds support among a majority of people across Europe, the preferred measures to combat terrorism lie – to a greater extent than among Americans – in the economic realm: in helping poor countries to develop their economies. Thus, Americans and Germans do not live on different planets but those neoconservatives do, those – to quote former President Carter – „belligerent and divisive voices“ now seemingly dominant in Washington, those whose vision of America`s role in the world implies a basic strategic reorientation of American foreign policy. Using the dramatically increased perception of vulnerability to asymmetric threats and instrumentalizing the „war on terror“ as the legitimizing principle, the hegemonic – or better: the imperial – wing of the conservative foreign policy elite effectively dominated the political discourse and left its imprint on a series of decisions..“ (p. 2)

„Should the neoconservatives succeed in turning the United States into a crusader state waging so-called preventive wars, German-American relations will head to further estrangement. If the current debate on Iraq is indicative of things to come, the expectation of American neoconservatives that their European allies will in the end jump on the bandwagon might be disappointed, at least in the German case. In their despise of their irrelevant amoral European allies and in their overconfidence in American hard power resources, they simply ignore the value dimension of the current transatlantic conflicts. It is a conflict about different visions of world order.“ (p. 6)

Lastly, for those who can read German, another SWP study – „Preventive war as solution? The USA and Iraq.“ For those who don’t read German, the footnotes are a remarkable collection of mostly English language documents concerning the intra-US-administrative discussion as well as the international one. I’ll probably post some key references later.

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Iraq, US Politics, USA

Somebody help me, I don’t quite understand

This entry is about the „poisoned relations“ (Condoleeza Rice, Sept 21) between the US administration and the old (and new) German government. OK, I can understand a certain confusion about the comments allegedly made by (now former) Justice Minister Herta Däubler-Gmelin (not Interior Minister, as Ms Rice indicated in the interview on Sept 21.). According to one local German newspaper she mentioned during a campaign speech addressing a union assembly in her constituency that the US administration were using the Iraq-war-issue to distract from domestic problems. This, she allegedly said, is a common tactic which had also been employed by Hitler.

No one seems to know the exact words of her statement, as it was a print journalist reporting who did apparently not use a recording device during the event. But the problem at hand is not factual accuracy.

If anybody knows about foreign policy, it is Condoleeza Rice. A lot of governments have stressed foreign policy questions during elections. It’s somewhat an executive privilege. Actually, Schroeder has done precisely that in recent weeks. In 1983, Margaret Thatcher had an entire war to distract from the economic problems her policies caused in the UK. And there can be no question about the importance of a possible war with Iraq on the current electoral agenda in the US. Last Saturday, the NY Times reported just about an inch right of the article about Ms Däubler-Gmelin’s alleged remarks that the President’s party is gaining from the „war talk“ using the headline „G.O.P. Gains From War Talk. But Does Not Talk About It“. The fair question therefore seems to be not if, but to which extent the war talk is a campaigning issue.

Whatever it was Herta Däubler-Gmelin said, it was no personal comparison of Bush and Hitler. But it was most certainly an extremely stupid thing to say given the current climate. Politics is not academia. It is not about being right.

Well, the current „poisoned“ climate. How did it come about? The Bush hawks say, getting rid of Saddam is not an ‚if‘-question, but a question of ‚when‘. Public discourse: Saddam’s Iraq is a member of the Axis of Evil, a supporter of terrorism and in possession of weapons of mass destruction (now widely known as WMD) which he is ready to use against Israel and the Western world. But the evidence provided for this claim is, until today, rather sketchy. Even Blair’s documentation, published earlier today, has apparently added only very little to the publicly available information concerning the Iraqi threat. Let’s face it, while the Iraqi dictatorship certainly poses a threat to stability in the Middle East, there is no clear-cut Saddam-induced publicly available answer explaining why war with Iraq should suddenly have become unavoidable. However, it has become the single most important issue on the global political agenda these days.

Europeans, currently very sensitive to the increasing hollowing out of political sovereignty on US-terms, have been critical of the US proposal to oust Saddam. Schroeder, fighting a campaign, opposed the US initiative fervently, in an attempt to win the support of the generally anti-war oriented German public. He said that Germany would not participate in any military action against Iraq. His statement has probably also been informed by the dismal state of the German forces. All available crisis reaction forces are already deployed on the Balcans and in Afghanistan and Kuwait (ISAF and Enduring Freedom). Besides, the US military does not seem to be in need of military aid. So it’s all about showcase support and a political coalition backing US use of force against Iraq. Schroeder said no. Some people say it is not wise to rule out military options in order to keep pressure on Iraq and I agree. In this respect the current quarrels are truly lamentable. But it is also true that the current discourse in Washington is not about building a credible threat to usher Saddam into cooperation with the UN or is it? Unfortunately, Schroeder’s current position is also somewhat incoherent, offering military support after a possible UN mandated military intervention in Iraq – but not for the mission itself. Such a policy is certainly designed to isolate Germany in the interntional community.

But that’s not what is poisoning the climate. It is rather the way in which the US administration is interpreting its leadership of the West in their „with us or without us“-way, inspired by their vision of „moral clarity“, sulking as soon as an ally has a different opinion. I hope that the recent behavior exhibited by the US administration is not what the unipolar world order will be about: That friends are entitled to their own opinion, as long as it is the same the current US administration holds. Of course, the First Amendment to the US constitution is not supposed to guarantee freedom of speech in other countries. That is quite a clear position, it is, however, not necessarily a moral one. From my perspective GW Bush’s „smoking gun“ executives seem to suffer from a lack of manners, starting with public interferences into German politics by US ambassador and Friend Of GW Dan Coats, who does not speak German at all, to Donald Rumsfeld, who would not speak to German defense minister Peter Struck during this week’s Nato meeting.

I’m sorry, I don’t quite understand that behavior. And luckily, a lot of people in the US appear to not understand it either, as Maureen Dowd’s (very funny) column „No more Bratwurst“ indicates. Recommended reading.

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German Politics, Iraq

FT: FDP criticizes Schroeder’s stance on Iraq

(Link) I really don’t know why the papers pay so much attention to politicians during campaign time. They really ought not to.

Wolfgang Gerhardt, the boring old possible successor of Joschka Fischer in the foreign office has given an interview. Now that is something he does not do very often since he was ousted as chairman of the FDP by Guido Westerwelle in 2001.

He’s a politician, so he probably likes media attention. And he probably wants more of it. And he thinks he will get some for criticising the chancellor for something I am pretty sure neither of both actually has: an (informed) stance on Iraq.

It’s election times, people. As a reminder, election times are those in which policy is the last thing on a politician’s mind, for the product/market diagrams his campaign staff have prepared dominate the thinking part of his/her brain. So my guess is, should they actually have an informed stance on Iraq (and I *very* much doubt that) neither of them is going to tell it to the public before the election.

Germany is a democracy. And we have tv. And one and one still adds up to two.

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Economics, German Politics

Do it the German way, if you have to. But do it.

Gerhard SchröderThe Social Democrats (SPD) seem somewhat desperate these days. With the general elections looming in only 48 days and the SPD still trailing the Christian Democrats (CDU) by about five cruicial points, Chancellor Schroeder kicked off the ‚official‘ SPD campaign in Hannover saying that his government would contine to conduct business, that is economic policy, „the German way“ – as opposed to the American way of social security, of course.

While campaigns are not usually a good opportunity for serious policy analysis, this statement is actually interesting, because it demonstrates to which extent this government is at loss about its economic policy. A few weeks ago, the chancellor tried to gain points among the reformist voters who helped him into office back in 1998 by proposing to pursue the implementation of the proposals of a working group (the „Hartz-commission“) under the direction of a member of the VW-board.

These proposals include serious supply side changes to the incentive structure of the German labour market regulations. The deal he tried to cut was – back me again and I’ll be in a better position to keep the Unions in check than a conservative-liberal coalition so I could actually implement the plan.

While this calculation may be right if – and it certainly looks as if – Schroeder himself is the only argument that could keep the SPD in office, many voters seem to have lost their faith in his ability to deliver. After all, they signed precisely that deal in 1998 and the only changes the SPD made to labour market regulation, even after the departure of my-heart-beats-on-the-left finance minister Oskar Lafontaine, made it even more rigid than before.

So it seems the SPD campaigners now believe that they will have to rely more on the votes of the traditional social democratic core than they thought and thus start a campaign to defend „the German way“ – the corporatist rhenish capitalism – of organising the economy. Not helpful, you might say and you could be right.

But I still believe in Schroeders deal. Especially if the SPD has to cut a deal with the Liberals after the election instead of the Greens whose very knowledgeable spokesperson for budgetary and economic matters, Oswald Metzger, will not return to the Bundestag due to plainly stupid electoral regulations, once conceived to promote the role of women in the Green party.

So I fear in a coalition with a technically neoliberal chancellor they might try to appeal to leftist tradiationalists and slow down necessary reforms. I would certainly miss Joschka Fischer and will dearly deplore the lack of social progressiveness in the FDP but as things stand today I figure a coalition of SPD and FDP will be the best deal this country can get.

So if Schroeder has to praise „the German way“ to be reelected, be it. In any case, I would advise you not to listen too closely to any politician over the next 48 days, it’s campaign time. If you’re campaigning yourself, you’re a journalist or you’re into advertising, you might have have fun.

All others – try to spend the rest of the summer abroad.

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German Politics, Iraq

Soundbites.

German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder stated today that in his opinion a war against Iraq is not useful for the time being. The middle east conflict should be solved before considering any further action against Iraq.

I have not yet made up my mind concerning a western military intervention in Iraq but to wait until the middle east conflict will be resolved would certainly be a bit longer than useful. Sometimes I wonder whether politicians secretly hate Emil Berliner for inventing the microphone…

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