Iraq, US Politics

Does Pride Indeed Cometh Before The Fall?

There are moments in life when we have to wonder how things would have turned out differently if we had taken a different road at a particular crossroads.

Today, I am wondering if it was the right decision not to read “Die Welt” on a daily basis, because the Frankfurter Allgemeine provides more than enough Conservatism for a single breakfast. Plus, journalists at “Die Welt” are contractually obliged to be pro-American. I don’t mind people being pro-American, the FAZ balanced significantly balanced the press bias in the run up to the war. But would like to have the journalists to come to that conclusion when looking at the world, not at their bank statements.

I am also wondering how I would look at this world if I had not preferred London and the LSE Government Department over the offer to join the Nitze School of Advanced International Relations in Washington under (it turned out leaving for the US DoD) Paul Wolfowitz back in 2000.

The first question came up when I realised that I found out about an interesting story “Die Welt” “ran” on Monday because it was quoted by the Guardian today. The second one when I had digested the content.

Well, I guess, part of the problem is that the original story was entitled “In North-Korea, Wolfowitz prefers a solution based on local powers” instead of “Yet another shocking admission by the US Deputy Secretary of Defense.” which, but I am evidently just guessing here, might have been a “pro-American” editorial decision.

I can’t believe the journalists would not have realised she had hit the jackpot. On the other hand, google-news doesn’t list any other newspaper that ran the story on Monday. Be that as it may, the US DoD published the transcript of the press conference, and this is what Paul Wolfowitz actually said last Sunday –

“Look, the primarily difference — to put it a little too simply — between North Korea and Iraq is that we had virtually no economic options with Iraq because the country floats on a sea of oil. In the case of North Korea, the country is teetering on the edge of economic collapse and that I believe is a major point of leverage whereas the military picture with North Korea is very different from that with Iraq. The problems in both cases have some similarities but the solutions have got to be tailored to the circumstances which are very different.”

It may be torn out of the context, but that really doesn’t change a lot.

What is going on here? Who let Wolfowitz off the leash? Why his sudden urge for ex-post truth?

Could it really be carelessness induced by smugness? Or Pride That Cometh Before The Fall? Whose Fall you’re asking? Good question – does anyone in the US administration wants to get rid of Tony Blair, quickly? Hands up, please. Der Spiegel quotes some Labour MP’s who say that “WMD-gatetm” is already worse than Watergate.

Man, I would like to get an uncensored copy of the phone conversations between Downing Street and the White House these days – it’s probably a good thing Americans only understand half the British swearwords.

UPDATE: The Guardian has pulled the story off the website. Also, check the comment section for interesting remarks and links to two discussions regarding this subject.

Rereading the quote from Wolfowitz after receiving comments by Florian and Markus I realize last night was another moment in my life when things would have turned out differently if I had taken a different road – this time, not writing stuff quickly late at night. I was wrong to say that the quote’s context doesn’t change a lot.

The North Korean comparison does make the statement a lot less clear. Now I think there are two possible interpretations, one being that economic sanctions wouldn’t work because Iraq swims in sea of oil of which it could sell enough to remain a threat, the other one being that Iraqi oil was so important for strategic reasons that there was no other way to handle the situation. I guess Wolfowitz wasn’t really let off the leash again and he intended to say the first.

UPDATE: The Guardian has a correction of yesterday’s report online. Thanks to Markku Nordstrom for the info.

Iraq, quicklink, US Politics

Heavy Sea.

Tony Blair is going to face more criticism than the American administration in light of recent “revelations” regarding the “real” reasons for war in Iraq. The Guardian has some of it. Clare Short’s critical activism is certainly understandale given her performance in recent months but it’s hard to believe that she believes that Blair is part of a conspiracy against the British government.

I can very well imagine that Blair secretly agreed with Bush to go to war – but if so, I think that he did so precisely because he believed the British would be needed as a constraint of US power. Ah, the old Churchillian “Jr. Partner”-fallacy… happens again and again.

compulsory reading, US Politics, USA

Conspiracy theories in the FT?

Quite to the contrary argues Paul Krugman in today’s NY Times oped piece – the FT is just waking up to the cold and scary truth of how America is being turned into a “Banana Republic” by a semi-feudalist governmental gang –

“The Financial Times suggests this is deliberate (and I agree): ‘For them,’ it says of those extreme Republicans, ‘undermining the multilateral international order is not enough; long-held views on income distribution also require radical revision.’

How can this be happening? Most people, even most liberals, are complacent. They don’t realize how dire the fiscal outlook really is, and they don’t read what the ideologues write. They imagine that the Bush administration, like the Reagan administration, will modify our system only at the edges, that it won’t destroy the social safety net built up over the past 70 years.

But the people now running America aren’t conservatives: they’re radicals who want to do away with the social and economic system we have, and the fiscal crisis they are concocting may give them the excuse they need. The Financial Times, it seems, now understands what’s going on, but when will the public wake up?”

It is difficult to assess the level of truth in his claims. But his interpretation certainly fits my perception of what’s going on. And if “those extreme Republicans” believe John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira that demographic trends, especially increasing ethnic diversity among the American electorate, would inevitably lead to an Emerging Democratic Majority it would explain the hurry with which they are trying to grab for their constituency whatever they can get hold of as long as they are in power.

In a way, this is a long-run version of my initial interpretation of the Bush economic stimulus programme as bottom-up redistribution that signalled insecurity about the political consequences of the looming conflict in the Middle East and the prospects for a second GWB presidency (can’t access my archives for the link – I wonder when Blogger is going to be working normally again… the service has really been unreliable lately…).

compulsory reading, German Politics, Iraq, US Politics

Inabilty? Or Willful Wreckage?

So Colin Powell and the German chancellor tried to look forward, not to explain, and not to complain. And what does Geroge W. do? He behaves like a spoilt kid trying to get even by chatting for fifteen minutes with Roland Koch, the premier of the German state of Hessen, a leading figure of Germany’s main opposition party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

No one would have believed the White House affirmations that the meeting happened “accidentally”, that Bush “just walked in” after a scheduled talk between Dick Cheney and Koch anyway, but in an interview with ZDF television’s afternoon programme “Mittagsmagazin”, Koch was pretty much unable not to smirk when the interviewer suggested that a German state premier hardly gets fifteen “accidental” minutes with the US president. GWB’s childish behavior is good news only for those in the US administration who want to strain transatlantic relations even further, and for Koch, who is said to have ambitions to become the next chancellor-candidate for the CDU instead of the current leader Angela Merkel. It is bad news for everyone else.

Was it inability, or willful wreckage? While some people might be tempted to give Bush the credit of inability, the Involvement of Cheney makes it a lot harder to come to this conclusion. So the chancellor is probably quite right to take this as a serious personal attack that he is unlikely to forgive soon. And he, as the German population, will certainly remember that the CDU has chosen to become a pawn in a game originating in the White House.

But Schröder is not the only who has been embarrassed by the latest Bushism. For Colin Powell and the US state department the Bush-Koch meeting conveys an even more serious message – it confirms again and very visibly to everyone abroad who is actually in control of US foreign policy – that Foggy Bottom doesn’t matter and that Powell’s role has apparently been reduced to that of chief messenger. I wonder how long he will go along.

The Cato Institute’s Doug Bandow wrote in October last year with respect to the transatlantic rift that

“… the [US] administration wants doormats, not allies.”

Today, Bush powerfully confirmed this. And while Schröder has repeatedly stated in the last few weeks that Germany does not wish to be forced to have to choose between its most important allies, the US and France, it looks like the American President is indeed waiting for an answer.

I highly doubt he will like it.

quicklink, USA

Different Standards.

At the end of February, when a Frankfurt court sentenced Mounir Motassadeq to 15 years of imprisonment for aiding the 911 terrorists, the Washington post was a tad bit cynical about the fact that “European countries have different visions of just sentencing than those that prevail in [ths US]” entitling their commentary “1.8 Days Per Murder”. Today,’s coverage of unjust executions in the US would allow to reciprocate the cynicism – if it weren’t so sad.

German Politics, Iraq, US Politics

I’m not sure Henry Kissenger

I’m not sure Henry Kissenger is right here. According to SPIEGEL ONLINE, he criticised the German foreign policy for allegedly not understanding “the American psyche” and not trusting “the American motives”.

So good ol’ Henry tells Gerhard and Joschka to flagellate themselves for not being able to see the truth. Just wondering – if the US have a specific agenda and would like the rest of the world to support it, wouldn’t it be their obligation to convince said rest? In my book, it would.

German Politics, oddly enough

Anti American Room Cleaning.

Although it could be, this entry is not about the certainly soon-to-be-amended amendment to the White House war financing budgetary requests excluding German, French, and Russian companies from receiving US funds for the future Iraq reconstruction that the American legislature passed two days ago.

In these times of increasingly global interaction, there are more and more people who can tell stories about the limits of citizenship regimes which are organised along classic national lines. Personally, I know a number of people who are legally German but never actually put a foot on German soil. I know a guy hailing from Argentina who is a Swedish national and now lives in the United States. Every member of a close friend’s family holds a different – or even combinations – of the following nationalities – Spanish, Mexican, British, and American.

And here’s an added political twist, given the recent row between GWB and the German chancellor, Gerhard Schröder. In a recent interview, Schröder stated that the daughter of his fourth wife, Doris Schröder-Köpf, is an American citizen, actually, she is *only* an American citizen – for she was born when Doris Schröder-Köpf lived and worked as a journalist in New York some years ago. I don’t know if Schröder legally adopted her child, but he does refer to her as “our daughter”.

So the German chancellor does have an American daughter. I guess she will have fun invoking his alleged “anti-Americanism” when he tells her to clean up her room.

compulsory reading, oddly enough, Political Theory, US Politics, USA

Desperately Seeking Simplicity

Somehow, I hate to restate something as obvious as this – the world we are living in is an extremely complex system. A system far too complicated for any individual to understand. That’s why we tend to categorize and model the world in order to reduce complexity and gain a little insight into the “underlying causes” of the reality constructed by our sensory system.

But somehow, I guess it is necessary. Fellow German Blogger “Lilimarleen” wonders how people living in a world featuring violent anti-globalisation demonstrations and politicians desperate to cater to the needs of multinational corporations with the ability to go “regime shopping” can actually believe that there is something like a “national” product that can be boycotted without harming anyone but a clearly (nationally) identifiable producer (and oneself, because of the choice not to engange in a otherwise utility enhancing transaction).

The answer is evident, in my opinion – they are looking for simplicity – and ways to regain control of a global system that is seemingly beyond anyone’s control. Knowing that their individual *political*, ie “non-market”, influence on the relevant international players’ actions is not even negligible, they are turning to a different institution of imaginary popular control – consumer “democracy”. As one of Lilimarleen’s reader’s remarked –

“Boycotting is the only way that I can make a difference.”

Well, should the problem of collective action indeed be overcome by a specific momentum like the current wave of “Freedom”-branding, they could indeed have *some* influence. But in an extremely complex system like the world economy, there is no way to predict the indirect ramifications of their actions apart from the fact that everyone will suffer from reduced economic exchange.

In order to uphold this illusion of influence those boycotting “French” products need to adopt a simplistic view of the transactional structure through which the good in question has been created.

I suppose it’s a bit like driving fast in a car – a mechanism of mental self protection. Rationally, I know that there are quite a lot of things that could lead to an accident that are entirely out of my realm of decision making. But I don’t think about that because holding the steering weel emotionally reassures me that I am in control of the machine I am sitting in. I am deluding myself, and I know it.

But otherwise, I would not be able to drive (fast) at all. And there is no way I would renounce to that.