Iraq, US Politics

Rubber Bands vs. Cannons

Earlier tonight, RTL television broadcast an in-depth 25 minutes interview with Richard Perle, the former chairman of the Pentagon’s defense policy board who stepped down at the end of last week due to alligations of possible conflicts of interest between public and private consulting engagements (see earlier post). I tuned in too late so I don’t know when this interview was taped – but judging from his attitude and words I assume it was not during the last few days.

Asked how he would describe the military disparity between the US and other NATO forces, he said something along the line of –

“…it’s like one shooting with Rubber Bands and the other one with Cannons.”

Now most people know that ‘low tech’ will beat ‘high tech’ whenever the latter’s vulnerable spot is known. I read somewhere that Iraqi soldiers have onw found out that the main US battle tank (Abrams M1A1/M1A2) does seem to have a soft spot – and so they developed a way to exploit it with their anachronistic 1970s Soviet anti-tank weapons. Not that I fear this indicates that the US could actually be forced to pull back – *that* would be a scenario I believe not even the staunchest opponents of this war would hope for once they think about the ramifications for a nanosecond – but it shows that disrespect for the rubber band equipped enemy is never a healthy strategy.

Yet it is precisely this kind of arrogance that is displayed by the Perles of this world [I read Michael Lind’s “Made In Texas” on my way back from Paris and I can’t say the book has increased my sympathy for the neo-conservatives’ worldview…]. It is the “Daddy knows best” – attitude of these apparently overeducated men that gives otherwise simplistic books like Michael Moore’s bestseller “Stupid White Men” the grain of truth needed to be sold.

In the interview mentioned above Perle explained why he believes that force (he did not say ‘war’, probably because of the nasty associations) should not be just a “means of last resort” for a given international problem – because it often seems to be more difficult to solve it by force later on. This is captivating logic – if one is in possession of complete information about the future.

As for arrogance, here’s another example, this time from Paul Wolfowitz, US Deputy Secretary Of Defense. In a recent interview with Newsweek magazine he was (also) asked what he made of the intense opposition to war from the streets all over the world –

Newsweek: But in all these countries it’s a really strong domestic tide.
DepSecDef Wolfowitz: But it’s fed by leadership. Leadership matters. American opinion is different because our leadership is talking about it differently.

Why, exactly, is it, that I fear a lot of those wargamers did watch the war-room sequence in “Patriot Games” a bit too often.

Iraq, oddly enough

To Strip Or Not To Strip.

Bayeux Tapestry.This is funny. Someone at “” is mocking the “Freedom Fries” America and wonders what would happen if the French decided to prohibit the use of French words in American English (Blogdex #2 currently!).

Of course, we all know that the French (or any other group of people who are native speakers of a certain language) do not literally own their language in any meaningful or even enforceable way – actually, I can only think of one polity where I suppose the legislative could seriously contemplate to extend copyright to such a degree… I guess you know which one I am talking about.

Moreover, French was not invented by the Académie Francaise (however much l’Académie would probably like this idea)… Quite comparably to all other languages, it took a long time to become the French we know today… But anyway. If it reads like this –

It is time for English-speaking peoples folk to throw off this cultural imperialism lording-it-over-others and declare say our linguistic freedom. It is time to purify clean the English language tongue. It will take some sacrifices hardship on everyone’s part to get used to the new parlance speech. But think of the satisfaction warm feeling inside on the day we are all able to can all stare the Académie Française in the eye and say without fear of reprisal injury: “Sumer is icumen in….”

– if you strip modern English of the linguistic consequences of the Norman conquest of 1066 (beautifully depicted on the world’s oldes comic strip, the Bayeux tapestry), imagine what would remain of English without its German(ic) roots? Since “English [predominantly] descends from the language spoken by the Germanic tribes that invaded Britain during late antiquity and the early Middle Ages…” I’m no expert in etymology – so I am just guessing here – but I figure the above sentence would probably look somewhat like this…

It is time for English-speaking folk to throw off this cultural lording-it-over-others and say our linguistic freedom.
It is time to clean the English tongue. It will take some hardship on everyone’s part to get used to the new speech. But think of the warm feeling inside on the day we can all stare the Académie Française in the eye and say without fear of injury: “Sumer is icumen in….”

Just another reason for continued linguistic cooperation, I suppose ;-).

Iraq, oddly enough, US Politics

Sandy P. Informs…

Reader Sandy P. left a comment with regard to the Freedom-Fries post just below that I think is well worth telling all of you, my gentle readers. It seems there is still hope for Franco-American cooperation in the food-department –

From scrappleface:

2003-03-11 — Just a day after the head chef of the U.S. Congressional cafeterias changed the name of French Fries to Freedom Fries, he announced France would still have a place on the Congressional menu.

That’s because chicken-fried steak has been renamed “French-fried steak.”

“We didn’t want to completely exclude the French after their great historic contributions to the fields of cuisine and combat,” the chef said. “I might add that our customers can still order French Dip Sandwiches.

Iraq, oddly enough, US Politics

Stupidity Inc., Press Release.

Freedom Fries.Spiegel Online [link in German] tells us that fried strips of potatoes, which usually have been referred to as “Fries”, or “French Fries”, will now officially be called “Freedom Fries” in the menus of House Of Representatives cafeterias. “French Toast” will now be called “Freedom Toast”.

Why, exactly, does this American administration believe the world should rally behind its cause when stuff like this makes it obvious that even people in close proximity to the US centres of power have evidently lost their mind?

But on the other hand, it would certainly be a great idea to make “Freedom Kissing” a patriotic obligation. That might even win the US some old-European support :).

Update: The New York Times finds some Congressmen who are wondering why American lawmakers choose to make fun of themselves –

“Making Congress look even sillier than it sometimes looks would not be high on my priority list,” said Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts. “There’s a potential war going on. There’s a lot of debate about is Congress being actively involved in foreign policy. It’s bad enough not to be able to do anything, but I think self-caricature is a poor substitute for thoughtful discussion.”

oddly enough, US Politics, USA

Larry King Live.

So I just watched a bit of CNN’s “Larry King Live“, for I was still up. Today’s topic was “Christians debate war” – a hot debate, obviously, for religious America.

I only watched the last ten minutes. CNN probably invited a panel able to convey the opinions of most of the wide range of Christian denominations with respect to the possible war in Iraq. Among the panelists was John MacArthur, pastor at the Grace Community Churchin Sun Valley, California, and, according to the the show’s transcript, a syndicated radio host, who told CNN’s viewers that while Jesus loves all of God’s children, Muslims would certainly be condemned to burn in pergatory for eternity. Here’s the the transcript of that part of the show – note that MacArthurs remarks are opposed by Michael Manning, a Roman Catholic priest, and host of the TV show “The Word in the World” –

KING: John MacArthur, you believe that Muslim people, the Islamic people are wrong. Their beliefs are wrong.
MACARTHUR: That’s right. And this is not some personal belief of mine. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life…”
KING: Yes, but if they don’t believe that…
MACARTHUR: If they don’t believe that, no man comes to the Father but by me.
KING: You must believe that, too, Father.
MANNING: I believe very much that the love of God is strong. Jesus — Jesus loves all people. Jesus died for all people and I can’t imagine…
KING: He died for the Islamic, too?
MANNING: Of course he did. Of course he did. And he loves them with a passion.
KING: You believe that, too, right?
MACARTHUR: Well, I believe God loves his creatures, his creations.
MACARTHUR: But in the end he’s going to condemn to an eternal hell all those who reject his son Jesus Christ.
MANNING: And he rejoices, and Jesus rejoices…
KING: All of them?
MACARTHUR: All who reject his son Jesus Christ, the Bible says, are condemned to eternal punishment.
MANNING: Jesus rejoices when his father is glorified. And when a Muslim or Jew glorifies the father I can’t imagine Jesus coming and saying, Oh, well. When are you going to look at me? The joy of Jesus is the glorification of God.”

I am sure, MacArthur’s is a minority opinion. But given that he has been invited to a CNN panel broadcast not only in the US but almost globally, I doubt that CNN would have risked to invite someone representing a fringe ideology to be perceived as speaking for American Christianity.

So this is scary. I can’t imagine what would happen in Germany had some Christian leader told Muslims via national tv that they are doomed because they’re infidels. Oh wait, I think I know. He would be forced to resign by his own congregation.

The subtle trans-atlantic differences.

compulsory reading, Iraq, US Politics

Paris, Texas.

Could it be that there is something going on we don’t really know about? Spiegel online [link in German] is suspicious that Joschka Fischer’s surprise visit at the Quai d’Orsay today could be induced by a possible UNSC-voting-moodswing of Jaques Chirac. I don’t know. Not that I am actually convinced he would not change his opinion, but I just can’t see what could possibly have led to this change right now? The French humouristic weekly “Le Canard Enchainé” apparently reports that Chirac told people in private on Feburary 26 that a French UNSC veto would be useless given the Bush administration’s determination to go to war.

Hmm, what is being played here? Seriously, why would anyone allow this kind of speculation just now? With Blair cornered in the Commons, Turkey’s decision to wait and see befoe more US troops could be allowed to enter the country, and last week’s capture of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in Pakistan, some people already see (saw?) the possibility of a non-war exit strategy for the US president given the opposition in the UN –

“‘The arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed gives us some breathing room,’ says a Bush strategist. ‘We can concentrate on the favorable publicity generated by the arrest and the valuable intelligence we have gained from that event.’ … Right now, only the U.S., Britain and Spain favor immediate military action against Iraq. With most of the other allies lining up against the U.S., Bush faces both a diplomatic and public relations nightmare if he proceeds against Hussein without UN backing. ‘We’ve always needed an exit strategy,’ admits a White House aide. ‘Circumstances have given us one. Perhaps we shouldn’t ignore it.'”

Well. If Spiegel Online is right, they can safely ignore it.

What’s going on in Paris?

almost a diary, compulsory reading, US Politics, USA

American Exchange Students In Germany.

Yesterday, my sister published an article about American exchange students’ perception of the Iraq/media induced rift between the the Bush and Schroeder administrations in the local edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung [it’s not online, unfortunately].

I’m glad she found some American students to talk to. There are not too many of them. At the Johannes-Gutenberg-University in Mainz, only seventy-nine Americans are enrolled. Seventy-nine out of a student body of approximately 30,000. Seventy-nine out of approximately 4,000 non-German students. But let me be clear here – this is by no means an unusually low number. All those US students here at the moment must have made the decision to go to Germany a fair amount of time before the anyone used the word rift to describe German-American relations.

Sure, talking to people is not quantitative research. But it does give you some idea of what’s going on, if those you talk to do have an opinion. I’m glad my sister found some who had. I met two American undergraduate students in Munich early in Febuary who replied to my question about their opinion of the ongoing quarrel that they were not sufficiently well informed about the issue to have an opinion of their own. That was on the day when another American, Donald Rumsfeld, was in town and was told by Joschka Fischer, the German Foreign Minister, that he had not yet been convinced of the necessity of war in Iraq.

In their defence, I don’t think the two girls were particularly interested in politics in general, so their reply also had a touch of intentional modesty, rather than just one of unfortunate ignorance. Actually, their ignorance shows that there are Americans in this country whose personal reality has only marginally been affected by the international politics, if at all.

It shows that at least those not professionally involved in shaping opinion have learnt to differentiate between those governed and those who govern. The students who were interviewed by my sister basically stated the same – they very much enjoy their stay and have never been bullied by anyone because of their being American, the only notable difference being more political discussions than before.

Those discussions, on the other hand, may not have become too heated, as the Fulbright Commission’s American programme manager Reiner Roh reckons that less than ten percent of the American exchange students who receive Fulbright scholarships support the Bush administration’s policy on Iraq.

Sure, not all American exchange students are Fulbright scholars and there are clearly a lot of possible reasons for such an extreme divergence from the general American attitude, not the least of which is the fact that these students do understand foreign media.

But personally, I believe that there likely is a significant correlation between a person’s willingness to learn about different cultures and her political acceptance of an international order constraining even the most powerful, which is fundamentally at odds with divide-et-impera policies of a Kagan-style (neo-Bismarckian) system of ad-hoc axes and alliances.

So I would like to repeat something rather important these days – there is German-American life beyond governmental quarrels. And it’s a lot more fun. I really wonder what the American students dressed up as for yesterday’s raving Monday parade?

almost a diary, USA

Just A Google Away.

So I thought this blog seriously needed a non-US/non-Iraq related entry and I thought a nice explanatory piece about the orginis of the carnival tradition of my home town would do the trick.

So I googled for some keywords in English and was slightly surprised by the fact that there are a lot of English documents about this tradition.

So I am very happy to accept the pleasures of Google-induced increased division of work and simply sponsor a survey article published by the German embassy in Ottawa, Canada, called “Carnival in Germany – Germans go wild” as well as a rather thorough historical and linguistic analysis called “karneval-Fastnacht-Fasching” by Robert Shea, who is also running a website dedicated to German

And German-American Customs, Traditions, Origins Of Holidays.

So thanks to Google I will get sufficient rest for a great “Rosenmontag” – a raving Monday. Oh, here’s a site that has some photos from previous raving Mondays…

compulsory reading, US Politics

Some Things, They Never Change…

So someone sent The Observer an email that is rather embarrassing for the Bush administration and even more so for the US agency community. They will probably have to sit down and discuss the meaning of “secret” after this. And for the media effect, it does not even matter if it’s really true. I doubt there will be any official reply to the alligations. So it will take some decades until we will finally know what really happened – if at all.

What happened – according to the Oberserver’s article

“[t]he disclosures were made in a memorandum written by a top official at the National Security Agency – the US body which intercepts communications around the world – and circulated to both senior agents in his organisation and to a friendly foreign intelligence agency asking for its input. The memo describes orders to staff at the agency, whose work is clouded in secrecy, to step up its surveillance operations ‘particularly directed at… UN Security Council Members (minus US and GBR, of course)’ to provide up-to-the-minute intelligence for Bush officials on the voting intentions of UN members regarding the issue of Iraq.”

Seriously folks, what’s the story here? The only interesting thing I can see is that a classified email leaked from the NSA, should that actually be the case. As The Observer backs the story somewhat credibly, someone could lose his job and pension over this. But the eavesdropping bit?

Honestly. How surprising is it that the U.S. administration is actually using its intelligence services to gather intelligence about foreign diplomats living on US soil? You’re right. Not at all – as those observed will know and as The Observer finally admits –

“While many diplomats at the UN assume they are being bugged, the memo reveals for the first time the scope and scale of US communications intercepts targeted against the New York-based missions.”

Fair enough. As for previous scale and scope of US eavesdropping on the UN delegations – below are a few paragraphs about the humble beginnings of both the NSA and the UN from James Bamford’s book “Body of Secrets – Anatomy Of The Ultra-Secret National Security Agency” [taken from pp 21, hardcover edition]. These paragraphs really offer something for everyone, even notorious French-bashers… some things, they really never change. Enjoy.

“On April 25, 1945, as TICOM [Target Intelligence Committee, a predecessor of the NSA ] officers began sloshing through the cold mud of Europe, attempting to reconstruct the past, another group of codebreakers was focused on a glittering party half the earth away, attempting to alter the future.

Long black limousines, like packs of panthers raced up and down the steep San Francisco hills from one event to another. Flower trucks unloaded roses by the bushel. Flashbulbs exploded and champagne flowed like water under the Golden Gate. The event had all the sparkle and excitement of a Broadway show, as well it should have. The man producing it was the noted New York designer Jo Mielziner, responsible for som of the grandest theatrical musicals on the Great White Way. ‘Welcome United Nations’ proclaimed the bright neon marquee of a downtown cinema. The scene was more suited to a Hollywood movie premiere than a solemn diplomatic event. Crowds of sightseers pushed against police lines, hoping for a brief glimpse of someone famous, as delegates from more than fifty countries [yup, a little bit of diversification has occurred since…] crowded into the San Francisco Opera House to negotiate a framework for a new world order.

But the American delegates had a secret weapon. Like cheats at a poker game, they were peeking at their opponents’ hands. Roosevelt fought hard for the United States to host the opening session; it seemed a magnanimous gesture to most of the delegates. But the real reason was to better enable the United States to eavesdrop on its guests.

Coded messages between the foreign delegations and their distant capitals passed through U.S. telegrpah lines in San Francisco. With wartime censoship laws still in effect, Western Union and the other commercial telegraph companies were required to pass on both coded and uncoded telegrams to U.S. Army codebreakers. … By the summer of 1945 the average number of daily messages had grown to 289,802, from only 46,865 in February 1943. The same soldiers who only a few weeks earlier had been deciphering German battle plans were now unraveling the codes and ciphers wound tightly around Argentine negotiating points. …

The decrypts revealed how desperate France had become to maintain its image as a major world power after the war. On April 29, for example, Fouques Duparc, the secretary general of the French delegation, compalined in an encrypted note to General Charles de Gaulle in Paris that France was not chosen to be one of the ‘inviting powers’ to the conference. ‘Our inclusion among the sponsoring powers,’ he wrote, ‘would have signified, in the eyes of all, our return to our traditional place in the world’. …

The San Francisco Conference served as an important demonstration of the usefulness of peacetime signals intelligence. … From the very moment of its birth, the United Nations was a microcosm of East-West spying. Just as with the founding conference, the United States pushed hard to locate the organization on American soil, largely to accomodate the eavesdroppers and codebreakers of NSA and its predecessors.”

And now that I have actually written something about the NSA in my blog… I would like to welcome you guys and your computers. Enjoy my posts.

Iraq, US Politics

John Brady Kiesling,

is – or rather, has been – an American career diplomat who has written an open letter to Colin Powell to inform him as well as the rest of the world [ via NYTimes, or Sueddeutsche Zeitung , link in German ] of his resignation from the Foreign Service of the United States and from his position as Political Counselor in U.S. Embassy Athens, effective March 7. You might have read his open letter somewhere during the last two days. If not, read it, it is quite interesting.

My initial reaction was “wow, where can I sign this” and “My God, courageous guy. He is surely going to be lynched for alleged treason should he ever return to the US”.

His letter of resignation is a reminder that there is a “Bush, the Cowboy”-perception similar to that in many European Capitals even within the US State Department (which, if I am informed correctly, has always been regarded by “real” hawks as a breeding ground for multilateral weasels anyway…), and that Colin Powell has not been able to successfully “contain” George W. Bush –

“Mr. Secretary, I have enormous respect for your character and ability. You have preserved more international credibility for us than our policy deserves, and salvaged something positive from the excesses of an ideological and self-serving Administration. But your loyalty to the President goes too far. We are straining beyond its limits an international system we built with such toil and treasure, a web of laws, treaties, organizations, and shared values that sets limits on our foes far more effectively than it ever constrained America’s ability to defend its interests.”

But then again, I don’t know John Brady Kiesling. So I take his own words as a useful reminder –

“It is inevitable that during twenty years with the State Department I would become more sophisticated and cynical about the narrow and selfish bureaucratic motives that sometimes shaped our policies. Human nature is what it is, and I was rewarded and promoted for understanding human nature.”

So now, after the appropriate motive scepticism disclaimer, I would like to quote some more parts of his letter.

“… until this Administration it had been possible to believe that by upholding the policies of my president I was also upholding the interests of the American people and the world. I believe it no longer. The policies we are now asked to advance are incompatible not only with American values but also with American interests.”

“… this Administration has chosen to make terrorism a domestic political tool, enlisting a scattered and largely defeated Al Qaeda as its bureaucratic ally. We spread disproportionate terror and confusion in the public mind, arbitrarily linking the unrelated problems of terrorism and Iraq. The result, and perhaps the motive, is to justify a vast misallocation of shrinking public wealth to the military and to weaken the safeguards that protect American citizens from the heavy hand of government. September 11 did not do as much damage to the fabric of American society as we seem determined to so to ourselves. …”

“The loyalty of many of our friends is impressive, a tribute to American moral capital built up over a century. But our closest allies are persuaded less that war is justified than that it would be perilous to allow the U.S. to drift into complete solipsism. Loyalty should be reciprocal. Why does our President condone the swaggering and contemptuous approach to our friends and allies this Administration is fostering, including among its most senior officials. …”

“When our friends are afraid of us rather than for us, it is time to worry. And now they are afraid. Who will tell them convincingly that the United States is as it was, a beacon of liberty, security, and justice for the planet? …”

“I am resigning because I have tried and failed to reconcile my conscience with my ability to represent the current U.S. Administration. “

In related news, I find it quite interesting that it appears as if the letter is only reaching those parts of the public which already agree with the points made, if the blogdex-trackback should actually be a useful indicator of public perception. It seems, pro war blogs are not too active linking Mr Kiesling’s criticism of the current administration’s policy. So, again, everybody is talking to his home market and no real interaction and discussion occurs. Too bad. I think, Mr. Kiesling’s remarks deserve to be taken seriously.

Does anybody know if he got some big media attention in the US – apart from the NYTimes printing the letter?

Is he still alive?