Discussion in 'Middle East - General' started by Annie, May 16, 2004.

  1. Annie

    Annie Diamond Member

    Nov 22, 2003
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    (Captain's log): My friend Andrew lives in Berlin. He and I go way back; I first met him online in a netnews discussion group about the OS/2 operating system. More recently, he has sometimes written to me to try to clarify aspects of the internal German political situation, often because he felt that my condemnation of Joschka Fischer was not entirely warranted.

    I've learned a lot from his letters, but I don't always agree with him. He wrote to me today and included a link to an article in which two MEP's from the Green Party publicly disagree with the decision to award this year's Sakharov Prize to the UN.

    It's hard to escape the conclusion that the European Parliament decided to award the prize to the UN mostly as a way of spiting and rebuking the US, especially in light of recent revelations about mismanagement and graft associated with the UN's administration of the "Oil for Food" program. There's now significant reason to suspect that UN institutional objection to the Anglo-Australo-American invasion of Iraq was partly motivated by a desire to keep Saddam in power so that the graft could continue, irrespective of the consequences for the Iraqi people. That's not exactly true to the heritage of Andrei Sakharov.

    In addition to that link, Andrew included the following comments:

    I am sending you this link not only because I think you might be interested in the subject but also because I want to correct what I consider a number of misconceptions you have about European politics.

    1. Joschka Fischer and the other right-wing of the Green Party (which includes Mr Cohn-Bendit above) are not among those who rejected US policy but among those most supportive. Your impression of Fischer is correct regarding his absolute position on the issue, but I believe you have no idea how much more dishonest and anti-American most German politicians (and the voters) are. Fischer and other right-wing Greens are among the most militant, pro-American, pro-Israel politicians we have, not among the most "pacifists", anti-American, anti-Semitic politicians, as you sometimes seem to think. Yes, I realise this doesn't bode well for Germany and Europe in absolute terms, but that's how it is. (Note that this doesn't apply for the larger left wing of the Green party.)

    It seems as if Andrew is damning Fischer with faint praise. Is it really accurate to refer to him as pro-American, pro-Israel?

    Or would it be better to say that he is more pro-American than most other German politicians? Or alternatively (and less kindly), that he is less anti-American than most other German politicians?

    Ignoring comparisons and local political context, I have a hard time accepting a claim that Fischer is pro-American in any absolute sense. He still seems anti-American to me.

    Of course, that can be hard for an outsider to judge since most of what we see is him in his role as Foreign Minister, where he carries out policy set by the Chancellor whether he really agrees with it or not.

    Andrew has in the past explained to me a peculiarity of practice of the parliamentary system in Germany: in a coalition government, by convention the leader of the largest party becomes Chancellor and the leader of the second party becomes Foreign Minister. Despite that, the actual foreign policy of the government is set by the Chancellor, not by the Foreign Minister. The Foreign Minister is expected to carry out the Chancellor's foreign policy even if he disagrees with it.

    So most of what Fischer says that we Americans learn about from the news is the result of him acting as Schröder's mouthpiece, and doesn't necessarily indicate anything about his own opinions and positions.

    Even so, in situations where Fischer seems to be less bound by Schröder's position than usual, where he is speaking as himself rather than as Foreign Minister, he still doesn't come across as supportive or sympathetic to America.

    And even if it were true that he disagrees with Schröder's anti-Americanism, he apparently doesn't think it is sufficiently important to justify walking out of the government. So the most generous conclusion we could come to is that even if he is silently pro-American, his commitment is not very strong.

    I don't really recall seeing anything recently from any prominent German political figure which I would consider an indication that they were pro-American, except in very rare situations where declarations of support are pretty much pro-forma. Whether that's because prominent German politicians are all adept at reading the direction the wind is blowing, and are tuning their public message to the prevailing German anti-American zeitgeist, or whether it's because politicians who actually are pro-American and are willing to say so don't become prominent, is not easy to determine. Probably it's some of both.

    The last time I remember any political rhetoric in Germany that looked pro-American was in the runup to the German elections in 200209, when the German opposition leader who posed the greatest threat to Schröder ran on a somewhat-pro-American platform (sort of). I no longer even remember the name of that opposition leader; he's sunk from sight. (And Andrew later pointed out that his power base was Bavaria, which would have been the worst hurt economically if the US got angry and pulled most of its military forces out of Germany. Andrew also told me that Bavaria was generally the most pro-American region of Germany, by no great coincidence.)

    I would not be comforted by a claim that a lot of German politicians are secretly pro-American but are unwilling to say so publicly or to act in any way that betrayed their pro-American leanings. Friends like that I don't need.

    There are prominent politicians in Europe who are pro-American in absolute terms. Obviously Blair and Berlusconi are, among leaders of major western European nations. Aznar certainly was, and I'm really sorry that he ended up paying such a stiff price for it. I do not mean to imply that I think he should have kept his pro-Americanism secret and not acted on it; rather I'm sorry that the voters of Spain preemptively surrendered to Arab terrorists.

    In eastern Europe, among nations which used to be part of the Soviet sphere, there's a lot more support for the US. In Poland the political consensus seems to be pro-American; it's not like with Aznar in Spain. And the Polish have been providing substantial practical support, not just public pronouncements. (We Americans tend to judge actions as speaking far louder than words.)

    There are other nations, such as the Netherlands, where the governments demonstrate by their actions that they support us but are not making a lot of noise about it one way or the other, probably because they don't want to engage in intra-European debate on the issue.

    Quite a few nations, especially in eastern Europe, have been siding with the US, but their choice seems to be significantly motivated by calculation. Especially in Eastern Europe, America is viewed as a much more valuable friend than France and Germany and therefore worth sucking up to even at the risk of French/German hostility, since their main concern is finding someone who can help protect them in case there's a resurgence of Russian imperialism. That's why I don't really see the support we've gotten from nations like Lithuania and Estonia in the same light.

    I don't reject or disparage the support we've gotten from those eastern European nations, but it is clearly not the same kind of thing. But I don't think Polish support is like that, and Poland has gone well beyond what I would have expected had their support been only due to power-politics calculation.

    Within the local context of German politics, I don't necessarily reject the idea that Fischer leans more towards the US than most, or rather that he leans less away from us than most. But compared to the larger context of Europe overall, Fischer doesn't seem "pro-American" to me, even taking into account his role as Foreign Minister.

    Andrew continues:

    2. In France it is the left, the socialists, who sometimes dare to say that Chirac is wrong and America is right. When you refer to French socialism, I know you mean the political system per se, but it could be understood as saying that Chirac, a conservative, is among the most reasonable French politicians while the French left is even more anti-American and against Iraqi freedom. This is not true. It is the French socialists and Greens who are the home to those few French politicians who speak out against Chirac's vision of an evil America and French superiority.

    But is this really pro-Americanism, or is it anti-anti-Americanism? Or straightforward political opportunism? Is it an ideological difference, or a condemnation of failed tactics? It seems to me that it's more a matter of them hating Chirac, and criticizing what Chirac has said and done.

    In pragmatic terms, there's no question that Chirac's public and militant anti-Americanism over the last two years has cost France a great deal internationally in terms of prestige and influence. Even if French Socialists were anti-American, the way that Chirac tried to work against America was monstrously unsuccessful, and well deserves their criticism.

    But that in turn suggests that those in France who might be publicly criticizing Chirac's foreign policy debacle don't necessarily disagree with the ideological position that motivated it. To criticize the execution is not necessarily to criticize the motive.

    As this war has begun to politically and diplomatically polarize the world, there have been quite a few de-facto alignments based on "enemy of my enemy". But the enemy of my enemy isn't necessarily my friend, even if our interests are temporarily congruent. That's one of those "lessons of history" we do well to not forget.

    The US and UK were allies in WWII, and were allied with the USSR against Germany, though not also against Japan until very late in the war.

    The US and UK were true allies, in the deepest and most important meaning of that term. The USSR was not really an ally. The USSR shared a mortal enemy with the US/UK alliance, and for that reason there was a partial congruence between the interests of the USSR and Anglo-American alliance. (But it was not total congruence, and it's interesting to study the way that Churchill and Stalin cooperated while simultaneously trying to screw each other over.)

    The fact that the UK/US and the USSR fought against a common foe in 1945 didn't prevent them from facing off against one another in 1948, when the USSR shut down all rail and road access from West Germany to Berlin, and the western allies responded with the Berlin Airlift. Those events are now generally considered to be the first overt confrontation of the Cold War.

    I don't doubt that there are Socialists in France who have been criticizing Chirac's foreign policy relating to the US, but I don't think that means they're pro-American. And if they somehow were successful in taking control of the French Parliament, and placing one of their own in the French Presidency, I don't think that would lead to a realignment of France in favor of the US, equivalent to the recent Spanish realignment against the US.

    3. Whenever you speak of post-nationalism I see examples for French nationalism. I know what you mean, but I think you are trying to explain too much by making it fit into your idea that France's and Europe's, philosophy is "post-nationalism".

    I have done somewhat badly in presenting the nature of the three factions I have written about. I don't see them as actual formal movements, and I don't think that the majority of those who are part of them are necessarily even conscious of their existence. I see these more as emergent movements resulting from a lot of people who partially agree with one another and who tend to pull in the same general direction (at least when it comes to the empiricist and p-idealist forces). In some cases there is a dim recognition that others are generally pulling in the same direction, or that others share the same opponents, but in other cases there is no such recognition. And it isn't necessarily the case that everyone pulling in a given direction actually agree ideologically, or that they're all motivated by high principle.

    French alignment with the overall force I've labeled "p-idealism" is an interesting example, because as Andrew points out the French political class is almost entirely motivated by French ethnocentrism and a yearning to reestablish France as a superpower. I do think there's quite a lot of dedication in France to creation of post-nationalism, but the French have also been trying to maneuver to dominate, or to disproportionately influence, such transnational organizations as get created.

    I've talked about how each of the movements embodies contradictions and inconsistencies. This is another example of that.

    Getting back to Germany, I'm becoming increasingly pessimistic about Germany's overall situation and prospects.

    In the 1990's, when the US enjoyed a tremendous economic boom which most of the world indirectly shared, Germany stagnated with chronically high unemployment, very low growth and negligible job creation. I don't think that was an aberration; I think it indicates a systemic weakness in the German system. And I don't think that weakness has been fixed. There are disturbing signs that the economic situation in Germany is close to a breaking point. Even mild attempts to reform Germany's welfare state and stifling overregulation of business have been strongly resisted, and the status quo can't be maintained much longer. When the German economy begins to fall apart, a lot of people are going to get really angry.

    I see other trouble signs which worry me deeply. After decades of public pronouncements of pacifism, of politically-correct multiculturalism and multilateralism, of the virtues of acceptance; after decades of suppression of hate speech and public expression of racist resentment; I don't think that xenophobia, hostility, and violence have really been eliminated.

    One of the things I'm afraid is coming, in Europe overall but especially in Germany, is that when things start to turn sour, resentment and frustration will boil over and will look for scapegoats. And I'm afraid it's going to be Europe's Muslims who will bear the brunt. In Germany, that mainly means Turks. (Jews in general, Israel in particular, and of course America, will also be blamed, but that hostility won't manifest in the same way. Muslims will have the misfortune to be common, near, despised, and readily targetable.)

    I think there's a good chance that we will begin to see violence against Muslims, in little ways to begin with but growing as time goes on. The chance of that happening would be much greater if there began to be a significant number of terrorist attacks within Germany, and if there was a public perception that Germany's Muslim minority tacitly supported anti-German jihad, or directly aided it – or was actually the primary source of it.

    We might see a rise in violent attacks of various kinds against Muslims – rapes of Muslim women, lynchings or other murders, arson against mosques or other symbols of Islam or against property owned by Muslims, riots – and if the government response is as tepid as it has been to the recent rise in anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim violence could gain momentum and start to grow.

    It could get really ugly in just a few years, all the more so if some Muslims then begin to fight back.

    In the mean time, I was not impressed by Kerry's "I voted for it before I voted against it" claim, and I'm not particularly impressed by claims that some European politicians secretly support us but do not say or do anything publicly to demonstrate that fact. I myself tend to judge actions as speaking louder than words, and I won't believe that Fischer is actually pro-American until he walks out of the government as a protest against Schröder's anti-Americanism.

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