Obama Wants to be a Berliner
German politicians are bickering over the planned July 24 visit to Berlin of US presidential candidate Barack Obama. Center-right Chancellor Angela Merkel, who presumably backs the rival candidacy of US Senator John McCain, intends to deprive Obama of the chance to pretend he is the new John F Kennedy. She says she has “little sympathy” for the symbolic Brandenburg Gate being used for “electioneering.” Her thinking is that only sitting presidents should be afforded that honor; anything else would be presumptuous rather than presidential.
Merkel’s center-left Social Democratic coalition partner, Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who claims that a 15 minute telephone conversation with Obama gave him the impression that Obama is “prepared to fundamentally reconsider the course of US foreign policy,” says Obama can play ‘Let’s Pretend I’m the President’ wherever he wants.
The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung says the Dalai Lama used the Brandenburg Gate as a political prop, so why can’t Obama? The paper then launches into a Clintonian-like vast right-wing conspiracy theory, reporting that operatives of the current occupant of the White House told Merkel at the recent G-8 Summit in Japan that it would not be fair to invite Obama without also inviting McCain. “Prohibiting Obama from speaking [at the gate] would be like prohibiting foreign politicians from speaking at the National Mall in Washington just because Martin Luther King held his big speech there in 1963,” the paper says.
[This is the second conspiracy theory about American interference in European politics that has been proffered by German media in as many weeks. Last week, the leftwing Der Spiegel tried to convince its readers that the neocons were somehow to blame for the failure of the Lisbon Treaty (aka the European Constitution) in Ireland.]
Der Spiegel asks: “When is he coming, who will he meet, and, more importantly: What will he say?” The magazine, which has spent the last eight years trashing the United States, then explains: “The senator from Illinois must take care not to seem overly pro-European” or else Republicans will pejoratively label him as ‘European’. “It’s therefore unlikely that Obama will wax lyrical about Europe’s leadership on combating climate change or health insurance.”
The Berlin-based Tagesspiegel notes: “There is a certain irony to it all: It took a major war for George W Bush to strain the transatlantic relationship, but for his wannabe successor, the campaigning senator from Illinois, all it takes is a speech announcement.” The newspaper says Germany’s Social Democrats want to be all over Obama so that some of his stardust might fall on them. “What would otherwise be criticized as pretentious attention-getting, in the case of Obama the Social Democrats it is labeled as “having stature” and “showing respect.”
Germany in Afghanistan: Mission Creep?
The tourism itinerary of a young American politician is not the only topic being debated in the corridors of German power. NATO officials on July 10 announced that they were considering a deployment of the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) reconnaissance aircraft to aid the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. The planes are stationed in Germany, and the prospect that they might actually be used for what they were designed to do is sending German politicians into apoplexy.
Roughly one-third of the AWACS crews are German officers and any deployment would require parliamentary approval, which analysts say seems highly unlikely. Already German politicians are saying the AWACS request could overburden Germany’s armed forces, the Bundeswehr.
Germany, of course, has earned a well-documented reputation for creativity in finding excuses to avoid doing its fair share in Afghanistan (or anywhere else, for that matter), and that is unlikely to change anytime soon. The German defense ministry’s initial reaction to the NATO announcement was: “Britain also has these [AWACS] capabilities.” So why not ask them instead.
The entire debate is eerily reminiscent of a similar dustup in 2007, when the pacifist Green Party argued that that deploying a total of six Tornado fighter planes to Afghanistan would contribute to global warming. So much for the leadership of Europe’s leading power.
The center-left Frankfurter Rundschau says: “The AWACS deployment may be logical. But it shows, once again, how the German Bundeswehr is, logical step by logical step, stumbling into the fighting in Afghanistan. Overall, it is a worrying development.”
The Cologne-based Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger sees a Sy Hersh-type conspiracy theory: The [German] military says that the planes are not needed—unless they were used for an air war, which is not happening in Afghanistan. Does all this have to do with Pakistan or Iran? Increasingly there is talk of a ‘regional conflict.’ Under such circumstances, Germany cannot agree to the AWACS deployment.”
A fine mess those Americans got us into.
America, Tear Down this Embassy!
The emotional debate over the new American embassy in Berlin continues unabated. The much-maligned building occupies the same spot on Pariser Platz, the square in front of the Brandenburg Gate, as the pre-World War II American embassy. Some Germans don’t like the architecture; others say it’s too big; still others don’t like the location.
And some don’t like the ambassador (neither the previous one nor the current one). Hans-Ulrich Jörges, chief propagandist for the rabidly anti-American (and anti-Israel) weekly magazine Stern, is angry and very, very resentful that he was denied an interview with former US Ambassador Daniel Coats several years ago. He unleashes his pent-up bitterness by publishing a childish rant against the current Ambassador William R Timken.
Jörges begins his diatribe with a philosophical discourse on what is and what is not an embassy. He then concludes that although the United States has a building in Germany, it does not have an embassy. This sets the tone for the rest:
“Attention must be given to this continuing scandal, this incomprehensible stupidity, this appalling result of imperial arrogance—now that the United States has opened a new embassy building in such a spectacular location, next to the Brandenburg Gate. Exactly there, where 69 years ago, there was an earlier embassy, even if then, as now, without an ambassador. He was recalled to Washington after the Reichspogromnacht [November 9/10, 1938] of the Nazis against the Jews. Today, nothing has de facto changed. Although William R Timken, who holds the title of ambassador, is physically present in the capital of the Germans, politically he is absent, completely. And he has absolutely nothing to say to Germans at all.” Ouch!
Has Jörges just barred himself from the American embassy for life?
Germany or America: Where Is It Easier to Get Away with Murder?
In December 2007, two drunken immigrants beat the living daylights out of a 76-year-old German man in the Munich subway. A security camera filmed the act, and the perpetrators, a 20-year-old Turk and a 17-year-old Greek, were arrested three days later. The unemployed accused, who took turns kicking the victim in the head and shattered his skull, have between them already committed some 60 violent or theft-related crimes. The victim survived and the perpetrators were charged with attempted murder.
A German court on July 8 sentenced the Turk to 12 years in prison; it sentenced the Greek to eight years and six months. Many Germans believe the sentences are too harsh, says the German weekly news magazine Focus.
But the center-left Die Zeit goes a step further by asking: How would the case have been handled in the United States? In an article titled “America and the Treatment of Criminal Immigrants” the paper says that if you think Germany is cruel, just take a look at how America treats immigrants who commit crimes.
Die Zeit says such a case could never even happen in America. “Not only because subway security is taken much more seriously—from New York to Los Angeles, subway stations have security cameras and sheriffs. More importantly, drunkenness cannot be used as a mitigating factor to reduce prison sentences; on the contrary, it is illegal to drink under the age of 21. And in most states, criminals who are 18-years-old are treated as adults; in some states this is the case even for 16- and 17-year-olds.”
It continues: “In general, prison terms in the US are longer. In this case, a life sentence, at least for the 20-year-old. At least in theory, that is, because in America no one with 40 previous convictions would be running around free. In some states, like California, a life sentence can be applied after the third infraction….And there is almost no tolerance for criminal immigrants: The Department of Homeland Security plans to deport some 200.000 criminal immigrants this year alone…At the present time, many US states are tightening laws against immigrations…Driving under the influence is deportable. In Georgia, Mexicans are beig deported because of fishing without a license. In Mississippi it is a crime for an immigrant to work without working papers…According to Richard Lamm, the ex-governor of Colorado: ‘We have enough criminals, why should be import more?’”
This Ain’t No Heartland
“It is sick, the heart. It is empty. It is old, wrinkled, used. It beats only weakly. It is slowly bleeding. It offers little hope. Oh, America, how could it come to this? There, where the new man struggled to build his utopia of a New World, with sweat on his brow, but always aware while working his own piece of ground that he was a gentlemen servant to no one, there, where the air smelled like the sweet fragrance of freedom, and the horizon reached to an infinite distance, there in rural America, in the heart of the nation, in their mythical ‘heartland’, the hard times are there to stay. It was destroyed when agriculture rediscovered itself as an industry, which required fewer workers and certainly no free, self-centered people.”
This is how the Frankfurter Allgemeine opens its anonymous review of an anti-American photo essay titled ‘Heartlands: Sketches of Rural America’. The book is a repackaged version of a pseudo-documentary film produced by Andreas Hovarth, an Austrian Michael Moore-wannabee. His thesis is that all Midwestern Americans are stupid hicks.
Hovarth traveled to the American ‘heartland’ (somewhere west of Chicago, to be more exact) in 2003 to find answers to his many questions about the US invasion of Iraq, including about American unilateralism and astonishing arrogance. Would he find satisfying answers in the peaceful heartland? No. Instead, what he finds are some rural small-town Americans who are largely ignorant about the facts of the war. After interviewing a few drunk Iowans and Nebraskans, Hovarth concludes that the Midwestern heartland is a decaying stronghold of fat, ignorant, boorish, drunken, xenophobic, (insert more perjorative adjectives here…) Americans. The result of Hovarth’s labors is his Magnum opus: a contemptuous film titled “This Ain’t No Heartland.”
Hovarth didn’t need to travel all the way to America’s heartland to find village idiots. But then again, there is no market for books and movies about dumb Austrians or ignorant Germans.
Of course, Hovarth knows his caricature of the American Midwest is dishonest. To get around this little problem, he titles his book Heartlands, with a plural ‘s’, that is. Like all postmodern relativists peddling a political agenda, Hovarth says: “What you see is not necessarily what I see.” Shame on Frankfurter Allegemeine.
Europeans naturally love it when Americans (or in the case of Neil Young, a Canadian who has lived in the United States so long that he probably qualifies as an American) share their political views, especially as regards the current American president. So Germans will enjoy Michael Pilz’s review at Die Welt of ‘Déjà Vu’, an anti-Iraq war propaganda film produced by Young.
“It is a symbol of how America deals with the war it started in the Middle East—thereby provoking the return of the protest culture…He wants for the president to get lost and for the war to end,” says Pilz, Die Welt’s music critic. He then describes the film’s climax: “Then it comes to the highpoint. In Georgia, they play ‘Impeach the President’. The audience, feeling lucky and besides themselves to be able to see the four [ageing hippies Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young] one last time in their lives, becomes indignant: there is a war going on, and who turns his back on the country with such heavenly music, deserves ripped-up concert tickets and booing. Because pop and politics are two different things in predominantly apolitical in America.”
A review of the same film by Bodo Mrozek in Der Tagesspiegel sums it up this way: “Déjà Vu, the film, is way too late. In considering the [American presidential] campaign, one must instinctively think of a more recent campaign: that of candidate Barack Obama. The attacks on President Bush are now outdated.”
Another American Germans will like is Collier Schorr. An artist famous for her interest in androgynous teenage boys, her exhibition titled “Freeway Balconies” is currently on display at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin. A Berliner Morgenpost review says: “Popcorn meets provocation: While the new American embassy on Pariser Platz was opened with great excitement last weekend, a few hundred metres on the Unter den Linden a very different America is on display. This is about sex and violence, war and anti-war demonstrations, uniforms and naked bodies, Judaism and anti-Semitism.” She presents America “as a land of inner turmoil and deep identity crisis.” No surprise that Schoor calls Germany home.