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Obama the Catalyst

This guest blog post by Don, an American living and working in England, is about NATO and how Obama, Clinton and McCain might relate to it, if elected president.

David Ignatius of the Washington Post raises an interesting issue in Sun Sets on Cold War Mentality, one which cuts to the core of the biggest issue in the US election campaign, which is - What does 'change' mean?

Ignatius sources an interesting blog called Swoop, and argues that experience may actually be a liability in this election. I've been feeling my way to this conclusion. In years past I would have been stalwartly in the McCain corner, but that simply feels wrong this year. If there is one clear lesson from the past decade it is that the Cold War era is finally over. The Berlin Wall fell in 1989, but since then the global elites have been trying to patch the Cold War era collective security apparatus without achieving very much in collective security.

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"America Wrong, Europe Right" on Afghanistan

Washington Post blogger William M. Arkin says that the "non-lethal European approach" in Afghanistan is right, while the US approach is wrong: "The notion that we can just ship the Iraq surge strategy to the country and win is thoughtless. " He blames Defense Secretary Gates for creating the public image that "if there were more shooters from Europe, somehow the war would be going better."

Arkin, who also served in the U.S. Army as an intelligence analyst in West Berlin from 1974 - 1978, opines:

Complaining about the Europeans is old sport for the Cold Warrior. From decades-old bitching about "burden sharing" to 1990's frustrations with NATO's fighting spirit in the former Yugoslavia, to the era of freedom fries after 9/11, conventional wisdom is that rules of engagement and strategies authored in Paris and Berlin are to blame for American loss. Afghanistan is just the latest refrain, and the normally judicious Gates has taken on an almost Rumsfeldian tone in calling the Europeans weak. Jump on the bandwagon if you like. I'm sure all three presidential candidates could happily articulate some version of Gates' lament on Afghanistan as diversion therapy. But the truth is that hesitant Europeans are right. More firepower isn't going to "win" the war in Afghanistan.
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Afghanistan: Merkel Has "No Time" for Burden Sharing Proposals

Chancellor Merkel attacked suggestions that Germany had taken the easy option in Afghanistan: "We're not just digging wells and building houses; we also have a military mission."  Hugh Williamson reports in the Financial Times:

In her most outspoken comments on Afghanistan since Germany came under pressure this month to send more troops, the German chancellor said she had "absolutely no time" for proposals to redeploy Nato troops within Afghanistan.

According to Williamson she made those comments in a meeting with foreign correspondents in Berlin. It's bad diplomacy to tell the foreign press that she has no time to consider proposals for better burden sharing in Afghanistan. Usually, Merkel is more careful. Continue reading "Afghanistan: Merkel Has "No Time" for Burden Sharing Proposals"

Russian News: Less Objective than in the West?

The Moscow News Weekly has published an article on Kosovo's declaration of independence, which from its tone I assumed was in the "Comment/Opinions" section.  However, it turns out it was actually in the "World News" section.  Here is a snippet:
While burning KFOR checkpoints may not be the best of ways for Kosovo's ethnic Serbian minority to express its anxiety and anger over recent events, global democratic leaders should think twice before voting to award a chair to Kosovo on New York's East River. In the Basque country, Quebec, Belgium, northern Cyprus, Georgia and many other places across the globe, they have TV sets, too, and are watching. Telling them Kosovo is different and unique won't work. That's the price you pay for being a hypocrite, I guess.

Not to say western newspapers are completely objective, but at least you can read multiple perspectives on a story on this side of the Urals, without worrying about whether your favorite columnist may mysteriously die one day.

Of course this is only one article in one newspaper; it may not be fair to judge the entire Russian media based on this article alone. To get a better idea of press freedom trends globally and by country, you can check out an annual report produced by Freedom House titled "Freedom of the Press."  The 2007 version reported this for Russia:

Media freedom in Russia continued to be curtailed in 2006 as President Vladimir Putin’s government passed legislation restricting news reporting and journalists were subjected to physical violence and intimidation. Although the constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, authorities are able to use the legislative and judicial systems to harass and prosecute independent journalists.

Are Europeans Hiding in the Bush, or is Transatlantic Panacea to Come?

There has been speculation on both sides of the Atlantic about whether America’s next president will be able to revitalize the acidulated transatlantic partnership.  Con Coughlin has captured a common sentiment in an op-ed published by the Telegraph:
Whether it is a Republican… or one of the two remaining Democrat contenders… none of them will arouse anything approaching the level of controversy and hostility that has been caused by President George W Bush's seven-year tenure.
President Bush has certainly been a divisive figure, both in policy and style.  However, it is hardly a foregone conclusion that there will be a panacea in transatlantic relations once Bush decamps.  As suggested by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in a recent interview with Spiegel Online, transatlantic differences run deeper than one administration:
SPIEGEL: Isn't German and European opposition to a greater military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq also a result of deep distrust of American power?

KISSINGER: By this time next year, we will see the beginning of a new administration. We will then discover to what extent the Bush administration was the cause or the alibi for European-American disagreements. Right now, many Europeans hide behind the unpopularity of President Bush.
Kissinger brings to mind a good question: has European hostility toward the US been solely the response to poor leadership by Bush, or is there a more fundamental schism in the Alliance?

Crispin Williams weighs in at Social Europe Blog, arguing that Bush has left a scar on transatlantic relations that will not easily heal:
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Germany Seeks Multilateralization of Nuclear Fuel Cycle

The Federal Foreign Office announced today:

Germany is stepping up its efforts to establish an international uranium-enrichment plant under the control of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Today, at IAEA's headquarters in Vienna, Federal Government representatives informed interested States about the details of the German proposals to multilateralize the nuclear fuel cycle, receiving a highly positive response. This concept is based on an initiative by Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier. More and more countries are thinking of starting their own enrichment activities. Any joint solution must therefore take the desire for the peaceful use of nuclear energy into account, while at the same time making sure no fuel is misused to build nuclear weapons.

Could this be a workable compromise for the conflict over Iran's nuclear program?

Would the Democrats Cut Defense Spending?

Our reader Pat Patterson commented last night:

And if anyone seriously believes that either of the two Democrats aspiring to be president are actually going to cut defense spending then I own a bridge in Brooklyn...

I might be interested in this bridge. Here are three reasons:

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US Presidential Candidates: Who's Good for Europe?

As much as many Americans are looking forward for policy change, Europe is hoping for a multinational foreign policy under a new administration in the United States. In an article addressed to our "Dear Americans", former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt asks (in German; following translation and editing by Sonja Bonin) what Europe can expect from the next US president:

How do you intend to end the war in Iraq and what should Iraq look like afterwards?

What is your goal in Afghanistan? Eliminating just Al-Qaeda or the Taliban as well? Establishing democracy?

Should Al-Qaeda evade to Pakistan for good, perhaps even gaining access to nuclear weapons, would you military intervene?

What is your strategy for a peaceful solution of the decades-old conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors? Will you support the establishment of a Palestinian state?

What is the future US policy regarding Iran?

Continue reading "US Presidential Candidates: Who's Good for Europe?"