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9/11 is not in the German mindset (anymore)

Werner Schultz is running for the EU parliament and told the delegates of the Green Party congress last weekend: "Today the people are more afraid of their investment adviser than of Al Qaeda." A remarkable quote that was cited in many Germany newspapers.

There are many indications that a growing number of citizens in Europe (and also in the United States) are less concerned about international terrorism than a few years ago. 9/11 is over. It is back to normal. This is not just due to the financial crisis, but also because Al Qaeda and co have not had a major attack in recent years. Complacency would be a dangerous, and Obama knows it since he said in his inauguration speech: "Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred."

Germans, however, never felt at war with this terrorism network. They don't worry much about the recent terror threats due to Germany's involvement in Afghanistan. And German politicians don't dare to describe the Bundeswehr mission in Afghanistan as war.

Torch passed to Obama, 44th President; top 8 transatlantic relations issues for 2009

Obama took the oath of office yesterday to become the 44th President of the United States.  The swearing-in was followed by his inaugural address, historically an opportunity for incoming presidents to be visionary and inspirational.  Some of the most famous quotes in US political history are from inaugural addresses, such as JFK's "ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country" (1961) and FDR's "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" (1933).

So how did Obama do? Was it a new landmark in the US rhetorical hall-of-fame?  If you were looking to be inspired, this speech probably fell short.  He covered all the key issues and took a "it's busines time" tone, but it did not quite carry the poetic and inspiring overtures that an inaugural address could. Or perhaps like many Americans and citizens of the world I have come to expect miracles from Obama at every turn, and have thereby set myself up for disappointment.  The full text of the speech can be found here.

Obama did have powerful words for non-Americans around the globe:

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.  Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. 

Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expediences sake.  And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born:  know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.
Continue reading "Torch passed to Obama, 44th President; top 8 transatlantic relations issues for 2009"

Cheese Wars and Strong Coffee

Americans will soon pay more for a precious piece of French Roquefort. The American government has as a last, petty gesture in its trade policy decided to raise tariffs on the product from 100 to 300 percent. This is part of a more general round of retaliatory tariffs in response to the ban the European Union maintains on beef produced with growth hormones. But it is clear that Roquefort has been targeted for political sensitivity, as the Independent writes:
There was a violent reaction in France when import duties were first raised on roquefort cheese 10 years ago. The small farmers' leader José Bové – then a roquefort producer – began his rise to international celebrity by attacking a McDonald's restaurant at Millau, near Roquefort, with mallets and a bulldozer in August 1999.
The main effect this will have is making Roquefort more exclusive. And, perhaps, something of a political statement among Michael Pollan fans and the like. I do hope the French embassy will react appropriately at societal events. If the new administration does not dial this back... Continue reading "Cheese Wars and Strong Coffee"

Love for America returns

The Washington Post has learned that Americans are feeling the love from around the world:

With Obama's Election, Expatriates Say, There's a New Attitude Abroad. Instead of Challenges on Iraq and WMDs, They're Met With Hugs and Good Wishes.

Will this "love" turn into real and significant support for US policies? Probably not, but that's okay, I guess. Just being popular again is a nice change after eight tough years, when American expats were constantly blamed for President Bush's real and alleged wrong doings.

NATO 2.0: Five ways Obama should bring "change" to Alliance

It is time for Obama to bring his change campaign to NATO, writes James Jay Carafano of the Heritage Foundation in Washington Times. Carafano argues Obama should use NATO's 60th anniversary to launch a new vision for the military alliance, which he refers to as NATO 2.0. Specifically NATO needs to take action on five major issues:

1. Identify common threats; 
2. Reaffirm NATO's commitment to an open-door policy that does not give Russia veto-power;
3. Establish a more flexible decision-making process;
4. Clearly identify roles between EU and NATO, with NATO doing military and EU doing more of the constabulary non-military “soft power” missions that it excels at;
5. Develop new burden-sharing rules.

All of these are important issues that should be considered; in fact, most are  already being debated within the Alliance.  However, each of them will also face an uphill battle in the reform process.

Consider proposition five, developing new burden-sharing rules.  Carafano argues that a country should lose voting powers if it fails to match the two-percent defense spending requirement set by NATO.  At this time, only five European countries meet this requirement, three of those with declining defense budgets, according to 2007 numbers released by NATO (pdf).
 
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Europe's very cold war: Russia cuts gas to Ukraine

Ukraine enters 2009 stuck between a bear and a hard place. 

The hard place is the west, who is like a friend who always says your invitation to the party is in the mail, but it never shows up.  Since the 2004 Orange Revolution Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has pushed and pulled to move Ukraine toward EU and NATO membership, and yet its prospects remain shrouded in ambiguity.  While NATO has promised future membership someday, the Alliance decided to not move forward with Membership Action Plans for either Ukraine or Georgia at a NATO summit in December, again leaving them in limbo.  

And then there is the bear: Ukraine’s slow push west is a thorn in the toe of Russia who considers Ukraine part of its sphere of influence, and is increasingly tenacious in bearing its chilling grizzly teeth.
 
2009 is not likely to bring much warmer relations for Ukraine with either the west or Russia.  I wrote about Ukraine’s improbable 2009 NATO prospects in a post titled "Why Ukrainian’s don’t want NATO".  Regarding Ukraine’s easterly neighbor, Russia has launched the new year with a cut off of gas to Ukraine leaving it and a baker's dozen of European countries with (in some cases drastically) reduced gas supplies at a time when it is cold in Europe, very cold.

The reasons for Russia’s gas power play are both economic and political

Continue reading "Europe's very cold war: Russia cuts gas to Ukraine"

Sarkozy pilots Middle East cease-fire talks, fills US power vacuum

Israel’s land invasion continues with the Jewish state showing little sign it is ready to negotiate a truce.  While Hamas has indicated it is prepared to begin negotiations, Israel does not intend to sit at the table with Hamas in any future negotiations, reports Haaretz:
Israel will instead seek separate agreements with moderate Arab states, with the Palestinian Authority and with the international community.

"The international community will initiate the agreements and will impose it on Hamas," [a Haaretz] source said. "The agreements will be with both the PA and Egypt and then if Hamas will not agree it will pay the price, mostly by even greater [diplomatic] isolation."
Despite disallowing signals from Israel about the prospects of their short-term success, the ever-ambitious Sarkozy is taking advantage of the US power vacuum to assume diplomatic leadership in the talks, hoping to capitalize on France’s controversially reinvigorated ties with Syria, Time reports:   
Continue reading "Sarkozy pilots Middle East cease-fire talks, fills US power vacuum"

Ground War in Gaza

The Washington Post's Grif White reports that Israeli troops have moved into the Gaza strip. Some notes:

Two weeks after the start of Israeli operations in Gaza in 2006, Hezbollah launched a strike into Israel that killed three soldiers, and two were taken hostage, purportedly to swap for Lebanese hostages still held by Israel. This set off the 2006 Lebanon War. Israeli ground forces did not have their best day in that war, but Hamas is no Hezbollah. Meanwhile, the AFP has a report in which various analysts predict that Hezbollah will not get itself involved in the current conflict.

Israel is signalling that this will be a longer operation. From the Post piece: One spokeswoman, Maj. Avital Leibovich, said on CNN that it would be a "lengthy operation" because "we have many, many targets."

These targets could include others than Hamas. In a Terrorism Focus series on the fall-out of the Iraq war, earlier in December, Michael Scheuer wrote about the growing foothold of Salafists in the Gaza Strip:
In Palestine, there seems to be a minor Salafi presence in the West Bank but a steadily growing military and proselytizing presence in Gaza. The above noted “Army of Islam” and several other Salafi organizations have created training facilities in Gaza and have displayed them to the international media, defiantly proclaiming, “We are coming Jews!” (Reuters, September 2; see also Terrorism Focus, September 24; for other Salafi groups active in Gaza, see Terrorism Monitor, April 17). They have, to date, conducted some attacks on the Israeli army when its units were engaged in raids in Gaza, and have attacked Christian and American targets in Gaza (Reuters, September 1; Jerusalem Post, October 21). The Salafi groups in Gaza claim they receive funding locally and “are linked to the brothers of the al-Qaeda organization only from an ideological point of view” (adnkronos.com, September 2). That said, their members have been reported chanting slogans supporting bin Laden and al-Qaeda while they are undergoing training activities (al-Arabiyah TV, September 3).
For the times when the road to Jerusalem went through Baghdad...

What are your thoughts?