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The German "Obama Girl" Adores Steinmeier

The election campaign in Germany was pretty boring, but it got a bit more interesting in recent weeks as the opinion polls show some movement. Merkel will most likely remain chancellor, but its open whether she will govern with the Liberal Democrats, or have to continue to work with the Social Democrats. The latter gained a few percentage points in the polls in recent weeks.

And now, a German "Obama girl" has appeared. She sings that she has a crush on German Foreign Minister Steinmeier ("Steini") from the Social Democrats. Will everything change now? Is Steinmeier going to become chancellor after all? Nah, I doubt it. It's just funny that pretty cheap versions of Obama type campaigning are appearing now in Germany.

For a bit more seriousness have a look at the The Obama Check by the TapMag blog ranking German politicians' Obamaness.

Related post on Atlantic Review: Germans Learned Nothing from Obama

Obama Losing New Europe?

James Joyner of the Atlantic Council was wondering the other day, if the United States are now Losing New Europe, Too?

Bush lost Old Europe with the Iraq war, the argument seems to be. And now Obama's "Reset" policy with Russia annoys New Europe. James cites the Economist with "After two decades of sometimes fervent Atlanticism in the ex-communist world, disillusionment (some would call it realism) is growing" and points to the recent Transatlantic Trends survey by the German Marshall Fund, which suggests that "the ascent of Barack Obama has boosted America's image in most [European] countries, but only modestly in places like Poland and Romania."

And all that was before Obama decided to scrap the missile defense plans for Poland and the Czech Republic. Let's get ready for some angry responses from all Central and Eastern European countries in the next few days.

US Blogger Greg Lawson asks on atlantic-community.org whether Obama abandoning Eastern Europe?:

This, ultimately, raises the question of why President Obama would essentially throw two allies (who used to suffer under Soviet puppet regimes) under the bus.  Those who know history understand that both the Czech Republic and Poland have been cast aside by Great Powers on any number of past occasions as part of the old school (and by no means dead) balance of power thinking.

US Relations with Old Europe to Return to "Normal"?

At the end of an article on New Europe, James Joyner adds some optimism on US relations with "Old Europe." He thinks they "will return to what they have been for the postwar period: a mature engagement between peers that will ebb and flow as the situation warrants."

I don't think Western Europe and the United States were peers during the Cold War. And we are still not peers, which is the cause for many current frictions. Europeans, especially Germans, very much want the US to consider them as peers, but government and public opinion are not yet ready to share the burden in foreign and defense policy. And the US might not be prepared to treat Europeans as equals either.

German Prof Gunter Hellmann just published an excellent short essay on the history of the federal republic's desire for "equal status" at AICGS:  "A Status-Conscious Germany between Adolescence and Retirement"

James finishes with "Such a relationship can withstand sharp disagreements, angry words, and hurt feelings.  Resentments and rifts will occasionally arise but they will be temporary.  Our shared values and interests, however, are permanent." What do you think?

Ukraine Has Averted Economic Meltdown. Now What?

This is a guest post from Andrew Zvirzdin.  Originally from upstate New York, Andrew is currently finishing his second year of grad school at the Maxwell School in Syracuse.

The world has started to pay closer attention to Ukraine and it shows. Since the gas crisis in January of this year and the staggering decline of the Ukrainian economy through the first half of the year, officials in Europe and the US have worked in close collaboration with and for Ukraine. The support and attention (along with an improving global economy) has helped Ukraine avoid the calamitous economic fate I previously feared. But the real questions surrounding the country’s political identity remain.

Nearly all recent news in Ukraine seems positive. The EU announced last month that it had cobbled together a group of international banks willing to lend Ukraine $3.6 billion to buy gas in the near term. Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko further announced that all outstanding gas disputes have been resolved after meeting with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on September 1. And industrial production and steel exports are starting to climb higher. With money in their pockets, gas in the tank, and happier neighbors, Ukraine appears ready to reemerge as a strong regional player. 

But underneath the surface, Ukraine remains severely divided by its two big neighbors and its two executives. Pro-west President Viktor Yuschenko continues to speak glowingly of Ukraine’s western neighbors, claiming that Ukraine would soon sign an Association Agreement with the EU. Prime Minister Tymoshenko meanwhile has appeared to grow closer to Russia in recent months, culminating with her praise of Prime Minister Putin at the September summit. The Ukrainian population appears as divided as their leaders; forging closer relations with Russia and the West are both distasteful options for a majority.

So who really speaks for Ukraine? And if there were such a person, what would they say? Hopefully, this will become clearer following the presidential elections to be held on January 17, 2010. But until then, political confusion threatens to undermine any new economic security. The EU has stipulated a number of reforms as a condition for the loans, including fighting corruption while raising the heavily-subsidized price of gas for Ukrainians. It is not at all certain that the politicians are up to the task. Institutional reform­—to explicitly delineate executive power —is even more needed and less likely. The end result is that Ukraine will remain confused and unsure of which direction to face for some time to come. As temperatures start to fall, that prospect will surely cause some Europeans to shiver.

McCain on Obama's AfPak Metrics

Senator John McCain finds Obama's metrics for evaluating progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan too vague, writes Foreign Policy:

"It's just not the level of detail that we had hoped for," said McCain. "We need more substance ... we're going to have to pressure them to give us some more." For example, the document lists as one Afghanistan metric "support from allies." "It's like that old joke 'How's your wife?" McCain quipped. "Compared to what?"

Smart and funny comment.

US-German Tensions over Airstrike in Afghanistan

Berlin and Washington might be switching positions in the blame game over civilian casualties. “An airstrike by U.S. fighter jets that appears to have killed Afghan civilians could turn into a major dispute between NATO allies Germany and the United States, as tensions began rising Sunday over Germany's role in ordering the attack,” reports the Washington Post.

Another Post article published on MSNBC argues:

The decision to bomb the tankers based largely on a single human intelligence source appears to violate the spirit of a tactical directive aimed at reducing civilian casualties that was recently issued by U.S. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the new commander of the NATO mission in Afghanistan. (…)

A NATO fact-finding team estimated Saturday that about 125 people were killed in the bombing, at least two dozen of whom — but perhaps many more — were not insurgents. To the team, which is trying to sort out this complicated incident, mindful that the fallout could further sap public support in Afghanistan for NATO's security mission here, the target appeared to be far less clear-cut than it had to the Germans. One survivor, convalescing from abdominal wounds at a hospital in the nearby city of Kunduz, said he went to the site because he thought he could get free fuel. Another patient, a 10-year-old boy with shrapnel in his left leg, said he went to gawk, against his father's advice.

But: The article also points out that local officials are more concerned about Taliban activity than the airstrike casualties:

“I don't agree with the rumor that there were a lot of civilian casualties,” said one key local official, who said he did not want to be named because he fears Taliban retribution. "Who goes out at 2 in the morning for fuel? These were bad people, and this was a good operation."

A few hours later, McChrystal arrived at the reconstruction team's base in Kunduz. A group of leaders from the area, including the chairman of the provincial council and the police chief, were there to meet him. So, too, were members of an investigative team dispatched by President Hamid Karzai.

McChrystal began expressing sympathy "for anyone who has been hurt or killed."  The council chairman, Ahmadullah Wardak, cut him off. He wanted to talk about the deteriorating security situation in Kunduz, where Taliban activity has increased significantly in recent months. NATO forces in the area, he told the fact-finding team before McChrystal arrived, need to be acting "more strongly" in the area.