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Who Are the Major Players in Transatlantic Relations?

TIME Magazine has just published its annual list of the world's most influential people. Some strange results.

I think we should come up with our own list. Therefore I am asking at Who are the biggest movers and shakers in transatlantic relations? Who is setting the transatlantic agenda right now? Who are the most influential leaders and thinkers? I would appreciate your suggestions.

Anxiously Waiting on a Trojan Horse

Guest post by Joe Joe Noory is an Architect, investor, and independent observer of news and opinion:

Somewhere between the emotional populism of wanting to burden the higher performing European states with guilt over resisting to bail out the Greek government, and the risk investors are being offered to take are the hard truths of bailing out of the broke Greek government by investing in their bonds: they might not just default on ?8,5 billion in obligations to bond purchasers due on 19 May, but run the risk of never being paid back for future bond offerings (of perhaps two years or less), much in the way depositors in an uninsured failed bank will never see a red pfennig of their invested savings on a default.

Ifo's Hand-Werner Sinn indicated that very same sentiment on Wednesday morning, according to this wire piece:

The warning came as a new poll showed nearly two-thirds of Germans were opposed to helping Greece, with a majority believing that membership of the EU brought more disadvantages than advantages. Asked on MDR radio if Berlin would ever get its money back, Sinn, who heads the Ifo institute and is one of the top economic advisers to the government, said: "To tell you the truth, no."
Greece "will not be in a position to carry out the necessary budgetary rigour" and will eventually have "to ask for Germany to waive the debt," he said.
He warned that bailing out Greece could set a precedent for other euro area countries labouring under high debt and public deficits. "It would be understandable if the Italians or the Spanish put pressure on us to pay up now because it is an important precedent for them," said Sinn.

Before you react, take the statement for what it is: a warning. It isn't a characterization of the ur-Greek citizen, or a nationalistic reflection, or a cultural issue, but a warning that the discipline to raise revenue and cut budgets in face of the street protests and strikes of civil servants and dependants on entitlements. It isn't a characterization of what they did, but a warning of future events, one which prices them and tells us what something is really worth, just as watching those who short an equity or commodity does.

Continue reading "Anxiously Waiting on a Trojan Horse"

DOD Releases Afghanistan Report

The US Defense Department delivered a report to Congress this week providing an update on progress in Afghanistan from the period October 2009 to the end of March 2010.  Titled "Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan", the congressionally mandated report is extensive at 152 pages and covers everything from troop numbers in country to the details of ISAF counter-narcotics policy.

I have not read the entire report yet, but here are some highlights from the Executive Summary:


Violence is up but Afghanis feel more secure

“Polls consistently illustrate that Afghans see security as improved from a year ago. At the same time violence is sharply above the seasonal average for the previous year – an 87% increase from February 2009 to March 2010.”  The report says that while violence has increased, this is largely due to increased ISAF activity.
US, partner-country, and Afghani force levels are increasing

US presence:
 “On March 31, 2010 there were approximately 87,000 U.S. forces and approximately 46,500 international forces in Afghanistan… force levels expected to approach 98,000 by August 2010.”

"The President’s strategy is dependent not only on the application of military capability, but also on increased civilian capacity. Since January 2009, the Department of State (DoS) has more than tripled the number of civilians on the ground in Afghanistan to 992. The increase in civilian personnel is a reflection of the President’s strategy to increase civil military cooperation at all levels of operations."

Continue reading "DOD Releases Afghanistan Report"

Progress in the Balkans

There has been a lot of positive news coming out the Balkans recently. Some of the highlights include:

(1) Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina will soon be approved for visa-free travel to Europe. According to a recent EU report, the two countries have made significant progress and could be cleared for unrestricted travel in the Schengen area as soon as October.

(2) Two weeks ago, Croatian president Ivo Josipovic apologized for his country's role in the Bosnian wars. The apology followed Serbia's apology for the Srebenica massacre one month ago. Serbian President Boris Tadic has taken a decidedly more conciliatory tone, promising to work towards reconciliation between the nations in the region.

(3) In a historic summit, presidents from Turkey, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Serbia met in Istanbul this weekend and agreed to intensify efforts to resolve border disputes and encourage greater regional cooperation. The meeting was an unprecedented show of cooperation between BiH and Serbia, and the presidents emphasized their desire to continue the cooperation in the future.

(4) NATO continues its tentative expansion into the Balkans with Bosnia being offered a Membership Action Plan (MAP) during the recent summit of NATO ministers. Significantly, Serbia has stated it supports Bosnia's NATO aspirations. NATO also discussed "militarily disengaging" from the country, removing the remaining peacekeepers.

All is not perfect in the Balkans of course. Serbian fugitive Mladic remains at large, unrest continues in Kosovo, and significant minorities in Croatia and Serbia continue to vociferously deny any wrongdoing in the Balkan wars. But all things considered, there are many reasons to be optimistic. Personally, I believe the lure of membership in the European Union and NATO are valuable catalysts in motivating the needed reforms. The progress in the Balkans is incremental and slow but it is substantive. That should offer some assurance to NATO officials struggling with Afghanistan and to EU supporters wondering about the long-term relevancy of the Union.

Why Afghanistan is More Complex than Iraq

According to NATO Secretary General Rasmussen a comprehensive approach is needed in Afghanistan. He has been very impressed by General McChrystal's understanding of the complex situation:

As soon as I arrived, General McChrystal took me into his briefing room in ISAF Headquarters, and put up onto a big screen a graphic display of all the factors, military and civilian, we had to take into account if we are to succeed, and all the interconnections between them.  There were hundreds of lines, going in every direction.  It looked like someone had dumped a huge pot of cooked spaghetti onto the projector.

MSNBC has published the truly fascinating graphic about all the factors influencing Afghanistan's stability and the Counter Insurgency dynamics. Winning in Iraq seems to be much easier, if you look at the smart and straightforward briefing "How to Win the War in al Anbar," which Capt. Travis Patriquin, 32, created in 2006. It is according to RealClearPolitics "so simple (with stick figure drawings) that even the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee could understand it." He rebelled against the Pentagon's PowerPoint culture, which seems to be so bad that the Armed Forces Journal felt the need to publish an article titled "Dumb-dumb bullets." The NY Times writes today: We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint.

Seriously, I guess many points from the stickfigures strategy for Al Anbar could work in Afghanistan, while McChrystal's graphic includes some universal truths that are relevant for Iraq as well. There are obviously many other issues that explain why winning in Afghanistan is more difficult than winning in Iraq. I just thought it was interesting to compare Chrystal's complex graphic with Patriquin's simple one. I guess we need both to explain military strategies.

I pay tribute to Captain Patriquin, who was killed by an IED on December 6, 2006. I think he deserves a lot of credit for the progress in Al Anbar.

Unrelated Endnotes: Presidents Obama and Medvedev issued a joint statement on April 25, 2010 to mark "the 65th anniversary of the legendary meeting of Soviet and American troops at the Elbe River, which became a striking symbol of the brotherhood-in-arms between our nations during World War II."
Moreover, I am happy that the world survived the
boobquake and the Iranian cleric is proven wrong. Well, according to McChrystal's graphic everything is related, so maybe these endnotes are related as well. ;-)

Who Wants to Dream?

"Germany in Need of a Dream" is the headline of John Kornblum's op-ed, that I discussed earlier in: Has Germany Changed to the Worse? The former US ambassador to Germany adds to the mantra that 200,000 young fans of Obama attended his campaign speech in Berlin in 2008:

But as Germans will themselves often tell you: They have forgotten how to dream. Younger Germans feel this lack of inspiration as well. Dreams were what 200,000 of them were waiting to hear when they rallied to hear Barack Obama in Berlin two summers ago.

I was there. The crowd was a mix of all generations, not just young people. Not just fans, who "rallied". A few thousand Obama fans came hours before the speech and were able to stand in the front and smile and cheer into the TV cameras. Not just people in need of dreams came to see the new global superstar. Most folks were just curious, I think.

My colleague Ben Heine and I interviewed quite a few attendees after the speech:

Read Ben's article Obama in Europe: Continuity We Can Believe In: "Generally favorable towards Obama, many of the attendees we spoke to during the rally indicated they had come to hear the speech out of curiosity and interest in politics, rather than a specific desire to admire the presidential nominee."

Anyway, is Germany in need of a dream and are Germans waiting to hear dreams, as Kornblum is saying? I tend to disagree, but I agree to the extend that we need to overcome political cynicism and revitalize politics at the grassroots level. This requires much more than a charismatic leader, who would raise suspicions for historical reasons.

Related posts: Germans Learned Nothing from Obama and Campaign Slogan in Germany: "Yes, Weekend". Favorite quote from another post: "Obama might be as popular as Elvis, but even the King couldn¹t wean Germany off of Russian energy." And don't forget to read Nanne's analysis of what Obama said in Berlin: Obama Keeps it Global

Has Germany Changed to the Worse?

John Kornblum, a former American ambassador who has lived for nearly four decades around Germany, responds to the many articles that question Germany's commitment to the European Union: 

Germany has changed very little, but Europe and the world have changed a lot. Therein lies the dilemma.

Unfortunately, his NY Times op-ed does not elaborate this dilemma sufficiently for me to understand it. However, he reminds us that Germany pursued self-interests in the past as well. Though, I don't think Germany pushed for NATO enlargement like this:

Many important postwar accomplishments were conceived and pushed by Germany, sometimes over the opposition of others - including the United States. Ostpolitik was controversial for years, as was NATO enlargement. Germany pushed them with determination. Helmut Kohl did not consult before promulgating his 10 points on reunification. He agreed to French desires for a common currency, but only if it could be a mirror of the Deutsche mark, for decades the European monetary standard. The euro stability pact, now the object of so much controversy with Greece, was the result. After 1990, the E.U.'s eastward expansion was Germany's way of firming up its Eastern flank. Slowly and without fanfare, Germany has been remaking the European Union in its image. At each step of the way, Germany made its wishes more palatable by paying more than its share. Part of today's misunderstanding is caused by Germany's success in using its contributions to build an image of selflessness.

It's a great analysis, but it would be even better, if Kornblum would get into more detail regarding these remarks: "Most maddening for most thinking Europeans is the knowledge that the Germans are right." and "European fecklessness seems to worry Washington officials these days." Any readers with interpretations?

Iceland's Long Shadow

The recent eruption of Eyjafjallajökull is not the first time Iceland has thrust itself upon the European and global stage.

Indeed, this small Nordic country with only 315,000 inhabitants has played a remarkably prominent role at important junctures of history. Four of these periods come to mind:

1) The Icelandic eruption of 1783 led to "the year without summer" for much of Europe and the resulting famine contributed to the civil unrest in France. Some historians go so far as to say the French Revolution was a direct result of the volcanic eruption on Iceland.
2) The invasion and occupation of Iceland in World War II marked the transfer of naval power from the United Kingdom to the United States. While Great Britain invaded the island in 1940 to preempt a German invasion, the British quickly recognized they were unable to maintain their occupation force on the island. By 1941, American forces were occupying the island, and the new hegemon in the neighborhood was quickly recognized.
3) The Cod Wars between Iceland and Great Britain was one of only two major conflicts between NATO countries and nearly led to a full-fledged war between the two island nations. The conflict centered on fishing rights in Iceland's coastal waters and eventually led to international law regarding fishing rights and the EU's Common Fisheries Policy. Lingering concern about Icelandic fishing rights continues to be the biggest reason why Iceland remains outside the EU.
4) Beginning in 2003, Icelandic banks and investors were on the cutting edge of a global financial sector that used complex models, leveraging, and financial products to make enormous profits. But by 2006, it was already becoming apparent that the incredible explosion of the Icelandic banking sector was not sustainable and the island was on the leading edge of the global economic meltdown.

And now, citizens on both sides of the Atlantic have again remembered the island in the middle of the North Atlantic. 
It is just unfortunate that the lovely mid-Atlantic country always seems to remind us of its presence in such unpleasant ways.