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Bismarck on America

Secretary Rice quoted Otto von Bismarck, first chancellor of Germany (1871 - 1890), at the World Economic Forum Meeting (via Transatlantic Forum) in January 2008:

God has a special providence for fools, drunks, and the United States of America.

Walter Russell Mead used this quote for the title of his 2001 book, published by the Council on Foreign Relations. In another version of this alleged Bismarck quote "children" are included in the list...

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joe on :

I am quite sure Bismarck made many comments. There seems to be some confusion about this particular comment as opposed to the one made by Ms. Daubler-Gmelin. It does seem to show Germany’s fixation with the US is not new. I would be interested to know the various schools of German foreign policy. US foreign policy can be attributed to four competing schools – Hamiltonian, Jeffersonian, Jacksonian, and Wilsonian. President Bush seems to have combined Jacksonian and Wilsonian. What will be interesting is to see which school(s) of thought take center stage in future administrations. I personally am hopeful of a Jeffersonian-Jacksonian combination.

Zyme on :

Do you have an article that explains those schools quickly to an ignorant foreigner? :) I can only guess that they vary with regard to the scales of isolation-interventionism, ideology-realism and religious-secular? But I don´t think there are such strict schools here. One might distinguish between Ostpolitik and Westpolitik. Westpolitik came up after the second world war, and provided the foundation of an integration of (former West-) Germany into western alliances. Ostpolitik at that time was more oriented to a neutral status of Germany and a regain of lost provinces in the East. After reunification, the shifting of our capital back to Berlin and no more foes to the East, the focus has strongly increased eastwards, so you might say that today Ost- and Westpolitik are rather balanced and struggle for domination. The more americans are resented, cooperation with Russia and economical ties with China are increasing, I think Ostpolitik will start prevailing. Apart from that there probably is another school of "Europeans". But I would distinguish here between those that consider themselves to be Europeans and want to unite the continent, and those that consider the EU to be the perfect vehicle for german interests in Europe and in the world.

Don S on :

Two links for you, Zyme. The first is a summary and the latter is a copy of the essay which Walter Russell Mead published in 2000 in "The National Interest" defining the four schools. http://www.lts.com/~cprael/Meade_FAQ.htm http://www.lts.com/~cprael/jackson.html I highly recommend reading the second essay as I think Meade has an very illuminating insight into the forces driving US foreign policy. Some quotes: "Jacksonianism is less an intellectual or political movement than an expression of the social, cultural and religious values of a large portion of the American public. And it is doubly obscure because it happens to be rooted in one of the portions of the public least represented in the media and the professoriat. Jacksonian America is a folk community with a strong sense of common values and common destiny; though periodically led by intellectually brilliant men—like Andrew Jackson himself—it is neither an ideology nor a self-conscious movement with a clear historical direction or political table of organization. " "If Jeffersonianism is the book-ideology of the United States, Jacksonian populism is its folk-ideology." "Social activists like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger consciously sought to use cultural forms like folk songs to ease the transition from the old individualistic folk world to the collective new one that they believed was the wave of the future; they celebrated unions and other strange, European ideas in down home country twangs" "What came next surprised almost everyone. The tables turned, and Evans’ Americans "americanized" the immigrants rather than the other way around."

John in Michigan, USA on :

@Zyme: 'Apart from that there probably is another school of "Europeans"' Of these Europeans, roughly what percent want to see a united continent, and what percent see it as a vehicle for German interests. 50-50 or is one "school" more popular than the other? @Franchie: Same question for France: about how many pro-Europeans want a united Europe, and how many see the EU as the best way to advance French interests? I am just curious. Thanks!

franchie on :

John, I think Zyme made a good "résumé", otherwise you could refer to the Maastricht referendum as far us, it was positive. Yes, our will is to get more economical ties with the former "cold" block either. I would say that the people now are a bit disapointed and "fed up" that the EU council is "hermetic", that the decisions are taken by technocrats, that can't be controversed ; it was more transparent when we were only 6 to 10 members states, of equal forces and objectives ; As far as Germany and France are concerned, there are many financial ties that participate in both countries enterprises, cultural ties, exchanges with the universities... seems that whe share a lot of roots since Charlemagne, kind of better understanding than we still can hardly get with the Britishs, though political views with them on the international playground are more likely the same. Anyway the EU adventure is great, we never think to get back where we were in the fifties ; it has to take time to formalise, then I think this "time" will make sure that the adventure will last and isn't a quick agreement alike Nasser wanted it with the arab countries.

Zyme on :

That is a tough one John. I don´t think there are any surveys on this topic and thus I could only make a wild guess. One might get close to it though if you thought of the "Europeans" as a group of people - who like any other group that follows an idea is either rather idealistic or rather realistic. While the idealists will probably prefer a united Europe itself as the goal, the realists would mostly prefer it to be dominated by our country. Under the group of idealists I would subsume journalists, political scientists, generally rather left wing people. The realos in my opinion would consist out of conservative people who think of our constant financial contribution, industrialists and their lobbyists. So it might be pretty even among ordinary people and the elites. But I´m afraid I have no hard facts for this guess. Even more important though is that the percentage of the people believing this or that is hardly important at all. The EU is a party of our governments, not of the people. And it would be hard to believe that the idealistic approach is widespread among our decision makers ;)

John in Michigan, USA on :

Thank you both for your help. I think the Euro currency and the open borders are, so far, the most remarkable and fantastic successes of the EU, of which all Europeans should be quite proud. I would like to see the European Parliament become the true center of power in the EU, instead of the elite bureaucracy. Franchie's use of the word "hermetic" is very expressive. In English, it could have at least two meanings. A Hermit is someone who isolates himself from society in order to remain pure (or because he is crazy and obsessive). This person's life or behavior could be described as "hermetic". [url=http://www.thefreedictionary.com/dict.asp?Word=Hermit]This dictionary[/url] says this meaning comes from the ancient Greek for "desert" or "isolation". Alternatively, a hermetic seal is one that wraps something up so tightly, it has no contact with the air. Here again we see the concept of isolation. However, the dictionary says that this meaning has a different root, it comes from Hermes, the ancient god of alchemy and magic. Unfortunately, both meanings apply to the EU bureaucracy. Still, if that is the price to pay for a single currency and open borders, it is probably worth it. Also, the EU makes war within Europe nearly impossible, even if NATO becomes weak or dies. And maybe one day the people of Europe will find their voice and put their parliament in charge. "The EU is a party of our governments, not of the people". Also well stated. In fact, that is precisely my objection when people claim than the UN represents the people of the world. No, it represents the governments of the world, most of which aren't even democracies. And, even in a democracy, there is always the danger that government can take on a life of its own, instead of merely representing the people. This is why the UN, and international so-called law, has become an empty formalism, in which most resolutions mean nothing. My crazy idea for impossible UN reform: Change the UN General Assembly so that it has an upper and a lower house. The upper house represents the governments of the world, the lower house represents the people of the world. No country could have a seat in the lower house, unless it permits free and fair elections to fill that seat. Details to be supplied later...we're way off-topic now. Bismarck is spinning in his grave!

Zyme on :

I am not sure about the EU parliament supposed to be such a great entity. It sure helps at gaining public acceptance as it issues the obligatory democratical blessing on all projects. But apart from that? Reality is that the EU has reached a state far beyond the first handful of countries. Barroso has rightly called it an empire, or one to become, simply because of its size. Only an empire can annihilate national borders simply by the spreading of an idea. And you cannot govern an empire at the command of the public waves in almost 30 societies and an endless number of peoples. So I don´t criticise the current structure - I only criticise its make-up. I simply don´t like this deceivement. People are tired of endless debates in their national parliaments anyway, they wouldn´t revolt if they were told the truth.

Tuomas on :

I would suggest that the existence of (according to Mead) four competing schools on foreign policy in the US is a rather peculiar phenomenon, seen from the perspective of the European continent, and indeed from most other nations. In other countries, the rule is that foreign policies are determined by events and powers in the surroundings, conditions that the country itself has little influence over. Comparable "schools", when they exist at all, would then rather be advocating alliances and/or concessions in either one or another direction. But as a rule, there is much more of a national consensus on matters of security policies than in the US. The other side of the coin is that the policies typically are valid century after century. Germany's, France's and Scandinavian Russia-policies are largely determined by the same factors today as 100 years ago.

Don S on :

Not really schools, Tuomas. More like perspectives or political divisions driving elections or public opinion whioch ultimately drive foreign policy. This is particularly true of arguably the most powerful influence, Jacksonianism. It is difficult for a US politician to be elected without at least a streak of the Jacksonian in him. Arguably politicians like Dukakis, Gore, Kerry, and above all George McGovern failed to be elected because of a percieved lack of Jacksonianism in them. Bush is a perfect example of the confusion. His father and grandfather were probably more Hamiltonian than anything else, and he ran as something of a Jeffersonian in 2000. But 9-11 drove him to conducting his foreign policy from the Jacksonian and Wilsonian perspective. Note that circumstances can alter basic perspectives, at least for a time. After 9-11 many people who normally would be mor ecomfortable in the Hamiltonian or Jeffersonian camps became temporary Jacksonians for a few years. Note also that the US traditionally becomes VERY Jacksonian when attacked, and not merely this decade. Look at the reaction to the sinking of the Lusitania and the Zimmerman Telegram (WWI), the reaction to the bombarding of Fort Sumter (Civil War), and above all the attack on Pearl Harbor (WWII). The reaction in all these cases was a wave of Jacksonianism which persisted in most Americans through the end of the war.

Elisabetta on :

Walter Russell Mead's distillation of David Hackett Fischer's work in Special Providence, I think.

Pat Patterson on :

Any American of the 18th and 19th century would also take the reference to "Special Providence" as biblically based American exceptionalism. Special Providence in Protestant religious thinking of this period was essentially anti-papal and anti-monarchical. It is the citizens that determine policy and not the authorities by religious or divine right.

Don S on :

I think Bismark's intent with that phrase was half resentment, half insult, and half amusement. Which adds up to three halves but who is counting. ;)

franchie on :

Didn't the Germans, since mid of 19th century, (with the Irishs) were the greatest part of immigration towards the US, this might explain Bismark's phrase

Elisabetta on :

http://www.rollintl.com/roll/gr1900us.htm

Don S on :

"The other side of the coin is that the policies typically are valid century after century. Germany's, France's and Scandinavian Russia-policies are largely determined by the same factors today as 100 years ago." Do you think? It seems to me that the French and German Russia policies today diverge fundamentally from those pursued in 1907. Not because national interests are so different today but because of the removal of a vector which had driven European foreign policy since Richelieu, if not before that. I mean the French-German rivalry. France was either a great threat or the largest threat to Germany for most of the period, and after 1860 or so the converse was true for France. Therefore Germany regarded Russia as a potential threat to be neutralised either diplomatically or militarily from 1871 onward, and France eventually pursued an alliance with Russia after 1895 or so. The threat part of that rivalry was removed no later than 1960 or so, which funadmentally changed both German and French foreign policy after that. Another great vector was added after 1918 and most certainly post 1945 - the rise of the US to superpower status. This led France (De Gaulle) and later Germany (Brandt) to pursue 'balancing' policies vis the USSR, seeking to neutralise the power of the US even while the US was paying for much of the defense of both countries!

Tuomas on :

Please note that I wrote [i]determined [u]by the same factors[/u][/i], not that they are identical. ;-) Consider how the Napoleonic Wars led to an inversion of Sweden's policies, however founded on the same geopolitical reality. Russia [b]is[/b] situated to the East and posesses tremendous manpower and areals. The Second War on Schleswig led to a potent unified Germany, changing the setup of the continental chess board, but the rules of the games remained the same - chiefly: [i]Control the neighbour by means of [u]her[/u] neighbour(s).[/i] The American dominance of Germany and a set of smaller states post WWII may be seen as more important than the Coal and Steel Union, and did for a time really seem to change the very rules, but after 1991, which Clinton's and Bush's deeds further highlighted, it's back to business as usual. I may, possibly, write more on the issue later when I've more time. For now, I apologize for any sloppiness in my writing and spelling.

franchie on :

even while the US was paying for much of the defense of both countries! 1967 : "US go home", does that mean something to you ? hey, I suspect you weren't born :lol:

joe on :

frenchie, Maybe you get the masses in the streets again. Wired as the world is today.......It would be great if the US did leave Europe. This might awake Americans to the fact euros have little use for the US other than for their on protection

franchie on :

joe, you missed the point : I ment that De Gaulle walk out of Nato in 1967, meaning there that he didn't need the US umbrella for our protection, we were making our nuclear bomb either ; yeah, your country help us to free our country from a nazy ocupation, that accelerated the processus already set on way by de Gaulle and our Resistance, anyway, thank you, it spared a lot of human loss ; but Roosvelt did wait a long time to make up his mind : he was primaly dealing with the Vichy puppet state, ; it's only when he realised that Stalin was going to win and going to Berlin, and probably till the Atlantic ocean, that that's became a serious goal, wether he had to deal with a nazy EU, wether with a communist EU, ; seems that the communist threat was the biggest threat for him, imagine Stalin occupying our habours with nuclear submarines, no more free marcket on the Atlantic ocean. Therefore De Gaulle thought that France should take care of her own defense herself

joe on :

froggie, We are know france would have defeated the germans in time. Probably the wise course of action for the US would have been to fight the war against Japan. Then again we felt a special kinship to our friends the Brits so we chose to split our efforts. I think it is noble of the french to provide for their own security. Even this past weekend the french called on their fellow EU members to spend more and do more to protect Euerope. I fully support this effort. Having made a huge mistake once, fighting the germans, it is now time to correct that mistake and leave Europe to the french and the Europeans. I agree with you completely that Europe is more than capable of providing for its own defense. There are two nuclear armed nations in Europe which can provide nuclear deterrence and the combined armed forces of Europe exceeds those of the US. The US adds little to the defense of Europe.

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