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Misreading Ostpolitik and the Cuban Missile Crisis Screwed up German and US Foreign Policy

As usual, American pundits and politicians expect too much from demonstrations of power, sanctions against and isolation of Russia, while their German counterparts exaggerate the benefits of talking to Putin by establishing a contact group and attending the G8. Personally, I favor a mix of both approaches, of course. Though, I don't have much hope here and agree with Julia Ioffe's pessimism.

I do, however, would like to make a general comment beyond the current Ukraine crisis:

One reason for these different policies on Russia (and China by the way) is that many influential Germans and Americans drew the wrong lessons from important foreign policy successes in the Cold War: Respectively Ostpolitik and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

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Scanning Cargo Containers is More Important than Scanning Emails

The United States has built huge internet surveillance infrastructures, but failed to implement its own 9/11 law about maritime cargo security.

The risks of an attack at a US port or the smuggling of weapons of mass destruction (or their components) in shipping containers are big. Compared to the importance of scanning more cargo containers, the benefits of scanning emails appear quite small. What is needed is a serious debate about the right priorities for counter-terrorism and cost/benefit analysis of current policies.

While US and other Western governments claim that internet surveillance has prevented several terrorist attacks, it could also be argued that internet surveillance catches only some of the stupid terrorists, who can only pull off relatively minor attacks. (But not all of them, e.g. not the Boston bombers.)

Smart terrorists like Osama bin Laden, who have the brains and resources to kill tens of thousands of people, do not communicate over the internet. (Or they use very serious encryption, which the NSA computers won’t break in time.) They might plan sophisticated operations for American, French, Dutch or German harbors.

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Germany Needs Tough Love from Obama

Berlin is excited about President Obama's upcoming visit and his speech at the Brandenburg Gate. Can he coin a memorable phrase like Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" fifty years ago? Or Reagan's "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall"? Will he offer Germany a different version of Bush senior's "partnership in leadership", but this time with more impact? I doubt it.

I have high hopes, but not high expectations. Yes, Obama will ask Germany to lead in Europe and beyond. He'll appeal to our responsibility, to our shared values and to the trust that has been built over six decades of transatlantic cooperation and how fundamental it is to freedom (and to all the other buzzwords). He will - hopefully - say a few nice words about our troops in Kosovo and Afghanistan, but probably ignore (or gloss over) PRISM and other controversial issues. Instead he will talk about the wonderful possibilities of the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) and how it will lead to growth, strengthen our bonds and global influence and reinforce our values etc.

Obama will reassure Germany of America's continued support and solidarity, because he knows that Germans are concerned about America's pivot (balancing) to Asia and have complained that he has not visited us in his first term. [Oh, we crave so much attention and ignore that Obama has been to Europe eleven times since assuming the presidency, incl. three times to Germany. It has been my long position that Obama would have come to Berlin earlier and worked more with us, if we had make concrete suggestions for revitalized transatlantic cooperation rather than just photo-ops at various summits.]

Instead of turning his speech into a love fest for German-American relations, he should give some tough love. German citizens and politicians need a dose to understand where the United States is headed and what responsibilities Europe now has in its neighborhood.

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Interview about Obama's Nomination of John Brennan

Deutsche Welle, Germany's international broadcaster, interviewed me about John Brennan and his nomination for CIA Director. The article is available in various languages, including Arabic, Turkish, German, Albanian and Chinese, because my opinion about the CIA is so super important that folks need to read it in their mother tongue. ;-) Not In English though.

My argument was in a nutshell that Brennan is a good choice for CIA Director because he worked for the agency in the operative and analytical divisions, has Middle East expertise, and is close to Obama. Better than a politician or a general.

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Russia as a Real Partner?

Putin and Obama have a fundamental choice to make in their new terms: Continue "their transactional approach to relations" or "put relations in a broader, longer-term strategic framework, which could foster more enduring constructive relations." Thomas E. Graham of Kissinger Associates and Dmitri Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center, write in the New York Times "Why the Reset Should Be Reset"

While I would not hold my breath that it will happen in 2013, the authors make some good arguments about common long term interests:

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Some Good News for a Change: Afghanistan's Pop Idol

The Taliban had banned music and 99% of everything else that is fun. Now, an Afghan version of the "American Idol" called "Afghan Star" has been broadcasted for seven seasons. Millions are watching and voting for their favorite singers by mobile phone. For many this is their first encounter with democracy. A documentary from 2009 follows "the dramatic stories of four contestants as they risk all to become the nation's favorite singer."

Watch the latest show from this week: 

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The Unfinished Business After the End of the Iraq War

As an era ends, Iraqis will grapple with their own security while veterans will adjust to the labor market back at home, argues Caitlin Howarth in this guest article:

On Monday, President Obama gave a joint appearance with Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to mark the final withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. In announcing the holiday homecoming, the president has made good on his promise to bring the war to an end. For thousands of families welcoming their loved ones home, it is a time for joy; for the country, it is a time for gratitude.

Now is also a time for healing. Both the people of Iraq and U.S. veterans have wounds to heal and relationships to rebuild. The veterans come home to a still-struggling economy, limited jobs, and complex health issues. Iraqis are still picking up the pieces of an infrastructure shattered by war and complicated by sectarian tension; living in the midst of regional upheaval presents no easy road, either. Five years ago, when I studied the smaller pockets of Iraq's sectarian violence, the ugliness of what can happen in a power vacuum appeared overwhelming. The reality of what happens when some people have plenty of weapons and no accountability remains a major concern - and not just among Iraqis.

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Romney's Foreign Policy Team

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney published his foreign policy strategy: "An American Century -- A Strategy to Secure America's Enduring Interests and Ideals."

James Joyner has read it and says "Romney's Realist Foreign Policy Is a Lot Like Obama's": "Like Romney himself, it's not particularly exciting. Nor, thankfully, is it frightening."

Meanwhile Rachel Maddow looks at his newly announced team of foreign policy advisors and concludes "Romney Gives Bush Neocons Another Chance". That is frightening.

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