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Clinton gives Atlanticist speech at the Pacific

Hillary Clinton is much more supportive of NATO and Europe than all the other presidential candidates. Yesterday, Hillary Clinton gave an impressive speech describing NATO as "one of the best investments America has ever made". She stressed the need for US leadership and collaboration with allies in the struggle against ISIS. Bernie Sanders has yet to give a major speech on NATO. Donald Trump's opinion on NATO reflects widely held sentiments in the US.

Hillary Clinton's speech was impressive because she spoke at Stanford on the Pacific coast, and not on the Atlantic. She spoke to students, not the old Cold War generation with a stronger attachment to Europe. Often accused of pandering to the desires and needs of her given audience, Hillary Clinton here did not talk about opportunities in Asia-Pacific region, but about the threats in Europe and the Middle East and the need for strong US engagement in these regions. Moreover, the speech comes shortly after recent statements by Donald Trump and President Obama who criticized Europeans as mainly free-riders on defense in interviews with Washington Post and The Atlantic respectively.

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Best Music Videos for the US Elections

I have tuned out of the Republican presidential debates. Too much pandering, too much silly campaign rhetoric. I wrote about their statements on Europe, for instance in Gingrich, Romney rely on Eurobashing to "define their America" and "Europe" is a Dirty Word in the United States. I do, however, tune into official and unoffical campaign music videos.

Here are my three favorites so far in this election cycle: The best music video for a presidential candidate (Rick Santorum), the best video against a presidential candidate (Newt Gingrich), and the most bizarre one from a (former) candidate (Herman Cain).

1. While I don't agree with Rick Santorum's political views, I consider this the best music video for a presidential candidate. It helps me to better understand why so many Americans like him and why his campaign is so successful at the moment. The music video "Game On" by the band First Love, praises Rick Santorum's stands on faith, abortion, and manufacturing:

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The Forces Behind the Revolution in Egypt

Who gets the most credit for toppling Mubarak? And who will be blamed if the revolution turns nasty in the next 12 months? Who inspired the events that could change history like the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 or the Islamic Revolution in 1979?

Facebook? Twitter? Rising food prices? The "liberation" of Iraq? George W. Bush? David Hasselhoff? The Egyptian Army? The youth groups of the opposition parties? The Tahrir square campers? Or the tragic narratives of the two individuals Khaled Said from Alexandria or Mohammed Bouazizi from Ben Arous?

1. The BBC has a great image of "the camp that toppled a president."

2. Interestingly, the Boston Globe, often described as very liberal, gives George W. Bush some credit. A program to fund and train election monitors in Egypt "played a key role in the movement to topple President Hosni Mubarak's regime":

The program, which provided millions in direct funding to prodemocracy groups, helped dispatch 13,000 volunteers to observe Egypt's parliamentary elections in December. Thousands of those monitors, angered by what they said was blatant election rigging, joined the protests. Some became outspoken leaders; others used the networking and communication skills they learned to help coordinate 18 days of rallies. (...)

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2010 is Deadliest Year for Coalition Forces in Afghanistan

2010 is the deadliest year for NATO forces in Afghanistan, reports the NYT.
Violence is 69 percent higher for the three months ending Sept. 14 than it was for the same period last year, according to the United Nations special representative’s quarterly report to the Security Council, which was released Tuesday.

The deterioration of security was most evident in the increase in roadside bomb explosions, which rose 82 percent over the same period in 2009.
A graph documenting the steady annual rise of coalition deaths from 2001 to today can be found at iCasualties.org. US forces have suffered 1301 deaths out of the total 2098 among coalition forces since the war began in 2001.

This record in casualties follows another landmark event in Afghanistan last week, nation-wide provincial elections.  Here are some (grim) stats on the election outcome provided by AFP:

* more than 2,500 candidates stood for 249 seats
* over 3,000 official complaints about voting irregularities
* more than 1,000 polling centers were unable to open because security could not be guaranteed
* 22 people were killed by polling day violence, and 294 insurgent attacks occurred
* final results are due October 31st, though may be delayed for months

While these numbers may be discouraging, Tony Karon writes in Time that the elections actually have only a marginal impact on Afghanistan's future:
Most of the region's main players, including President Karzai himself, are operating on the assumption that the only plausible endgame for the war in Afghanistan is some form of political settlement with the Taliban — and reports from the region suggest that the pursuit of such a settlement, with Pakistan acting as broker, has already begun via discreet talks. The bottom line in such a settlement would be for the Taliban to agree to prevent territory under its control from being used to export terrorism, and to accept that it will not be able to restore its theocratic rule over the whole country — some form of power sharing would be inevitable, with the Taliban likely to end up as the dominant political authority in the Pashtun south and east. But despite reports that Taliban leaders are open to a different approach to wielding power and hosting al-Qaeda, achieving a deal would be far from easy. The Taliban's military momentum diminishes its incentive to compromise, and the leaders of the Northern Alliance that fought the Taliban for years and brought President Karzai to power are fiercely opposed to the restoration of the movement to any position of power. Still, the distribution of power in Afghanistan is clearly going to be determined by the outcome of efforts to broker a political solution among those who wield military force on the ground. And in that respect, Saturday's vote was, unfortunately, a sideshow.

German Elections: "Italian Conditions"?

The Economist discusses Germany's political fragmentation. Since quite a few German journalists like to dramatize socio-economic downturns by using the term “American conditions,” I thought I can have a bit of fun by talking about “Italian conditions” as a description of Germany political fragmentation, even though Italy has been much more stable recently. The Economist does not exaggerate that much, although it does claim: “With five parties in the Bundestag, the make-up of the next government could become a lottery.”  

GERMANY’S two big parties— the Volksparteien or “people’s parties”—have long been the pillars of an enviably stable political system. But they have lost ground over the years and, whoever wins the parliamentary election on September 27th, the outcome may be more fragmentation.

Between them, the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) captured 90% of the votes cast in national elections in the 1970s. In 2005 their combined vote fell below 70%, forcing them to govern together in a “grand coalition”. The latest polls say their share could sink to around 60% (see chart). “The Volksparteien are coming to an end,” says Peter Lösche, a political scientist. This worries many Germans.

And many other Germans don’t care at all. More and more Germans have lost interest in politics, certainly party politics.

Despite the “fragmentation” of the party system, there is very little excitement or “fear politics”, which I guess is a good thing. The current campaigns for the parliamentary elections on September 27th are very boring! The two leading political candidates – Steinmeier and Merkel -- are the exact opposites of Obama in terms of charisma, vision, emotional appeal, mobilization of supporters, inspiration of hope, reduction of cynicism and apathy etc.

In fact, I doubt whether the election campaigns even started. It’s that quiet. Maybe that’s also good. Politicians might get some work done, if they start campaigning six weeks rather than sixteen months before an election.

Lessons for Europe's Social Democrats from the Obama Campaign

David Vickrey, editor of Dialog International, wrote this guest blog post:

In the final days of the 2008 US presidential campaign, John McCain, the Republican candidate for president, accused his Democratic rival Barack Obama of being a "European socialist". McCain based this characterization on Obama's taxation reform program, a plan to "spread the wealth around", which, in fact, is nothing more than a reaffirmation of the tradition of progressive taxation in America.

The charge that Obama was a covert "European socialist" was especially curious since it was made during the weeks in September and October when the Republican Bush administration was nationalizing the American banking system. Certainly European social democrats found McCain's characterization laughable: there was nothing "socialistic" about the Obama campaign's stated policies. What did the candidacy of Barack Obama have to do with European social democracy? And what could social democrats possibly learn from a political campaign in the United States - the bedrock of unfettered capitalism and the epicenter of the global financial crisis? Plenty, according to the German journalist Werner A. Perger. Perger spent time in late summer 2008 in the US speaking with labor union leaders, political activists, and progressive thought leaders.

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Cheers and Tears for the American Flag

My colleague Jesse Schwartz wrote an op-ed about his transatlantic travels since 2004. Experiencing the US elections in Berlin, he concludes that America is more than a place again: America: New Beginnings, an Old Idea.

He describes the mood at an election party:

As Obama's electoral vote count rose, so did the ebullience. Excitement soon gave way to pure euphoria. This was to be expected, especially from the Americans. But then I saw tears streaming down the face of grown men from Zambia, a fourteen year old girl from Berlin and her mother, Germans, Americans, Irish, white, black, old, young, everyone. The catharsis was overwhelming. America the idea, that ineffable concept, was pouring from people's eyes. This confluence of historic moments had produced something I had never thought possible from my experiences of the past five years. Cheers. Cheers for America. Cheers for the American flag. Uproarious Cheers when Obama told the world, "God bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America." Cheers for all things American. And above all Cheers for the idea that is America.

Would McCain or Obama be Better for Britain?

Christopher Meyer, former British Ambassador to the United States during 9/11, writes in the Telegraph:
I have no idea - I have never met him - what Obama thinks of Britain, though in one of his attacks against Bush, he dismissively brackets the UK with Togo. McCain, whom I knew well and liked, is to all appearances a declared anglophile. But, none of this is relevant. America will act on an unsentimental calculation of where its national interest lies. The problem with the rhetoric of the Special Relationship is that it implicitly denies this reality, putting a burden of expectation on the ties between our two countries, which they cannot bear.

Whoever wins, Britain must rest its relationship with America on four propositions: is America our single most important ally and partner? Absolutely. Does this mean that our national interests will always coincide? Absolutely not. Should we stand up for our interests when they diverge from the Americans? Absolutely. Will having rows with the US from time to time fatally undermine the closeness of the relationship? Absolutely not.
While Meyer concludes with a subtle endorsement for Obama, overall he leaves the impression that neither Obama nor McCain will necessarily be better for Britain, since "America will act on an unsentimental calculation of where its national interest lies." That is, it does not matter who is president, because the United States will always act the same way, based on what is in its best interests.  As President Lincoln once said: "I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me."

However, the argument that neither president will be better for Britain (or other allies in Europe, or the transatlantic alliance as a whole) attributes too little influence to the US executive branch.  The fact is, different presidents push different policies and weigh the importance of allie's opinions differently.  If Al Gore had been president in 2003, there is a good chance the US would not be at war in Iraq (or at least would have approached it in a less unilateral way), which would have prevented the transatlantic alliance from reaching a major low following the Iraq invasion. 

McCain and Obama have different approaches to foreign relations, different world views, and different personal styles -- and one of them will be "better" for Britain than the other, regardless of events.