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NATO Television: New Website Offers Useful Information

NATO recently launched a new website through the Public Diplomacy Division called NATO TV.  The site has so far been producing front-line operational footage, interviews on NATO issues, press conference videos, an archive with footage going back to 1945, and more.

Undoubtedly much of the footage will be propaganda, though NATO is billing it as news and "the voice of 26 countries".  However, this propaganda may not be a bad thing, for at least two reasons:

•    First, there is a broad lack of understanding about NATO's role in the post-Cold War world, and reasonably so: today's threats are more complicated and nuanced than ever before, making NATO's role in responding to them more difficult to understand than when it had one main mission: deter a Soviet onslaught.  NATO TV increases transparency on NATO's activities and organization in an easily digestible format.

•    Second, while NATO has accomplished a lot historically, and continues to be a key Alliance for both Europe and the United States today, often the media (including yours truly) only highlight controversies or failures – “the only good news is bad news,” as they say. NATO TV will provide information on positive achievements.

As an example of a NATO TV product, the website is running a series that follows the daily life of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) located in Southern Helmand Province, part of the NATO International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF).  I found the second episode (three of six parts have been released at the time of this post) to be the most interesting.  In it, Sergeant Ryan Messina provides the following quote on progress in Afghanistan from the perspective of a foot soldier:
When you see the way it was, and the effect you have on it, and the way it is now, it has a big impact on you as a person, you feel good about yourself, you feel like you have done something for these people.   
You can find the three videos released so far at the natochannel.tv website.

"Only the Chinese Embassy is Uglier"

Wow, the German press, incl. the pro-American Die Welt, is very critical of the US embassy, which was reopened on July 4th. Gregory Rodriguez writes in the Los Angeles Times:

The daily Süddeutsche Zeitung called it "Ft. Knox at the Brandenburg Gate." Der Tagesspiegel pronounced it a "triumph of banality." Particularly offended by the embassy's windows, the critic at the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung contended that they "look as if a bankrupt homeowner had bought them in a home-improvement store near Fargo in order to get his house ready for winter." Die Welt, meanwhile, stated simply that "only the Chinese Embassy is uglier."

While some Americans consider this criticism as part of the Anti-Americanism, I would like to point out that none of the German government buildings garned any approval from architectural critics, when they opened in Berlin. The chancellery is still called "the federal washing machine" by many Berliners. And the beautiful glass dome of the Reichstag was not appreciated in the beginning either.

More important than the architecture of the embassy is its outreach to the policy community, the media and the wider public. Many ambassadors are described as more active than the US ambassador.

US Foreign Policy: "It's All Power, No Influence"

While many Americans criticize Germany and other European countries for not spending enough on defense, there seem to be more and more Americans, who criticize the huge US defense budget, which is not only much much bigger than the combined budgets of half a dozen US enemies and allies, but also huge compared to other foreign policy instruments.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates for instance calls for more money and effort to "soft power" tools, including communications, because the military alone cannot defend America's interests around the world. (See Atlantic Review post "Al Qaeda is better at communicating its message on the Internet than America").

Today, James Carroll refers to Gates speech and writes in The Boston Globe (HT: David): "For US foreign policy, it's all power, no influence":

A MAN bit a dog last week. Not just any man, and not just any dog. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates decried the vast disproportion between America's annual investment in the Pentagon - something like $700 billion - and what is spent on the State Department - about $35 billion. That's less, Gates said in a speech in Kansas, than the Defense Department spends on healthcare. The total number of foreign service officers is about 6,600 - which is less, Gates said, than the number of military personnel serving on one aircraft carrier strike group.

And a for me even more shocking comparison was quoted in FP Passport: "There are substantially more people employed as musicians in Defense bands than in the entire foreign service," says David J. Kilcullen, a senior advisor to Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq.

I know, why Germany spends comparatively little on defense: a) A long history of starting the wrong wars, b) domestic priorities (unemployment, ageing society etc), c) less fear of terrorism than in the US, and d) belief in soft power, especially in the stabilization effects of an ever expanding EU.

But why is the US spending comparatively little on regular foreign policy, including public diplomacy? Why is the Pentagon budget and staff sooo much bigger than the State Department budget and staff? Why is hard power considered soo important?

Which country's policy is more short-sighted and could prove to be more of a problem in the coming years? Germany's or America's?

Indians Attacked in Germany

"Three days after eight Indian men were attacked, injured and chased through an Eastern German town by a mob while the townsfolk looked on, Germany is worried that this latest incident will hurt its image abroad and scare off foreign investors," writes Spiegel International:

The eight men were attacked by a mob of around 50 Germans at a street festival in the early hours of Sunday in the small town of Mügeln in the Eeastern German state of Saxony. The trigger for the violence was a brawl on the dance floor in a party tent shortly before 1 a.m., police said. The reason for the brawl was not yet clear.
The Indians left the tent where the dance was being held but were then attacked by a number of Germans who chased them across the town's market place until they took shelter in a pizzeria run by an Indian. The owner let them in, but the mob tried to kick in the doors of the restaurants as a large crowd looked on. The restaurant owner's car was also seriously damaged.

This incident was already commented on by some of our readers in the Black History post German Schools and Universities Don't Teach Black History

Personal Comment: I don't know which I'm more outraged, ashamed and upset about: The incident itself - another brutal, racist attack on immigrants in Germany with a huge crowd of people watching - or about the impression I get from this article that the attack's negative PR effect seems to be the single most pressing concern for politicians, the media and the business community alike.

Endnote by Joerg: Check out "This isn’t the Germany I know" in the expat blog: Letters Home to You.

Americans Empower Disadvantaged Teenagers in Berlin

"The Miracle of Wedding: In one of the Berlin districts with the biggest social problems an American turns frustrated young people into a successful musical company," writes Thomas Hanke in the German daily Handelsblatt; translation at the US embassy. The above mention American is the 38-year-old New Yorker composer Todd Fletcher.
The US embassy points out in an email: "The project took place under the patronage of U.S. Ambassador William R. Timken, Jr., and his wife Sue Timken. At the invitation of the patrons, German Federal President Horst Köhler and his wife as well as Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and his wife attended the event." Photo Gallery.
I recommend the Handelsblatt article -- published on the Fourth of July -- because it is an example of pro-American articles in the German press and an example of the outreach work by the US embassy. Ambassador and Mrs. Timken have supported many similar efforts in the past, which also got some press coverage.
In this context, check out these Atlantic Review posts about praise and criticism of the US embassy's work in Germany:
First Anniversary: Praise for Ambassador Timken's Work
Medienkritik on How to Improve US Public Diplomacy

Medienkritik on How to Improve US Public Diplomacy

Eric Staal of Republicans Abroad Germany was a guest of the public TV talk show "Maybrit Illner" and has effectively responded to criticism against the United States and received applause from the studio audience.
Eric said that he respects the criticism, but pointed out that criticism of US policy should have an honest motivation (like concern for injustices in the world) rather than be motivated by another political agenda. He doubts whether many critics have such an honest motivation, because people don't protest against China because of Darfur, for instance.

Ray D. of Davids Medienkritik describes Eric's talk show appearance as a stellar example of how Americans should engage the German media and complains:
The US Embassy in Berlin is a near total failure in its efforts to engage the German mass media so as to reach the largest possible German audience. The American taxpayer is being under-served by his or her representatives in Germany. Frankly - the public diplomacy officials at the US Embassy in Berlin ought to send Eric Staal half of their annual paychecks - because he just did more to engage the German people in 2 minutes than they have done in the past year.
UPDATE: Is it the job of ambassadors to appear on TV? The German ambassador certainly does it often, as Pat points out in the comments section. Besides, here is an  example from August 2002, when the transatlantic disagreements over Iraq intensified:  Germany's Ambassador Ischinger went on the fiercely pro-war FOX News and told the rather aggressive host Bill O'Reilly why Germany is not supporting the war plans:
We have our hands full with the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban. Why do we have to go against Iraq right now? Are you really sure that containment has failed?
Ischinger also wrote on the embassy homepage in August 2002: "An Attack on Iraq Now Could Harm International Coalition Against Terrorism." Ischinger defended Germany again on The O'Reilly Factor in December 2003 as Sonja wrote in the Atlantic Review post Pressure on Germany by FOX’s O’Reilly Factor (in German).
In May 2006, Ischinger also wrote a pretty outspoken and US critical editorial in the Washington Post. See the Atlantic Review post: Germany's Outgoing Ambassador to the U.S. discusses the War on Terrorism

Americans Consider Germany Their Fourth Most Important Partner

Robert Gerald Livingston, a senior visiting fellow at the German Historical Institute, Washington, D.C., writes in The Atlantic Times about an image survey commissioned by the German embassy in Washington:
In the ranking of a thousand Americans, Germany is one of the most important international partners for the U.S. – following Great Britain, Canada and Japan. Germans, like Americans but unlike the French, care a great deal about what other nations think of them. This should cheer them up: For Americans, Germany ranks ahead of all European countries except Britain, well ahead of France or Spain and, surprisingly, even farther in front of Italy, Poland, Ireland and Greece, the countries of origin of many immigrant Americans who retain links to their native lands and support active political lobbying on their behalf. (...)
Only l5 percent of survey respondents consider themselves very or well informed about the EU, even fewer today than during the last survey in September 2005. This should be a bit worrisome for a Germany which makes the EU so central to its policy-making. Also worrisome is how much the Nazi past still afflicts the German image among Americans. When asked what the top interest about Germany is, 44 percent answered “history,” by which, clearly, they mean the Third Reich. Very few Americans (13 percent) consider Germany a reliable ally of Israel and only a third say that it has taken responsibility for what it did to Jews in the past.
I hope the other two thirds responded "I can't answer this question, because I don't know anything about Germany." I wonder whether Japan's refusal to confront its own history is of any concern. Please don't interpret this snarky comment as a comparison of German and Japanese crimes. It is only a comment on confronting history (Vergangenheitsbewältigung).
Americans probably consider Japan a more important ally than Germany because Japan has sent tens of thousands of combat troops to fight in Southern Afghanistan...
The article about this survey ends on a positive note:
Those Americans who have actually been in Germany have a far better opinion about it than those who have not.

State Department Report on Human Rights in Germany

The State Department issued its annual Report on Human Rights Practices in Germany on March 6, 2007 with many statistics and some descriptions of individual cases. This year's conclusion is:
The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens. However, there were reported instances of mistreatment of prisoners and detainees by police, and there were limits on freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association aimed at groups deemed extremist. Extremists engaged in intimidation during the electoral process; there was governmental and societal discrimination against some minority religious groups; and cases of societal harassment of asylum seekers and other foreigners occurred. Violence against women, trafficking in persons, and harassment of racial minorities were problems.
A former Foreign Service officer criticized "the overuse" of these mandated State Department reports as making the United States look "judgmental, moralistic and bullying." See the Atlantic Review post: "Foreign Policy by Report Card" Blamed for "Nurturing Seething Resentment Abroad"
Personal comment:
I don't think Germans care much about these reports, but some newspapers do take notice.