Out of ideas and without any hope of a last minute hate-America hail-mary pass or flood disaster to rally the party faithful à la Gazprom Gerhard Schroeder, the SPD gets destroyed in German elections. With just 23% of the vote, Schroeder wannabe Steinmeier and company will be riding the back benches for quite a while with any luck.
Talk of tolerance is one thing. The reality in Germany is another - as this article and YouTube video document. Violent Islamic extremists, along with the far-right, continue to foment open hostility towards Jews and Israel in Germany and around Europe.
Video: Islamic extremists cheer and shout "Allah Akbar" as German police remove an "offensive" Israeli flag from the window of a private home.
German politics and the German media have largely blamed the U.S.
for the current financial crisis. Germany's cherished "social market"
policies, so the unified chorus, would have never produced the reckless
behavior of banks witnessed in the country of profit maximization,
the U.S. In particular, German regulatory bodies and rules - according to the saga - would not
have allowed German banks to invest in toxic assets. So, why oh why didn't
the U.S. follow Germany's admirable policies?
This WSJ article tells a slightly different story. German politics blew it big time.
MAY 29, 2009
German Regulator Warned of Hypo Bank Problems Before Bailout
BERLIN -- Germany's financial regulator warned of serious problems Hypo Real Estate Holding
AG six months before the lender was rescued in a massive bailout, but
the regulator lacked powers to act and the government ignored its
warnings, according to documents viewed by The Wall Street Journal. (...)
For months, Germany has lectured the U.S. and others on the need for
stricter regulation of financial markets, holding itself up as a model.
The German parliament probe into the €102 billion ($142.6 billion)
rescue of Munich-based Hypo, however, suggests Germany struggled as
much as the U.S. or Britain to control the risks the country's banks
Hypo's funding problems and huge losses on complex securities make
it the worst of Germany's problem banks, though it is one of many.
German banks could face total losses in the current financial crisis of
€200 billion to €300 billion, according to several estimates, of which
only around €100 billion has been written down. (...)
Overall, banks in Western Europe could lose about $1.4 trillion in
this crisis, more than expected losses in the U.S. banking system,
according to the International Monetary Fund. (emphasis added)
Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück, who has repeatedly said the
"center of gravity" of the global financial crisis lies in the U.S.,
earlier this month rejected publishing stress tests on German banks,
saying it could undermine confidence in the banking system.
A Finance Ministry spokesman said Wednesday that top officials
including Mr. Steinbrück were aware of problems in capital and banking
markets in 2008, but had no specific indications that Hypo was in
difficulty at that time. The failure of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.
in the U.S. last September was the event that pushed Hypo toward
insolvency, the spokesman said.
However, documents produced by the German parliament investigation
show that on March 20, 2008 -- months before Lehman's collapse --
financial-markets regulator Bafin passed on to the German Finance
Ministry a report Bafin had requested from the Bundesbank on Hypo's
The Bundesbank's report, which included a special audit of Hypo's
Dublin-based Depfa Bank PLC unit, raised an alarm about Hypo's massive
short-term borrowing needs, as well as its risk management. The report
also said that Hypo's compliance with key banking regulations on
managing liquidity and other market risks "must be seen as nonexistent."
The Finance Ministry in November told parliament in a letter that an
unnamed senior Finance Ministry official to whom the March report on
Hypo was addressed never saw it, because he was on vacation. It was
reviewed by lower-ranking officials, and when he returned to work, the
report had been filed away, the letter said. The Finance Ministry
declined to comment.
Avoiding transparency and public scrutiny at all costs is a major concern of German politicians, since the results might "undermine confidence" in the system.
Anyway, the U.S. is the culprit, so why ask silly questions about German faults... Also, an American investor is going to lose his investment, which adds a bright spot to the story:
In April, a month after the Finance Ministry had received the
preliminary audit report with its damning verdict on Hypo's risk
management, a group of investors led by U.S. financier J.C. Flowers
announced their intention of buying a 24.9% stake in Hypo, which they
followed through on.
Those investors now stand to lose most of their investment, as the
government plans to fully nationalize Hypo as a fraction of its former
Big surprise: According to SPIEGEL ONLINE, members of the US military are once again humiliated fools - just as they have been in every conflict since the American Revolution.
Whoops! Looks like the Navy Seals just took out the pirates and rescued the captain. So what will SPIEGEL's reaction be now? Let us make a prediction... here are a few suggested headlines we have to offer the SPIEGEL ONLINE editors...
Bloodthirsty US Marines Kill Somalis Without UN Permission
Americans Kill 3 Civilians - Break Off Peace Negotiations
Somali Freedom Fighters Murdered in Standoff
Here's the bottom line: Whether the US military acts or not - they will always be demoralized, trigger-happy fools in the eyes of biased German media like SPIEGEL ONLINE. The true fools are the millions of readers who believe the news they get from German media on the United States to be reliable.
UPDATE: The actual reaction from SPIEGEL ONLINE: The order for the spectacular commando operation came directly from the heroic Barack Obama - the nicest President since JFK because he loves windmills and doesn't get angry when Germany refuses to send more troops into a combat zone. Still no apologies for the trigger-happy, blood-thirsty fools in the US military...
Perception and reality are not always clear in the media world. That is particularly true when supposedly trustworthy media sources misreport (or simply distort) the most basic facts. Case in point - Tagesspiegel's recent coverage of statements made by President Barack Obama on Afghanistan in a recent New York Times interview. Here's what Obama said to the Times:
"Q. Mr. President, we need to turn it to foreign policy. I know we have a review going on right now about Afghanistan policy, but right now can you tell us, are we winning in Afghanistan?
A. No. I think that we are – we are doing an extraordinary job, or let me say it this way: Our troops are doing an extraordinary job in a very difficult situation. But you’ve seen conditions deteriorate over the last couple of years. The Taliban is bolder than it was. I think the – in the southern regions of the country, you’re seeing them attack in ways that we have not seen previously. The national government still has not gained the confidence of the Afghan people. And so it's going to be critical for us to not only, get through these national elections to stabilize the security situation, but we’ve got to recast our policy so that our military, diplomatic and development goals are all aligned to ensure that al Qaeda and extremists that would do us harm don’t have the kinds of safe havens that allow them to operate."
Obama is not willing to tell the New York Times that the United States is winning in Afghanistan. While it is debatable whether Obama is saying the United States is losing or not - he is clearly not saying the war cannot be won or is hopeless.
Tagesspiegel: Obama Says the War Can't Be Won
Here is how the above was interpreted in a Sunday article on Tagesspiegel online:
"War in Afghanistan Hopeless: Obama Willing to Talk to Moderate Taliban
Barack Obama indicated a willingness to have talks with the Taliban in an interview. The reason: The USA could not win the war in Afghanistan. Afghanistan's President Hamid Karsai welcomed the announcement.
WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama displayed openness to negotiations with moderate Taliban in Afghanistan and admitted that the USA would not win the war there. Obama told the "New York Times" Sunday edition that the situation in Afghanistan has further deteriorated in the past years. Afghan President Hamid Karsai welcomed the announcement of possible negotiations."
Obviously, Obama's statement has been warped into something he did not say. He clearly never said the war could or would not be won - but simply refused to say the U.S. was winning the conflict.
The piece concludes by declaring the war in Afghanistan "hopeless." This conclusion is supported by what the paper calls "expert opinion." In this case, the opinion is that of a single individual - British officer Sebastian Morley - who clearly supports Tagesspiegel's anti-war editorial line. No other "experts" are presented to challenge Morley's opinion or offer another, less pessimistic view that Afghanistan is anything but completely doomed. (And yes - more optimistic opinions exist in abundance.)
Clearly, the departure of President Bush has not cured German media of its shoddy, biased and often inaccurate reporting on the United States. The Tagesspiegel's coverage sounds more like opinionated propaganda than news. The German public deserves better...
UPDATE: The lead front-page article in the paper edition of "Die Welt" for March 9 is essentially a carbon copy of the Tagesspiegel piece. The headline offered the same false claim that Obama had said the war in Afghanistan could not be won. (Are we missing something - did Obama ever unequivocally say that the conflict in Afghanistan could not be won???) Why would Obama send an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan and call on allies to contribute to the effort if he believed the cause to be futile and already lost? The Welt/Tagesspiegel headlines defy basic logic and can only be characterized as journalistic malpractice...
"I must admit that I was astonished when I recently read in the
newspaper that a German parliamentary delegation was visiting Iraqi
Kurdistan and that the head of the delegation, Herta Däubler-Gmelin,
had made critical remarks about the situation of human rights in the
region. I was equally astonished that our Kurdish politicians accepted
this criticism without protest. (...)
But Ms. Däubler-Gmelin evidently did not think for a second of the
liberation of Iraq from this dictatorship. And after 2003, it was
people like her – and so many others in Europe – that showed no concern
for the changes and developments underway in Iraq. We did not have the
impression that the terror unleashed by Al-Qaeda upon the people of
Iraq gave them any sleepless nights either. On the contrary, for years
they seemed to welcome the suffering of the Iraqis as proof that the
overthrow of Saddam Hussein had been a mistake.
Despite all this we say to such people: Welcome to the new, democratic Iraq!"
The United States and Israel ranked below North Korea, China and Russia by Germans Polled
Poll results from a 2007-2008 BBC World Service Poll reveal that a higher percentage of Germans surveyed viewed the United States (72%) and Israel (64%) as having a negative influence on the world than North Korea (62%), China (59%) and Russia (56%). The United States finished not too far ahead of Iran (85%) and Pakistan (77%).
Interestingly enough, Germany had the highest favorable ratings overall among the countries polled. Given the troubling results of this survey and the irrationally anti-American and anti-Israeli attitudes prevalent in German media and society, however, some may want to rethink their views of how positive an influence Germany really is.
No doubt here that the highly biased, one-sided and constant railing of much of the German media against the United States and Israel plays a major part in these results. This is why our subject matter is important - as an educated public, well-informed by a media community dedicated to balance and even-handedness (as opposed to the hateful populism), would not likely hold such views.
To its credit, the Financial Times published an article by Philip Stephens entitled "The Obama challenge: is Europe just a spectator?" that cuts to the heart of several key issues that will shape future transatlantic relations. Excerpt:
"Behind this lies the deeper ambivalence about Washington’s role. Most Europeans want the US to continue to exercise global leadership. The alternatives, after all, are unappealing. The contradiction lies in the caveats: Washington must not challenge European sensibilities or ask too much of its allies.
Thus while Mr Obama’s decision to withdraw from Iraq wins universal applause, his determination to reinforce Nato’s effort in Afghanistan is cause for foreboding. One of the refrains I have heard often in recent weeks is that the new president cannot expect Europe to send more troops to Afghanistan until there is a credible political strategy. That seems an eminently sensible condition. More than six years after the toppling of the Taliban, Afghanistan remains a mess. But how will, say, Germany and Italy respond if Mr Obama picks up the ball and produces just such a strategic plan?"
A must read that addresses many of the debates to come.
UPDATE: I conducted this interview with Brent Scowcroft on the future of US-EU relations and foreign policy in general for a graduate paper I completed last year. It appears he may play some significant foreign policy role in the administration and am therefore re-posting this at the top of our site. The interview took place on March 19, 2007 and is 40 minutes long.
Today I attended a seminar at the Goethe Institute in Washington DC on Germany and the challenges of terrorism. In attendance was Stefan Aust, until recently the editor-in-chief of Der Spiegel. During the questions-and-answer period, I introduced myself and asked him whether he thought it would be fair to say that Der Spiegel and other German media had sometimes veered from legitimate criticism and questioning of the United States over the past few years into anti-American populism designed to profit from some need of the readership. Not surprisingly, he replied with a "no" and went on to say that he felt that his publication's coverage of the run-up to the Iraq War was fair and included voices from both sides - even those who supported the war!
It is interesting here to remember Jeff Gedmin's encounter with a Spiegel reporter a few years back. A look at our archives and the covers below may also lead some to question Herr Aust's conclusion.
Nope. No anti-American populism in sight...
Endnote: The Goethe Institute organizers did mention that recordings from the seminar would be on NPR. I just hope they don't play the question asked by a woman before me - which was an embarrassing monologue that went on with no real point for nearly 10 minutes.
The latest Der Spiegel cover seems to offer a glimpse of what's to come...
"The Capital Crime: Anatomy of a World Crisis that has Really Just Begun"
With Obama, Spiegel and others will no longer be focusing attacks on the American executive (at least in the short-term) as was standard practice under Bush. Instead, as we have previously speculated, they will likely turn to attacking broader aspects of American society (the economic downturn is the current dominant theme) for all that is wrong in the United States and the world. Think World Scapegoat USA. Think pet peeves. Having to respect Obama just makes accomplishing what readers require a bit more demanding. Just slapping Bush and a desecrated US flag on the cover will no longer cut mustard after January 20...