Saturday, January 25, 2003

POSTURE OF SOLIDARITY: Amiland reader Paul Smith sent the following comments:
Neither the posture of solidarity, nor its rapid transition to skepticism of and then hostility to the American position, could have surprised anyone familiar with Germany. ... Was German support America's to lose? Perhaps it was. But what value would that support have had? ... Chancellor Schröder is hardening his stance against the US because it is to his immediate political advantage.
The lead editorials in both major national newspapers, the Süddeutsche Zeitung and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, have been analyzing Schröder's latest political stance in detail. In his email, Paul made reference to Saturday's SZ. I hope to get some of the major motifs from the past couple days out for you soon. And check back Sunday morning for a look at the FAZ's second swing for old Europe. The count is 0-2.

Friday, January 24, 2003

NO "YES" IS A PROBLEM: In response to yesterday's post, Amiland reader Mrs. T sent along the following remarks, which I think bear consideration (my emphasis):
But to a greater or lesser degree, Bush has played his hand poorly. I was astonished at the pro-USA solidarity expressed across the board post-Sept. 11. There was more blame-the-US claptrap in America than there was in Germany. ... German support was America's to lose. I think it lost that support, in part at least, in the way it went about making its case to the Europeans (and, at times, by giving the impression it felt there was no need to make any case to anybody). [For the record, Mrs T doesn't support Schröder's current stance.]
Everyone is aware of German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's pledge during his election campaign that German troops would not take part in any American "adventures." What is less considered, though, is that Germany has even hardened its line in the past few days. Initially, Schröder seemed to hold a relatively open-minded position on a possible second resolution in the Security Council. But now he has evolved his stance -- again in the shadow of local German elections -- into a stubborn and (if I can paraphrase Rumsfeld) problematic Kein Ja. Why?
I KNOW YOU ARE BUT WHAT AM I: The old European uproar over Rumsfeld's "scandalous" "provocation" has been rightly ridiculed by most of the blogger community, so I won't belabor the point here. But in the spirit of Amiland's mission "to look at how Germany looks at the USA," I'll translate a few bits from Friday's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Feuilleton section. It is a 4,000-word extravaganza, featuring the old European reaction of German and French "intellectuals." (FAZ articles are only available online during the day of publication.)
"If the old Europe, which has known war, now has the common sense and reason to not want war anymore, then I'm for this old Europe -- which is the new Europe." (Luc Bondy, director)
"I believe that the position of the Germans and the French is a position of peace because we had so many wars in the past. The old Europe has become wise based on these experiences. Napoleon wanted to unite Europe through war. Today we're further [in this goal]." (Christian Clavier, played the lead role in the made-for-TV-film "Napoleon")
"No argument can justify this war. I can only hope that the Franco-German entente will still go further. Both countries now must send an army unit to Iraq in order to protect the people and defend it against American aggression." (Michel Tournier, author)
"You could also turn the thing around and say: the problem is Bush himself. As long as Europe is trying to prevent an unjust, and even more, nonsensical [foolish or terrible] war, it is in its proper place, whether old or young." (Jorge Semprun, author)
"I was against the Gulf War, as well as against the intervention in Kosovo; the Europeans were will-less hangers-on in the wake of the United States and they took [political] cover in its leadership." (Régis Debray, "fighter on the side of Che Guevara in Bolivia")
I don't want to hark back to when Europe was new, but if a made-for-TV-actor and a Bolivian guerilla fighter represent intellectuals in the land of Goethe, then maybe Germany really does have a problem.

Since I couldn't translate all of the intellectualizing, I tried to capture both the tone and political orientation of the group. Below is the complete list of intellectuals, followed by the heading of their mini-essay from the FAZ. [I've added an Amiland synopsis <±Ok, it's not really a "synopsis" but a "post-intellectual remark"> for each.] Let me know if you have a favorite intellectual, and I'll do my best to translate their intellectual thoughts for you:

  • Jürgen Habermas, philosopher: New World Europe [A Cowardly New World?]
  • Joseph Rovan, historian: Two Superpowers [I think he means Germany and France]
  • Peter Sloterdijk, philosopher: Post-heroic Politics [Starring Bush and Rumsfeld as "hero-types"]
  • André Glucksmann, philosopher and Clausewitz expert: United in Do-Nothingness [Germany and France aren't doing anything about the actual war in Chechnya]
  • Luc Bondy, director: Vive l'Europe [I don't translate French]
  • Jacques Derrida, philosophy professor: Shocking [An indicatively shocking scandal, simply shocking, have I mentioned shocking]
  • Alice Schwarzer, author and magazine editor: The Death of Others [I don't think she means the death of Americans]
  • Paul Virilio, philosopher and media-theorist: Like in August 1914 [The Bush administration is old and about to destroy America]
  • Georg Klein, author: Happy Days [For Saddam?]
  • Tahar Ben Jelloun, author: Blind at the Helm [Blind from happiness?]
  • Durs Grünbein, author: The Third Power [Proud to be the good old Europe]
  • Christian Clavier, see above: Learning from the Old [See above]
  • Friedrich Kittler, literature and media scholar: The Smell of Roses [The German is actually quite smart: Rosenöl -- Rose-Oil]
  • Max Gallo, historian and author: Symbols aren't Enough [The call for more Franco-German partnership -- Now that would be a problem]
  • Peter Schneider, author: Loss of Reality [Half of America believes Saddam Hussein was behind the attacks on September 11th]
  • Jacques Attali, author and advisor to François Mitterand: Remain Hopeful [Don't worry, be happy]
  • Jochen Gerz, artist: Not in Our Name [Where have I heard that before?]
  • Michael Tournier, author: I'm Happy [So is Saddam, since nothing can justify a war against Iraq]
  • Adolf Muschg, author: Too High a Price [Saddam, just your basic local tyrant -- There's nothing to see here, please move along]
  • Jorge Semprun, author: Bush is the Problem [But he already admits to having nuclear weapons]
  • Thomas Hettche, author: The Real Thing [A test for the U.N. and human rights, both ideas from old Europe]
  • Régis Debray, fighter: No More Going With the Flow [Pretty much all wars are bad, except when you're fighting for the Communist Way]
  • Robert Menasse, author: America is Old [I know you are, but what am I?]

Thursday, January 23, 2003

OH, THE GERMAN NEWSPAPER FEUILLETON: Hardly twenty-hours have passed since Donald Rumsfeld characterized France and Germany as the "old Europe," and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has already put together a special Feuilleton section titled "Das alte Europa antwortet Herrn Rumsfeld" for Friday's paper. (FAZ articles are only available online during the day of publication.) The subtitle: "French and German intellectuals react to an American provocation." Details to follow...
SOME THINGS ARE RIGHT TO DO: It's fitting and only fair, I think, that Thomas Friedman should get the last word: "And simply because oil is also at stake in Iraq doesn't make it illegitimate either. Some things are right to do, even if Big Oil benefits."
A PARTLY CORRECT QUOTATION: Did Der Spiegel deceptively or even dishonestly translate quotations for their "Kein Blut fuer Oel" issue? As part of their argument that Bush wants war because of Iraq's "gigantic oil reserves," the authors of the title story Der Treibstoff des Krieges (requires paid subscription) quote Thomas Friedman's January 5th New York Times column, "A War for Oil?" The same piece by Friedman also appeared on Janurary 6th in the International Herald Tribune under the title, "Yes, a war partly for oil." Via the IHT the column is still available online. Read it if you haven't yet.

Here's the German text from page 95 of Der Spiegel, where Friedman's column is quoted:

"Hoeren wir auf, der Welt Bloedsinn zu erzaehlen", schreibt der Pulitzerpreistraeger und "New York Times"-Kolumnist Thomas Friedman. "Ja, es geht ums Oel -- das Verhalten von Bushs Team ist anders nicht zu erklaeren."

Now here's a literal translation of Der Spiegel's text:

"Let's quit telling nonsense to the world," writes the Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. "Yes, it's about oil -- there's no other way to explain the behaviour of the Bush Team."

As a review of Friedman's actual text plainly shows, the quotations used in Der Spiegel are not only taken out of context so as to distort their meaning, they are misleadingly far from a faithful translation.

In his column, Friedman writes, "Let's cut the nonsense." He then goes on: "The primary reason the Bush team is more focused on Saddam [than North Korea] is because if he were to acquire weapons of mass destruction, it might give him the leverage he has long sought - not to attack us, but to extend his influence over the world's largest source of oil, the Persian Gulf."

For the first sentence Der Spiegel came up with, "Let's quit telling nonsense to the world." The literal translation is uninspired but forgiveable. The more serious problem with Der Spiegel's version is that the "nonsense" exclamation is taken completely out of context.

The second part of Der Spiegel's rendition actually comes earlier in Friedman's column, where he writes (my emphasis): "I say this possible Iraq war is partly about oil because it is impossible to explain the Bush team's behaviour otherwise."

What happened to Friedman's extremely vital words "possible" and "partly" in Der Spiegel's translation?! The IHT editors apparently thought enough of "partly" to include it in their title, and "possible" lends the whole sentence a degree of measured caution. By my count, Friedman uses "part" or "partly" five different times in the column. But since "a possible Iraq war partly about oil" didn't quite fit with Der Spiegel's rant, they (you can choose one, and maybe they'll tell us) mistakenly/deceptively/dishonestly translated Friedman's column. Perhaps they figured no German reader would ever notice. Besides, what's a measly word or two among allies, anyway? But I wonder what Thomas Friedman would think (maybe he'll tell us, too).

AMERICA'S CALCULATION FOR WAR: Not only is the cover of the recent Der Spiegel issue ("Kein Blut fuer Oel - Worum es im Irak wirklich geht" from Jan. 13th) a tasteless display of anti-Americanism. The title article Der Treibstoff des Krieges (requires paid subscription) fails to substantiate its overly simplified but incendiary claim: the Bush team is only interested in laying siege to Iraq in order to take control of its oil.

The whole of the article is a mildly interesting review of oil's role in geopolitical affairs, dating from the "third century before Christ," jumping to anecdotes from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and finally focusing on the USA and Iraq. Outside of the opinion from former U.N. General Secretary Butros Butros Ghali ("Bush wants war at any price"), the article's core argument follows four steps:

(1) After 9/11, the Bush team -- which is profiled in a sidebar subtly titled "The Oil Connection" -- recognized that one can no longer "make deals" with Saudia Arabia "without worries," because 15 of the 19 terrorists (my word, they use "assassins") came from that country. The Bush team also "noted" after 9/11 that "an aggressive anti-Western and Islamic mood prevailed" in Saudia Arabia.

(2) Behind the scenes "even Bush no longer believed that the Saudis were a reliable partner." QED: "In Washington a feverish search for alternative suppliers of oil had started..."

(3) And in the "Great Game" (they actually wrote "Great Game" here) for "resources," the "big prize" is Iraq.

(4) For the conclusion, I quote in full: "And that's the problem: In the Gulf War, the Americans forced Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, but they didn't topple him. Instead, the world community clouted(!) Iraq with sanctions, which had the effect that Iraqi oil still only drips. To help the world economy(!), the sanctions have to be lifted, which would however only help Saddam get new weapons and new power. Therefore the sanctions can only lapse if Saddam is driven out--America's calculation for war."

If you buy that, I have some stock from the German "Neuer Markt" I can sell you at a dumping price. In case you do want to read an argument against "blood for cheap oil to help the world ecomony," David Isby wrote a compelling rebuttal in the Washington Times last November. A more recent piece further makes the argument that France and Russia have offered appeasement for oil: "For years, both Russia and France have been more interested in getting U.N. sanctions lifted for their own economic gain, then in ensuring that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction." The situation just isn't as simple as Der Spiegel wants its readers to believe. A sad state, since Der Spiegel enjoys such a large and influential audience in Germany.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

WELCOME TO AMILAND: Andrew Sullivan called this recent title page from Der Spiegel "truly repulsive." I agree. Suggesting the hammer and sickle as stars on the American flag is ugly anti-Americanism. In contrast, this title page from February last year shows a creatively critical side. George Bush as Rambo with a pretzel necklace is both original and funny. And the title story of this issue asked the simple question: "Freund oder Feind?"

Welcome to Amiland -- the blog that looks at how Germany looks at the USA. And how Amiland looks back. I'm an Ami in Germany. You can reach me at amiland@hotmail.com.