Saturday, March 15, 2003

[G]ERMANY SAYS JEIN TO HELP: It appears that German officials are beginning to soften their stance with regard to the post-war reconstruction of Iraq. Initially, Germany had said that its problematic no to confronting Iraq with force also meant a no to participating in any reconstruction.

This helped them land in a row with Cuba and Libya as countries that said they would not support reconstruction in any way.

Now, according to reports from dpa and AFP, "There is already an 'internal' discussion within the red-green coalition [Schröder and his enviro-partners] about reconstruction loans, as well as the deployment of as many as 1,000 soldiers for a peacekeeping force."

The news agencies are picking up on the "Weekend-Scoop" of Der Spiegel, which will first hit newsstands on Monday. The story is from the "Panorama" section, which is not available online.

According to the reports, though, "it depends on who's asking for help." If the United Nations, for example, looked to Germany for support, Germany could say no only "with difficulty," according an unnamed member of Schröder's cabinet.

There is no direct indication of what Germany would say -- with difficulty, I'm sure -- if the United States asked for support.

[± Steven Den Beste writes in with this comment: "Not to mention what Germany would say if the US does NOT ask for support..." He also sent a link to this post from September last year, where he wrote: "Keeping the faith with our servicemen is more important to me than the UN, or whether the Germans and French like us, or even whether 80% of the world thinks we're wrong." Thanks Steven.]

Meanwhile, the same press reports are citing a soon-to-be published article in Welt am Sonntag, where Defense Minister Peter Struck (SPD) said that any reconstruction efforts in Iraq would not be supported by the defense budget.

We'll be glad to help, the two reports seem to be saying, just don't expect us to help with our own money.

[S]PIEGEL DISCOVERS THE TRUTH: The title of the story is an oh so clever one: Brainwashington. The subhead: "The worldwide anger at the war-politicians and brain-washers in the White House is growing."

It's a long story, but it eventually turns to the role of the Internet in purveying information related to the confrontation with Iraq. Here's how Spiegel Online sees it:

While in the USA trust in much of the mainstream media is disappearing and the fear of becoming victims of the directed disinformation of the Bush administration is growing, many young Americans -- maybe "the best and the brightest" of their generation -- have started to create a counter-sentiment in the public that is startling from cover all of the crows and hawks, which are currently nesting on the Potomac.
Hunters for the truth. How poetic...
Their most important tool for producing information and for the dispersal of uncensored news is the Internet.
Young Americans are coming to German online sites and translating texts that are critical of Bush, in order to make them available to their friends at home -- "because the American press would never carry such a story," said a Susan per email, and because US newspapers cover "primarily the perspective of the administration," wrote a guy named John in pigeon-German.
It's a good thing Susan and "pigeon-German" John are able to translate German news for us, so as to provide the ultimate truth.

No mention in the Spiegel Online article of those translating ridiculous "news" stories in German for the ridicule of Americans. But anyway:

Of course there are also -- and particularly -- in the USA quite a few similar Websites, which have taken it as their task to disperse the suppressed news.
And who are these lonely voices of reason, according to Spiegel Online? It's always a treat when Spiegel writes about balanced and objective journalism...

Friday, March 14, 2003

[C]OLD WAVE: Der Ami (me) has been knocked out for the past couple days with a 24-hour 48-hour stomach flu. This sort of thing has been going around in Germany:
The number of people who are "officially" sick [i.e., they have a note from their doctor: "Krankgeschrieben"] has doubled since the flu-wave started in middle February.
Each week, another 300,000 to 500,000 are getting sick. Unfortunately, the report doesn't say how many are getting better...

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

[G]ERMAN VICE: It appears that the German Customs Office is working overtime these days. In addition to keeping up with all of the German-based companies under investigation for violations of export laws, the customs officials are in hot pursuit of Don Johnson -- of "Miami Vice" fame.

Ok, so they're actually just examining some documents found in his car...

Johnson's car was stopped for a routine check as he entered Germany from Switzerland in November with two other men, said Wolfgang Schmitz, a spokesman for German customs.
Officials photocopied the documents, but they did not seize them and allowed the former "Nash Bridges" star to continue his journey without formally questioning him, Schmitz said.
Also according to Schmitz: "There is currently no indication of illegal transactions."

I read somewhere that a guy once dared suppose there was a treachery -- that "Nash Bridges" was influenced by earlier episodes of "Miami Vice." I'd link, but then some might conclude I'm making the same argument.

[M]ORE (AND LESS) TREACHERY: Let me first say that the post below is not accusing the German government of any wrongdoing, as more than a couple emails have charged. I do link to Steven Den Beste, though. You decide.

But to state it clearly: There is no evidence that the German government is inappropriately involved with any of these cases of illegal exports. This is not Iraq-Kontra.

Both Mrs T. over at T6I and Scott at PapaScott, two bloggers that I follow regularly, make some good points on this issue.

That being said, yet another report (via AFP) is stating that Germany's involvement in illegal exports to Iraq is even more treacherous than initially thought.

A television magazine program, "Report München," has said that the number of confirmed German companies fingered in Iraq's declaration to the UN has now reached 109. Again, the number comes from Baghdad, so it's accuracy should be viewed with skepticism. (And again, these are companies, not government representatives.)

But what is even more damning, because it puts the number in perspective, the TV show reported that the 109 companies from Germany are twice as many from all other countries combined.

Government involvement or not, I find it highly troubling (some might even be suspicious) that German companies represent perhaps two-thirds of those named in Iraq's declaration.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

[H]IGH GROWTH INDUSTRY: The German newspaper Die Welt has a damning story in Wednesday's edition about Germany's recent and quite extensive business connections with terrorist supporting states.

Yes, we all know that the US government supported the regime of Saddam Hussein in the 70s and 80s.

But that was before Iraq invaded Kuwait, before the Gulf War in 1991, before sanctions were imposed by the all-powerful and all-knowing United Nations.

What has Germany done since then?

Well, in addition to the two men convicted in January for selling industrial drilling machinery to Iraq -- one was sentenced to fewer than ten years less than Mounir Motassadeq -- it appears that Germany's internationally renowned engineers have been quite busy.

As has already been extensively reported, nearly 100 German firms were named in the Iraqi report submitted to the UN as part of Saddam's final chance to declare its WMDs. But this information came from Iraq, so can we really trust it?

Now, according to Die Welt, the German Customs Office [Zollkriminalamt] has compiled its own catalogue summary of Germany's proliferating companies.

With regard to Iraq, 137 people are currently under investigation or have been accused. They come from 65 German companies where preliminary investigative proceedings are underway.

At the moment, four separate court proceedings against German companies for illegal exports to Iraq are already in process.

But Iraq isn't the only country where Made in Germany is in demand. Die Welt reports that others, including Pakistan, India, Libya and Iran, "are fostering intensive business relationships" in Germany.

The participation of a German company in the construction of a poison gas factory in Rabta produced international headlines. But with that, the trade relationships to Libya weren't at all broken off. Completely the opposite. In the last year, 39 companies have come under the suspicion of the investigators. They are accused of delivering illegal weaponry materials for the construction of missiles, energy components for the missiles, as well as guidance devices.
Also coming to the attention of the Customs Office were 19 companies who have stocked Iran with, among other things, the most modern combat tanks and replacement parts.
Steven Den Beste once dared suppose there was a treachery... And to think, these deals weren't recorded by Germany's Federal Statistical Office?

That's a shame, because illegal exports constitute perhaps the only region where Germany's economy has actually grown in the past ten years.

[H]OMESICK SOLDATEN: According to the Bundestag's annual report on German military forces [Bundeswehr], 2002 was a record year for complaints. A third more complaints from soldiers were recorded last year as compared to 2001. And for the first two months of 2003, complaints are already up a further 13 percent.

[Here are the news reports in the Süddeutsche Zeitung and Der Tagesspiegel.]

The main reasons for complaints concerned out-of-country deployments, an area where the Bundeswehr naturally has less experience. The typical foreign deployment lasts six months and is not generally staffed with soldiers performing required civil service.

(± Here, I mean to say that enlisted soldiers (as opposed to conscripts) are typically deployed on foreign assignments. The SZ piece below, however, claims that "too many" conscripts are currently involved in such deployments, partly resulting in more complaints. In common parlance, civil service usually refers to those who reject compulsory military conscription and perform an Americorps-like job instead. Sorry for any confusion...)

Reforms are on the table, but the minister responsible for the report cautioned, "The huge ship tanker [that is the] Bundeswehr can't be maneuvered arbitrarily." Some reforms may have already gone too far.

An opinion piece in Wednesday's Süddeutsche Zeitung, though, sees the problem from a different light:

But can one conclude, like the minister [has], that too much reform cannot be expected from the Bundeswehr? Maybe it's even the other way around: The more consistently and transparently that the reforms of the Bundeswehr are driven forward, the more clearly the soldiers will see the tasks that [government] policy wants to give them.
Insert snide remark here about the German government's policy to consistently and transparently reject the use of any force to disarm Saddam Hussein...
[W]HAT'S THREE YEARS: I am certainly glad that the four Algerian men who plotted to detonate a bomb in Strasbourg have been found guilty in a German court. According to the story in today's International Herald Tribune, the presiding judge said the men they were planning a "bloodbath."

All four men were sentenced to between 10 and 12 years in prison.

Less than a month ago, Mounir Motassadeq was convicted in Germany for knowingly aiding the September 11 terrorists. His conviction carried 3,066 counts. He was sentenced to three more years in prison than his Algerian buddies.

[R]IGHT OF MIGHT: Not that Germany's unionized workers need an excuse to work any less than they already do, but they're currently planning to engage in a "work stoppage for peace."
(AP) Germany's largest industrial union is urging its 2.6 million members to stop work for 10 minutes Friday in a protest against the looming war in Iraq
I guess that's all fine and good, but here's what Klaus Zwickel, the union boss, had to say:
I still hope that efforts by the unions and their members will contribute to securing peace. International law must be strengthened. The right of might must not prevail.
Did he really say the right of might? But isn't that what unions are all about?!?

Monday, March 10, 2003

[I]LLEGITIMATE WORLD CUP: Amiland reader Matt writes in with this bit of historical context for international law:
I thought that it was funny that the articles about WM06 [World Cup 2006] and having the heads of state personally vote on any future resolution were next to each other.
If it had not been for a "rogue" voter, Germany would not be hosting the World Cup in 2006. Back in 2000 the New Zealand representative was supposed to vote for South Africa, but at the last minute (more or less) switched his vote to Germany.
So it appears that Germany had to do a bit of arm-twisting and bullying here. I guess that's what one would expect from a soccer superpower. If only they had consulted with their allies, we could've all agreed to cancel the tournament in the name of world peace.

But you know, just because they received enough votes to host it, Germany's sponsorship of the World Cup should still be seen as illegitimate in the world community. I'm planning a protest march for this weekend...

[T]ODAY'S HEADLINE: From the AP -- "Chief organizer says it wouldn't be a problem to have 36 teams."

I have to admit that I thought to myself, When are they going to realize no amount of inspection teams in Iraq can win the cat and mouse game with Hussein...

But then I read the rest:

BERLIN - Raising the number of teams by four to 36 at the 2006 World Cup would not be a problem for Germany, Franz Beckenbauer, president of the organizing committee, said Monday.
Oh... Ok.

You see, Germany is hosting the 2006 World Cup (for soccer).

[E]NTRY VISA: According to press reports here, Chancellor Schröder is backing the recommendation of President Chirac, that the heads of state from the UN Security Council should themselves vote on any further resolutions.

Schröder has said he is ready to make the trip to New York.

Does he perhaps not trust his own foreign minister to vote as ordered?

In the end and if left alone, Foreign Minister Fischer could still vote his conscience, regardless of what the chancellor tells him to do. He has always been the unknown in this equation, stating from the very beginning that 1441 alone provides legitimacy for a US war with Iraq. It would of course be an extremely bold (and career-risking) move by the foreign minister. But who knows...

Sunday, March 09, 2003

[D]ER NEW YORK MIRROR: It appears that a journalist with the renowned German weekly, Die Zeit, is not so pleased with how he was quoted in the New York Times a couple weeks ago.

Christoph Dieckmann, Die Zeit journalist and "authentic voice of the German east," has taken a swipe at Richard Bernstein for his NYT article, "The Germans Who Toppled Communism Resent the U.S."

I initially posted on the NYT piece after it was published on February 22. As fate might have it, my focus at that time also fell on Bernstein's quotation of Dieckmann:

"It's because they are poorer in the east than in the west, and there's a kind of anger at America for this," said Christoph Dieckmann, a former dissident Protestant minister from eastern Germany who now works as a reporter for the weekly Die Zeit. "They blame America for their poor economic state."
I even titled my post, "They Blame America," because I found this comment so outrageous and simpleminded.

Now Dieckmann has published an article in this week's Die Zeit, where he pretty much says that he didn't say that. (Thanks to Godmar for the tip.)

But first, Dieckmann mocks the "New York Times Man," whom he actually never refers to by name.

The conversation turned out pretty badly. He seemed deeply taken aback. Five weeks ago he came to Berlin as the German correspondent of the New York Times. Now he wanted to know why the eastern Germans seemed so unfriendly to America.
Dieckmann then turns to his conversation with the "New York Times Man" Bernstein, and he explains the context around the quotation attributed to him in the Times article. Generally put, Dieckmann was explaining the complicated feelings that eastern Germans have for America.

According to the tape-recorder-like detail provided by Dieckmann, nowhere in fact does he say, "They blame America for their poor economic state." Indirectly, he's denying the quotation.

This is interesting. We're all kind of used to misquotations from Der Spiegel in order to amplify a bit of anti-Americanism, but would the New York Times stoop to this level as well?

Did the Times "Spiegelize" Dieckmann?

...

Godmar also told me he sent letters to both Die Zeit and the New York Times, but has yet to hear back from either. Since Dieckmann has pretty much just called Bernstein a liar, the question is whether the NYT will stand by their New York Times Man in Germany or not?

CORRECTION: I misunderstood. Godmar only sent a letter to the New York Times. The NYT still has yet to reply. In my opinion, Dieckmann doesn't really need to say anything else, anyway, as his article makes it quite clear that he didn't say what was attributed to him by Bernstein.

[N]EXT GENERATION OF GERMAN LEADERS: In the post below, I walked through a few outlandish comments by German students in a school in eastern Berlin. One of the students, 18-year old Susie, said, "President Bush is a second Hitler."

Others contemplated the role of the CIA in attacking the World Trade Center. The proud principal boasted of his students' "more realistic views."

In an attempt to simplify for American readers, I said that Susie and her classmates were "high school students."

Amiland quasi-co-contributor Godmar writes in with this comment:

Susie isn't attending a "high school" as they're known in America, she's at the Darwin Gymnasium. A "Gymnasium" is a school in Germany's tiered school system that only about 25% - 40% of students [are allowed to] attend. Gymnasium is the highest tier.
In East Berlin specifically it is about 30% - 35% (in 7th grade) that attend the Gymnasium. The other tiers ("Realschule" and "Hauptschule") end after 10 and 9 years, respectively; in order to be allowed to attend a German university, you have to have the Abitur, which you typically acquire by attending a Gymnasium.
In other words, she didn't visit some ghetto school where kids receive a sub par education, she visited a school type that frequently prides itself on educating the next generation of Germany's leaders. Go figure.
Well, it certainly does appear that Susie and her mates are preparing themselves quite adequately to take the reins of Schröder's SPD someday. Heck, he might even need a new under-secretary of defense sometime soon...
[R]EALISTIC VIEWS IN GERMANY: A very interesting article, by Nina Bernstein, is in today's "Week in Review" from the New York Times. It chronicles the growing sentiment among younger Germans that they don't owe any further gratitude to the United States.

Personally, I think they're probably right. But all the same, they seem to be significantly lacking some historical perspective.

Nina quotes Gary Smith, president of the American Academy in Berlin, who captures the mood:

There is a total disconnect. They wear jeans and listen to Eminem, but this is not relevant to the America that these students are afraid of. In the end it comes down to America's power in the world.
I've posted before on the ridiculous proposition that the struggles of integrating former East Germany with the West are America's fault. [± The original quotation for this "proposition" came from a German journalist, cited in an article in the New York Times. See this post where the journalist from Die Zeit essentially says that he was misrepresented in the NYT piece.] There's more of that sentiment here:
In the east, teenagers' cynicism is fueled by their parents' disappointment with reunification. In 1990, many economists said the east would be as prosperous as the west within a few years. More than 12 years later, unemployment in the east is still running at 20 percent, double that in the west.
"In my opinion, capitalism didn't win," said Andreas Schutt, 23, a part-time computer programmer, whose 50-year-old father was just laid off. "In my opinion, Communism lost. Now capitalism is failing, too."
If only these kids understood that Germany's economy hardly represents free market capitalism anymore. If anything, these young students should be disenchanted with Germany's Sozialmarktwirtschaft.

But anyway, enough economics. Let's look at what they're learning in history...

Susie, an 18-year old Schulerin (high school student), has learned this much from her German history classes:

President Bush is "a second Hitler," she said, and the attack on the World Trade Center was the equivalent of the Reichstag fire.
The article goes on to explain:
However outrageous such a link seems to Americans -- and the German justice minister was fired last fall for voicing a less virulent version -- it evoked little disagreement from Susie's classmates. On the contrary, several chimed in with conspiracy-laced challenges to the official version of events. Of the Sept. 11 attacks, Franzeska, 18, said, "There are a lot of rumors that the Americans did it alone."
Oh, but history class isn't over yet:
A boy named Marian added, "We can't imagine that the C.I.A. didn't know something about this." Then, he asked rhetorically, "Did you think that Americans were really on the moon?"
Are you wondering where these students get their perspective? Try the school's principal:
"[The United States] was either a dangerously unknown territory or an earthly paradise," [Herbert Schkutek, the 53-year-old principal] said. "Now they have more realistic views."
But thank you to Nina -- the article's author -- for her sarcasm at the end, to put everything back in place:
Their views, more outlandish than realistic, were bolstered with selective history. Next, the students were going on a school field trip to learn more about America. They were off to see "Bowling for Columbine."
I bet they also got extra credit to march in the pro-Saddam protests a few weeks ago...
[D]IPLOMATIC DECENCY: Also according to Welt am Sonntag, the ultima diplomatico Walter Kolbow, German Under-Secretary of Defense, said that Rumsfeld should "first learn a bit of diplomatic decency."

That came right before this comment: "I've sat across from Rumsfeld -- it wasn't a pleasure."

If you're like me, you might be starting to ask yourself, Where does Schröder find these professional diplomats?

[B]USH IS A DICTATOR: According to Reuters, the German Under-Secretary of Defense has called President Bush a "dictator." Walter Kolbow (of Schröder's SPD) was quoted in a local newspaper (Die Kitzinger, not online) on Friday as saying:
Economically and politically, Bush positions himself [in an] absolutely one-side [manner], without any respect for anyone else. That isn't a partner, that's a dictator.
You'll recall that another of Schröder's government -- Justice Minister Herta Däubler-Gmelin -- likened Bush's "political methods" to Hitler's shortly before federal elections last September.

Immediately after the minister's comments became public, she tried to finesse them without denying them. Schröder said, "If anyone were to compare the American president with a criminal, they would have no place in the government."

Unfortunately, the Chancellor didn't have the wherewithal to fire his minister until after the elections.

Similarly, Under-Secretary Kolbow is backpedaling, saying that his comments have "nothing to do with describing the US President as a dictator."

Hmm. What were his words again? "That's a dictator."

You decide...

UPDATE: The German-language Reuters report linked above is drawn from a news story in the newspaper Welt am Sonntag. Here is an English-language story from Reuters.

According to the German under-secretary, he didn't call Bush a dictator ("Bush... That's a dictator.") but instead said, "The Americans look more and more like dictators with their unilateral decisions."

I don't know, but the original quote from the local newspaper seems to me much more believable than this effort to save his skin. Since he made the comments at an event full of fellow SPDers, though, it may be impossible to find objective corroboration.

Like I originally posted: You decide... I'd believe the local newspaper any day before one of Schröder's politicians.

According to Reuters: "Kolbow confirmed to Reuters he had made the remarks and said they referred to the U.S. stance on Iraq and environmental issues."

I tell you, those Iraqi (stance) dictators...

UPDATE: The local newspaper is not called "Die Kitzinger," as I posted above, but "Kitzinger Zeitung."

UPDATE (03/10/02): The opposition CDU speaks out: "Herta Däubler-Gmelin only survived politically for a few days after her Bush-Hitler comparison. A politician who describes the American president as a dictator is just as unbearable as an under-secretary in the Defense Ministry."

They are calling for the dismissal of the under-secretary, in order to preserve "a spark of foreign policy believability."

According to news reports, the CDU has also written a formal letter of inquiry [parlamentarische Anfrage] to request an official explanation from Schröder's government.

[H]EARTLAND OF AMERICA: To quote the Boss -- This is my hometown...

"People waving flags and singing "God Bless America" covered a downtown Omaha hillside Saturday afternoon in a show of support for the U.S. military and President Bush."