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Wie sagt man Nein zu Obama?

Von 6. Dezember 2008 um 00:11 Uhr

Im folgenden das Manuskript eines Vortrags, den ich so in St. Louis, Denver und Dallas gehalten habe:

One major achievement of George W. Bush that cannot be disputed: He has certainly created a renewed interest in the transatlantic relationship.

How did he do it? By bringing it down to the lowest levels since the end of the Cold War.

Just think of the crowds at Obama’s rallye in Berlin this July! 200.000 people turned up for a campaign event around the Siegessäule in the Tiergarten.

200.000 people, that is, 99 % of which would not have a voice in the election that the speaker was running in! That’s an astounding number.

Now Obama is a gifted speaker, for sure. But without George Bush, he could have never drawn such a crowd.

Why were Germans going crazy about the American election? The Bush government hat taught them the hard way that the transatlantic relations mattered.

The Bush era has left the Europeans with the feeling that they are affected by american policy making in an ever deeper way, while they have never felt so disregarded by an American president ever before.

To quote a famous Bostonian saying: It is a case of „taxation without representation“.

Let me quote a recent survey by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, conducted in the US and 12 European countries. Conducted, I should add, before the financial mess was full blown! So you may add some to the already astonishing numbers!

In 2002, 64% of Europeans viewed US leadership in world affairs as desirable, and 31 % as undesirable.

In 2008, a mere 36 % of Europeans viewed US leadership as desirable, whereas 59 % saw it as undesirable.

The steepest declines were found – where? – who would like to guess? – in pro-american Poland, where the numbers fell from 64 % in 2002 to 34 % in 2008. Germany comes in second, the numbers declined from 68 % in 2002 to 39 % in 2008.

These numbers are very alarming for us who care about the american-german friendship.

Senator Obamas high favorability ratings mirror the ever declining numbers: The highest ratings for Obama were found in France: 85% there preferred him over his opponent, in the Netherlands also 85%, and in Germany 83 %.

What are the prospects for the future of transatlantic relations? 47 % of Europeans believe relations will improve with a President Obama, 29 % believe they will stay the same, and 5 % think they will get worse.

Now only weeks later, this is already ancient history. Europeans – for once – got what they wanted. In a matter of weeks, their president of choice will be inaugurated.

But as the saying goes: Be careful what you wish for! The expectations for Obama’s presidency in Europe are high:

End the war in Iraq, win the one in Afghanistan, close Guantanamo, talk the Iranians out of their bomb plans, oh, yes, and fix the financial crisis, and while you’re at it, global warming! And why don’t you try and cure cancer!

There will certainly have to be disappointments.

No president can live up to these expectations. But then again: There is an enormous amount of goodwill to be made use of. Simply for not being Bush, Obama can expect to have a lot of leverage with the Europeans, once he has taken the oath.

Ever more so, I would argue, because the Europeans are excited not just about him but also about his other choices: especially the Secretary of State and the UN ambassador. Hillary Clinton would have been the second most favourite choice for the American presidency in Europe: That we are soon going to be dealing with her, is mostly greeted with relief.

But will it stay that way? I have my doubts, and I will tell you why. Senator Clinton has said some things during her campaign that have irritated the Europeans. I will come to that. Susan Rice, the soon to be UN-mission chief, is seen as a signal that diplomacy and intertaional institutions will get a boost through this administration. The days of neglect and outright contempt are over! (Remember John Bolton.) But with Rice there will also be possible tensions: She is a proponent of a much tougher stance towards the Darfur genocide, about which Europeans have been very shy. Will Susan Rice call for an intervention? This could be a matter of dispute with the intervention-weary Europeans.

You see, I have to spoil the party a little bit. The time in which this president takes office is marked by tough decisions, limited resources, and new tensions in the world. So I think it is quite possible that transatlantic relations will go through a rough phase, no matter how much the new president is liked by the general public and the elites.

Let’s take a quick walk through some fields that are of importance: the financial crisis, Afghanistan, Iran, Russia, China, Middle East, climate change.

What does the Obama-presidency mean for transatlantic relations? It is a bit old-fashioned to put the question this way. That presupposes that there is something called transatlantic relations that is basically eternal, and now we are going to assess how a new president will affect it. But the world in which we find us now – and in which a transatlantic partnership must be redefined – is radically changing as we speak.

Two hints at what I mean: Do you remember the photo-op two weeks ago in Washington, when the G20 was lining up for the cameras? The meeting of the G8 plus the major emerging countries was emblematic for a new world: the current crisis has changed the way international politics will be done. There is no way that we could solve it without China, India, or Brazil. It was reported that the Brazilian president Lula da Silva, who was keynote speaker at the dinner that night, told the western heads of state his country would not want subsidies of any kind. Just bring your house in order, that is the best way to help us, he reportedly said.

This is a new situation: the multipolar world was a lofty concept. Now it is finally a reality.

Secondly: The new president is going to face an enormous challenge at home with the evolving economic crisis.

The satirical paper The Onion had the best headline after the historic election of November 4th: „Black man given Nation’s worst job“. One of my friends at the Center for European Studies joked: This is the first time the winner will request a recount.

But seriously, let’s look a some numbers to put things in perspective. President-elect Obama is going to take over the White House among fears of a longterm economic downturn. Economists on both sides of the aisle are calling for a large stimulus package on top of the bailout.

If we add in the Citigroup bailout, the total cost now exceeds $4.6 trillion dollars, and by some accounts it will end up at something more than 7 trillion dollars. The latest estimate, published by the LA Times this weekend puts potential long-term cost of the government’s varied economic rescue initiatives to an estimated total of $8.5 trillion.

The bailout will cost more than all of these big budget government expenditures – combined: the Marshall Plan, the Race to the Moon, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Invasion of Iraq. You have to go back to World War II to find something remotely as costly as what we are looking at these days.

It seems to me that this issue is not yet seen as the matter of national security that it actually is.

But let’s go through some of the issues of common transatlantic concern that I mentioned:

First and foremost: the economic crisis. We are definitely in this together.

Initially there was a tendency to point fingers from European capitals at the american type of capitalism. And for good reason there is a lot of resentment about the irresponsibility in the US economy on so many levels. It is just breathtaking as it keeps emerging (think of the failed risk culture at AIG, the flawed management of GM, Citibank’s crazy bets, the consumer spending spree on credit). But then we Germans don’t have reason to gloat: Many wanted a piece of the pie. It was revealed for example that the protestant church of Oldenburg, Germany, lost 4.5 million Dollars in assets with the downfall of Lehmann Brothers.

So, what about a common answer to the crisis? Just last week the German chancellor Angerla Merkel warned the US government about their approach to the credit crunch. Trying to keep money cheap and people borrowing to jump-start the economy, Mrs. Merkel said, could plant the seeds of a similar crisis in five year’s time.

Many of you here will be aware that Germany has no culture of consumer credit that can compare to the US. Many restaurants and retailers will not accept credit cards. There is no such thing as a 100 percent mortgage without down payment. The savings rate in Germany is 12 percent and rising – as opposed to almost zero in the US.

And it will not surprise you if I say: This is a moment in history, when most Germans have come to like the German conservatism in terms of risk-taking.

This is why the current answers of US (and UK) governments to the crisis – spend, spend, spend, and worry about the deficit later – do sound terrifying to german politicians and to the general public.

Wasn’t that how problems started in the first place? For now, I cannot see a common transatlantic approach in this field. And what about new regulations for the global financial system? We will have to wait and see until April, when the G20 meets again. Yet there is a silber lining here: German Ambassador Klaus Scharioth spoke 4 weeks ago at the Kennedy School of Government, and he said: „Only months ago, the word regulation was a dirty word in Washington. This is over.“

What else? Afghanistan and Iraq loom large. Obama has promised to end the „wrong war“ in Iraq to be able to win the „right war“ in Afghanistan. This has made him enormously popular in Germany. At least the first half of it.

Germans have lost faith in both wars. The war in Afghanistan is very unpopular now. About two thirds of the public are against it and want to bring the troops home, right across the political spectrum. Respected political figures like Helmut Schmidt openly declare: we have no business being out there. In the US, it is the other way around: two thirds of the Americans in a recent Pew Research Center poll want the troops to remain there.

And there is one more thing: We have an election coming up next fall in Germany. The government tries to keep Afghanistan out of the campaigns. As you may know, the mandate for German troops stationed in AFG under ISAF has to be renewed on a yearly basis. In October the government renewed the mandate for 14 months, so it would not be necessary to get this through parliament in the midst of a campaign. Nevertheless, this will be an issue, and rightly so.

So German politicians will find themselves in an awkward position. They have greeted Obama’s victory, but will they be able to respond to his eventual wish for more troops? How do you say No to Obama? Especially when he has been saying about Iraq what you said all along: That is was a mistake to begin with and a distraction from the real war against terrorism? The real war, that is, in Afghanistan. It was easy to say No to Bush. You could even win an election on an anti-Bush-platform, like Schröder did. It will not work that way with Obama.

But at the same time there is absolutely no wiggle-room for the german Government. You cannot stock up on our troops in Afghanistan during an election year.

Maybe we should not focus all that much on troop levels. Simply adding more troops will not solve the problem. Putting more boots on the ground may make some regions more safe. And it may reduce the deadly airstrikes that cause so much anger in the Afghan public. That would be no small achievement.

But the real problem lies with the differences between the Iraqi and the Afghan situation. Especially the weakness of the central governement and the different role of the tribes: Therefore, there is serious doubt that a surge of the Iraq type can work.The Taliban are not outsiders like Al-Qaeda. They are part of the Pashtun tribal culture, and although they engage in terrorism, in some areas they are also the guarantors of peace and stability.

I see a real chance for reconsideration of the whole approach in Afghanistan. Instead of hoping for a military solution, we need to explore ways of weening the Pashtun leaders away from the hard core Taleban, and the least ideological Taleban leaders away from the hard core of the movement.

What’s next? One legacy of George W. Bushs presidency is for sure: a stronger Iran. Iran owes much to George Bush. Iran may suffer from the current oil prices, but there is no end in sight for the regime. In summer, there are presidential elections coming up. This will be an indication about the future course of the regime. For the moment, the leadership in Tehran seems very confused that it has lost a favourite enemy. It is hard to paint a black president with the middle name Hussein as the face of the Great Satan.

Obama must provide the diplomatic push against the nuclear program with new force. It was an open secret that the Bush administration never believed in diplomacy. But now the squeeze on Iran’s international banking contacts seems to show first results. Iran faces enormous economic challenges. Just weeks ago, 60 Iranian economists signed a manifest against the president. These are not marginalized intellectuals!

Obama will have full backing of Germany and the other Europeans to explore the diplomatic path with Iran. It should be interesting to see how Hillary Clinton will perform here: She was threatening Iran with „obliteration“ during her campaign. So she has already shown that she can be the bad cop.

Even if these efforts prove to be futile, it is important to pursue the diplomatic path with vigor. Because any other steps that may turn out to be necessary are going to be seen as much more legitimate by the world community.

Speaking of the world community: Russia and China are essential to solving this issue. (And not just this one.)

We need a new approach in dealing with them. Hopefully President Obama will resist the temptation to go back to a cold war logic with these „difficult partners“. We face a critical choice: Are we going to treat them as threats or as possible strategic partners?

With both powers we have substantial differences – about Georgia with Russia, and about Tibet with China. We will have to keep insisting that Russia respects the sovereignty of its neighbor and that China respects the right to religious freedom and freedom of expression in Tibet.

At the same time, it is dangerous to indulge in fantasies about isolating these countries or setting up a new „league of democracies“ that is directed against them as Robert Kagan suggested.

How would you isolate a country like Russia, spanning one-eighth of the earth’s surface, adjoining Europe, Asia and the Middle East, and possessing a stockpile of nuclear weapons comparable to that of the United States? How would you islolate a country like China, that is the only hope for a recovery of the world economy and holds 2 trillion dollars in foreign-exchange reserves?

Therefore, Obama should silently drop the project of a missile shield on Russia’s borders. The current administration – while publicly stating the shield was not directed against Russia – made it an anti-Russian project in effect, when it signed the treaty with Poland right after the Georgia crisis. (And this was also a vote of no confidence against Nato, by the way! It revealed to the Russians, thta the Poles did not really believe in the alliance, and this is something thta you never want to let your enemies know. A very short-sighted manoeuver of Condi Rice! And by the way, another try at dividing „old“ and „new“ Europe.) In my view, this was the end of it. The shield will never be built. I will not feel a tiny bit unsafer for it.

The same is true for NATO membership when it comes to Georgia an Ukraine. The president of Georgia destroyed this prospect, when he ordered his troops to respond to South Ossetian fire and shell positions in the capital Tskinvali. It doesn’t really matter much if he was provoked by the Russians to do so.

Publicly, no western leader can afford to renounce the Bucharest Summit’s declaration that Georgia and Ukraine will eventually be members. But this declaration is history, since Saakashvili’s reckless gamble - and since Russia has demonstrated the consequences. Ukraine’s situation is even more complicated with a split population when it comes to joining NATO.

NATO cannot find its purpose in enlargement any more. It is time to focus inward and redefine the alliance in the face of new dangers to world security (like terrorism, natural and man-made disasters and diseases). NATO needs to re-enter into serious talks with Russia about nuclear disarmament and a new european security structure.

Regarding China: An EU –China-summit was cancelled last week because of a planned meeting between French president Sarkozy and the Dalai Lama. Instead of congratulating ourselves for the brave stance we took, we shoud question this policy. Europe is obsessing about the Dalai Lama! But what exactly do we want to achieve for the Tibetans? Autonomy? Yes, but what does it mean? Is there no other problem out there we would like the Chinese to focus on? We cannot make Tibet the defining issue of our relationship with China in the midst of a global crisis.

We have to make a decision if we want to bring China and Russia into the world system and make them more responsible – or if we would like to continue pushing their buttons. There is no alternative to staying comitted to human rights – but it is important how you deal with them. First things first.

What does Obama think about these questions? Honestly, I don’t have a clue. All I know is, he will have to focus on them, soon.

And the Europeans better have a China policy besides meetings with the Dalai Lama. Because it is between China and America that the downturn and an eventual recovery will play out.

I don’t know if you realised it: I left out two important dossiers: The middle east and climate change. Not that I think they are not important. But for the moment, my feeling is, not too much is going to happen in either field. They will have to take a back seat because of the economic crisis.

Hopefully I will be proven wrong soon.

Leser-Kommentare
  1. 1.

    Welcher nette native speaker hat das Korrektur gelesen/ korrekturgelesen? ;-)

    • 6. Dezember 2008 um 01:41 Uhr
    • xNWO
  2. 2.

    [...] Hillary Clinton would have been the second most favourite choice for the American presidency in Europe: That we are soon going to be dealing with her, is mostly greeted with relief. But will it stay that way? I have my doubts, …[Continue Reading] [...]

  3. 3.

    @ xNWO: Nix da, Harvard wirkt doch!
    Alles meins.

  4. 4.

    Was hervorzuheben, ich Ihnen Gelegenheit gegeben haben wollte – vor dem Hintergrund unserer Sprachen-Disskussion selbstverständlich nur. Brav! ;-)

    • 6. Dezember 2008 um 07:11 Uhr
    • xNWO
  5. 5.

    [...] Wie sagt man Nein zu Obama? It revealed to the Russians, thta the Poles did not really believe in the alliance, and this is something thta you never want to let your enemies know. A very short-sighted manoeuver of Condi Rice! And by the way, another try at … [...]

  6. 6.

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  7. 7.

    [...] ZEIT ONLINE – joerglau » Wie sagt man Nein zu Obama? A very short-sighted manoeuver of Condi Rice! And by the way, another try at … [...] Pingback von Presidential Race On Best Political Blogs » Blog Archive » Wie sagt man Nein zu Obama? | 08.12.2008 | 7:43 … [...]

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