Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Say what you like about the SPD, Germany’s ruling social-democrats, but they are intent on trying to survive the unsurvivabl of being kicked out of office in three weeks time. A report in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has details on tomorrow’s release of the SPD’s main lection slogansand such like. Although this is to include the obviously unrealistic call for Schroeder to remain chancellor, it is notable, that there is no mention of coalition partners. As the faz-article reminds us, in 1998 the Red-Green alliance was clear from the outset, and in 2002 Schroeder and the Greens’ chief, foreign minister Joschka Fischer, even campaigned side by side. It is obvius that the SPD is keeping its options open for when Schroeder surely will depart soon. (Depressing though to see that Schroder’s biggest foreign policy fiasco, opposition to the regime change in Iraq, is to be one of their central platforms.)
The possibilty of a grand coalition between the SPD and the Christian-democrat CDU/CSU cannot be ruled out. If indeed the right-liberal FDP and Christian-Democrats have too few combined votes to achieve a majority, the "Grosse Koalition" will be the most likely option. (A red-red-green coalition is nigh on impossible as the Left Party is quite explicitly out to bash the SPD and has ruled out any cooperation.)
Some good may come of it however. Such a coalition would have the necessary amount of votes in the two parliamentary chambers to push through what meagre reforms they may agree on. That is of course, as long as such a coalition holds - which won’t be long. But the mess that such a government will inevitably end up in will certainly convince voters that they need to vote for real change. That change can only be delivered by a strong FDP, which is the only party in Germany which seriously promises to cut the red tape, the ever growing bureaucracy and the excessive tax rates that are holding back Germany’s much-needed economic recovery.
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Basically this is my anchor page for all the posts about the upcoming election in Germany, which will take place on September 18th. Here are the links to all connected posts including those on Germany previous to the campaign phase and I will update this post whenever I have something new, so ignore this post’s dateline.
August 11, 2005 HOPING FOR A CHANGE IN FOREIGN POLICY
August 09, 2005 BUNDESTAGSWAHL 2005 / GERMAN ELECTION LOG
Earlier posts on Germany:
June 22, 2005 GITMO WORSE THAN GULAG
May 23, 2005 SCHROEDER BATTERED - GOOD
July 15, 2004 PROLIFERATION WATCH - CHINA AND THE EU'S ANTI-ATLANTICISM
July 10, 2004 ANTI-BUSH BOOKS
April 08, 2004 GERMANY'S ECONOMIC WOES, BRITAIN'S SUCCESSES AND WHAT IT MEANS
January 15, 2004 GERHARD SCHROEDER, TOWERING GENIUS OF POLITICS
December 05, 2003 GERHARD SCHROEDER'S FOREIGN POLICY PRIORITIES EXPOSED AGAIN
Sunday, August 21, 2005
CONNECTIONS, CONNECTIONS - LIBERALISM, PLASTIC SURGERY AND SUCH
Two items this week, not superficially immediately linked to each other caught my attention and got em thinking if they're not in fact about something very similar.
First up, Blimpish has this great posting on the relationship between liberalism and patriotism. It's a great posting and I urge you to go and read all of it. But basically this is what I'm interested in right now:
This is a big part of my problem with the current 'values' fetish: it's a symptom of liberal horror at embracing a particular, parochial tradition. As discussed here, the same problem afflicts the Tory leadership campaign - they all line up to say how patriotic they are, but it's only now that a few have made noises about the specific roots of British identity besides vague, abstract values that could be claimed by anybody in the West.
The second piece is by Jo Anne Nadler in the Groan about the return of Bridget Jones. Again, only this short bit is relevant for my posting here:
If a man is what you are after, the message from her diary is to be yourself and ultimately you will have one - or even two competing for you. And in the workplace too, Bridget's lesson is that real personality wins out over contrived perfection.
Sadly it appears that Jones's real-life contemporaries find the conclusions of her fictional story too saccharine. It seems that we don't have sufficient self-confidence to believe that we deserve such happy endings, unless we are as glamorous as celebrities. According to women in their late 30s surveyed for this month's Top Santé magazine, celebrity culture has made men's expectations of women too high. As a result, we feel increasingly obliged to diet, and to submit to makeovers and even cosmetic surgery, to impress men in the bedroom and the boardroom.
It is certainly true that increasing numbers of women, and men, are bringing about a boom in a cosmetic-surgery industry now worth about £300m a year.
What all these two snippets have in common I think is the issue of accepting oneself as oneself or not, and particularly what to do, when you're dissatisfied with yourself, or part of your identity. In a way the liberal running away and trying to submerge his affection for his country into some vague, undefineable abstract such as "tolerance" and the woman (and man too, these days) who tries to change bodily appearances by surgery are doing something quite similar - they are trying to gloss over the essence of their being and their uniqueness.
Now, it is entirely ok to be dissatisfied with certain aspects to one's identity; perhaps xenophobia in one's own country, or having bad skin or whatever. We will always be bound to feel that things could be better, a feeling that is one of humanity's strongest impulses; after all without it, we'd still be hanging in trees eating bananas. (On second thoughts, I love bananas, so perhaps that wouldn't be such a bad thing. . . .ok, ok, but I think you get my point.)
But you know, things are as they are. It is simply self-loathing to want to change the basic givens, whether it be by in the act of turning your country into a set of abstract nouns, or by submerging it into a soulless and meaningless "European" state project, or by having your nose shape reset by plastic surgeons. This kind of self-loating is of course a simple mirroring of an approach of unthinking chauvinism or the kind of people who take no care whatsoever with how they present themselves to their fellow beings or what they do with their lives; you know the type, who seem to do everything to be as unhealthy and visually unappealing as possible, where you can palpably sense the depressive self neglect.
It is clear to see, that these two attitudes are very negative and self-destructive. The better way is of course to accept wholeheartedly those things we can't change, so we can then focus on real self-improvement. Patriotism is an affection that we have for our country, when we feel connected to its fate and also responsible for where it goes and what gets done in its name. Patriotic people vote for example; non-patriotic people will simply shrug their shoulders and say "whatever", after all they don't feel it has anything to do with them. It is similar on the level of personal psychology. Low self-esteem doesn't lead people on a course of improving their lives and what they dislike about them, but rather it drives them either into despairing passivity (with tv and fast food addiction right round the corner), or to frantic attempts to cover up their own identity and to be turned into somebody else.
I sometimes get the impression that there is a trend that these kind of negative approaches have spread. Undoubtedly this has many factors, but what weighs heavy on my mind on a Sunday is certainly the Christian element. Anglicanism once offered a framework in which the more positive approach was centred. By accepting the inherent imperfection of humankind, sometimes extrapolated out to evil, the C of E managed nonetheless to instill in people enough self-worth as God's creatures that they were motivated to better themselves.
All of which brings me on to last week's Economist (yes yes I should stay up to date more), and its article on George Bush's "muscular Christianity":
THE phrase "muscular Christianity" is more resonant of Victorian England than modern-day Washington, DC. The idea was invented by British public-school headmasters (most notably Thomas Arnold of Rugby) who believed that a combination of sport and religion could develop the all-important quality of "character".
This is not really a theological argument about eternal truths, but rathermore an argument about being gratious for the gift of life, and by expressing our gratitude and improving our enjoyment at the same time by making the best of our time. The connectedness to faith that helps in this path, and accepts that problems can be found everywhere, can be conveyed accurately and dramatically as follows:
Where’er ye meet with evil,
within you or without,
Charge for the God of battles,
and put the foe to rout.
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
Somebody in a poition of authority was of course going to suggest this at some point:
Austrian leader suggests re-run of EU constitution polls
Austrian chancellor Wolfgang Schussel has suggested that the EU constitution could be put to voters in France and the Netherlands once again in two years time.
Given that Schuessel, becomes head of the presidecy when Austria takes over from Britain in January, it seems more likely that the EU will continue its ignorance of democratic practice in the same inefficient and overly bureaucratic way that is its hallmark. After all, it is all well and easy and all to mock rulers like Saddam Hussein who have election results of 100%, but at least when they don't care about democracy they make it easy enough for the people to be done with the charade in one go rather than the EU's method, where there is no obvious end point to the fake referenda that can be held.
Monday, August 15, 2005
Last time round Schroeder only won the election narrowly because his team could capitalise on anti-American and pacifist sentiments in the German electorate. As I recollected recently the only way he could win now would be a US invasion of Iran. So, I remember when I read of Bush's insistence that no options, including military ones, were off the table in dealing with Iran, I briefly and mischievously though, Bush must want the red-greens to stay in power. Unsurprisingly though Schroeder has grasped at the opportunity:
German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder on Saturday vehemently rejected the use of military coercion to contain Iran and its alleged uranium enrichment activities.
"Let's leave military options aside, we have already seen that they don't amount to anything," Schröder said during an electoral meeting in the northern city of Hanover.
"Schröder is acting completely irresponsibly for electoral purposes. He's acting as though the problem were in Washington, rather than Tehran even through he knows that isn't so," Wolfgang Schäuble, senior foreign policy expert of the opposition Christian Democrats (CDU) told the daily Die Welt.
. . .
"The chancellor is creating the fatal impression in Tehran that the world community is not united anymore," Schäuble said. "In doing so, he is accepting the consequence that the danger of an Iranian bomb will grow," he said.
As I have said, my mind remains to be made up in regards to dealing with Iran. Dan Plesch has a piece in the Groan that makes me rethink the possible military options:
The conventional wisdom is that, even if diplomacy fails, the US is so bogged down in Iraq that it could not take on Iran. However, this misunderstands the capabilities and intentions of the Bush administration.
America's devastating air power is not committed in Iraq. Just 120 B52, B1 and B2 bombers could hit 5,000 targets in a single mission. Thousands of other warplanes and missiles are available. The army and marines are heavily committed in Iraq, but enough forces could be found to secure coastal oilfields and to conduct raids into Iran.
While the problems facing air strikes are significant, Israel's military nevertheless believes it has the means to cause serious damage to the Iranian nuclear capability.
Israel's cruise missiles, launched from planes or submarines, give the country a capability that it did not have in 1981 when it attacked the Iraqi reactor with a conventional bombing sortie.
"It's a bit more challenging in Iran but the military option remains a real one," said David Ivri, a retired Israeli air force officer who commanded Operation Opera, the attack on Iraq's reactor.
"After all, the aim would not be to neutralise the Iranian nuclear programme. That would be impossible. But what we could do is delay it considerably.
"That was our aim in Iraq and that is what we achieved - a very long delay.''
America and Britain must act where the international community has failed, and that their action is the responsible alternative to an Israeli attack
The problem on WMD is that Blair and Bush are doing too little, not too much. Why pick on Iran rather than India, Pakistan, Israel or Egypt - not to mention the west's weapons? In the era of Gorbachev and Reagan, political will created treaties that still successfully control many types of WMD. Revived, they would provide the basis for global controls. Iran must not be dealt with in isolation.
Saturday, August 13, 2005
In the current Speccie Bruce Anderson has a great piece on Iran's nuclear weapons programme. His basic premise is, that Iran cannot be halted in its weapons programme, and we ought to consider accommodating it instead of trying to stop this. He argues that even a changed regime would be so weak internally that it would have to rely on the nukes to strenghten its position. Iran is a potential great power and will want to be recognised as such; nukes also serve this purpose. Anderson agrees, as I pointed out the other day, that military options to halt the programme are realistically non-existent. Therefore only a massive sanctions regime would be on the cards. However, as Anderson points out, such a policy would make Iran a poor, suspicious and internally weak country - that still possessed nuclear weapons. Not a good option as we can see with North Korea.
I have a very open mind about what to do about the Iranian nuclear programme, and I find Anderson's essay very persuasive on the whole. But there are a few points that I can't quite stop nagging about. As Anderson writes:
As an intellectual exercise, try to find a justification which one in 100,000 Iranians might accept for Israel having nuclear weapons, but not Iran.
The other problem is of course that nukes would make Iran perfectly defended. Undoubtedly, an Iranian government will be nervous about attack when is sees the military forces of the Great Satan in all neighbouring countries bar Armenia (a very short piece of border admittedly, and even Armenia has troops in Iraq). While defence is a legitimate concern and Iran's fears of attack should somehow be met diplomatically, perfect defence also means that Iran has more freedom of manouvre abroad. Given its sponsorship of different terrorist and insurgent organisations, this would be a very negative development for security. Like the Eastern bloc during the Cold War, Iran could provide support for terrorism with impunity.
As I said I have an open mind and the approach that Bruce Anderson has sketched may turn out to be the best, but I'm not quite convinced yet.
Thursday, August 11, 2005
Iran seems to have aborted the negotiation process in regards to its nuclear programme and now on to this:
Unsurprisingly Iran denies this of course. However given Iran’s hardliners past behaviour, it would not be surprising if they chose to confront the junior coalition leader first rather than take the US head on; that way hoping to create splits in the alliance and weaken it politically. As an Iran wargame in last November suggested, in the event that Iran felt it could be considered for attack it would probably move in first to prevent such action by massively destabilising Iraq. The wargame was also deeply pessimistic about any military solution to the conflict, conluding that only an all-out war of regime change would suffice. Given the difficulties in Iraq a rather unlikely option, to say the least. I have real doubts that barring any major emergency, there will be any public support for serious action. Which of course is a problem in itself, because as long as the military option can not be put on the negotiating table, all talk about bringing Iran before the UN etc are pretty worthless.Britain formally protested to Iran yesterday over its growing interference in Iraq's internal affairs, citing the smuggling of sophisticated explosives that threaten to send coalition casualties soaring.
The move came after British and American intelligence officials said they uncovered evidence that Iran's Revolutionary Guard was providing deadly "shaped" charges to Iraq's insurgents.
A statement by the Foreign Office said: "Any Iranian link to armed groups in Iraq outside the political process, either through supply of weapons, training or funding are unacceptable and undermine Iran's long-term interest to secure a stable and democratic Iraq."
. . .
The development also raises the possibility that Iran's newly-installed hardline president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has decided to provoke the coalition in response to the huge international pressure he is facing to end Iran's nuclear programme.
Coalition casualties have been rising in recent weeks, in part it is believed because of new and more sophisticated explosives. In one incident last month, three British troops died in a roadside bomb attack in Amarah, north of Basra. In another last week, 14 US marines were killed by one of the new devices near Haditha.
A British intelligence source said there were indications that the devices are "increasingly being designed and built in neighbouring Iran and then transported to Iraq".
American and British officers say the new bombs are similar to those used by Hizbollah fighters against the Israelis in southern Lebanon.
Unless somebody can come up with some genius new military approach, the only option I can see at the moment is that the West follows down the existing diplomatic track and hopes that more international support for a tough line, might convince the new regime in Iran that it will suffer seriously in economic-technological terms if it doesn’t cooperate.
Still, best option still remains an Iranian revolution that removes the exiting system. Here’s hoping.
If Germany is governed by a Christian-democratic (CDU/CSU) & right-liberal (FDP) coalition from Septemebr 18th onwards, the FDP’s Wolfgang Gerhardt is poised to be the new foreign minister. In the current edition of Internationale Politik he has outlined where he thinks German foreign policy should go, and I will provide in-depth analysis in the days ahead, which will also include my endorsement.
(The Transatlantic edition doesn’t currently have the article but here’s a report in English. The German-language pdf-link is here.)
This ties in well with reports about the Christian-democrat leader Angela Merkel’s desire to reconnect with the US. It is certainly true that there are limits to where any future Kanzler could take German foreign policy so a little caution is in order, as the Economist points out, it will be rebalancing, not realigning. But it does need to be borne in mind that these Atlanticist positions that are being articulated, are not only not vote-winners, but in the circumstance that international security comes back onto the agenda, will be electoral suicide. Hence we can conclude that politicians such as Gerhardt and Merkel are definitely sincere in their ambitions to craft a foreign policy that will in effect be closer to Britain’s.
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
Although the German constitutional court may -if it’s in an admittedly very funny mood- declare the plan for early elections next month (rather than next year) unconstitutional I would say that all other factors here in Berlin are on go. By chance I am in the German capital throughout the entire election campaign period and as there is a chance of some real change I will obey my blog’s tagline and explain why and how developments here are relevant to British-German relations. To make it clear, I blog from a perspective of what is important to the UK, but that does not mean it will be limited to what German politicians say about relations to the UK -which will be fairly little I would wager. I will instead look at the different approaches to foreign affairs, particularly on Atlantic and EU issues where we can or cannot find common ground to advance our mutual interests. Where necessary I will also refer to domestic politics and Germany’s identity debate, because obviously these impact on the way the country pursues its foreign policy.
The last election in 2002 was (in)famous for the red-green government’s exploitation of the Iraq crisis to reel in the "peace vote". This time round it seems unlikely that foreign policy will feature even vaguely as prominently, but instead the election will mostly be about economic reform issues. That’s probably too bad for the current government, because it means they will be out of office within the month. As the joke here has it, the only way Schroder can win is, if Bush decides to invade Iran. Hmmm . . . .
Anyways, it certainly promises to be interesting.
Update aug10 0845hrs: links repaired
Just realised that today is the second anniversary of starting this blog. I have to say I'm quite surprised that I'm still going; I didn't think I'd maintain enough interest. That said there are the occasional periods of drought. There's one at the moment. For some reason I just can't work up any proper interest in current affairs at the moment. Perhaps it's because real life has become really distracting with relocating, a new job and all that. I sure hope so, becaue I won't to be back on top of my game again. Until then of course, the good manners that I try to adhere to compel me to say thank you to my readers, and thank you to those who link to me.
Labels: blogging and the blogger
Thursday, August 04, 2005
I know this is two days late, but I thought I's just direct you to last year's entry about the beginning of the Iraq war and when it will be over, which still holds true for today. I actually have a full-lenght essay on the theme in preparation, but as is my want, I haven't actually finished it yet. But I promise you it is sinmply brilliant . . .