Saturday, October 29, 2011

Repeat and Recycle: Is Romney Giving Neocons a "Second Chance?"

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. 
I just found this post and, though it's a hoary-bearded three weeks old, I find it interesting enough to dust off and shamelessly re-hash in a way that would be acceptable in no other time than our own: the Retweet Generation. So: For those Europeans (or interested others) out there who want to know what the leading Republican candidate's foreign policy might look like, check out the Atlantic Review's post on Mitt Romney's foreign policy team

Most controversial is the preponderance of George W. Bush administration veterans that comprise the list, including marquee names such as Michael Chertoff, Eliot Cohen, and Robert Kagan, to list just three. 

Liberal US commentator Rachel Maddow titled her response as: "Romney Gives Bush Neocons A Second Chance," but Joerg Wolf, the Atlantic Review's author, is less excited by the news, re-quoting Washington think tanker James Joyner who said of the announcement, "like Romney himself, it's not particularly exciting. Nor, thankfully, is it frightening."

Wolf concludes with this, highlighting the figures responsible for the Europe dossier:
"Nile Gardiner from Heritage is co-chair for Europe. The other co-chair is Kristen Silverberg, Chief Operating Officer at Vorbeck Materials; Ambassador to the European Union (2008-2009). I wish he would have advisors with a bit more experience. I can think of a few such think tankers in Washington.
"What do you think? To whom should the Republican presidential candidates turn to for advice on Europe, or on foreign policy in general? Which think tankers or former officials would make the best national security and foreign policy advisors for a Republican president?"
EurAmerican has kind of a thing for neoconservatism, in a hot-and-cold, critical-distance sort of way. See past post include the one here

As on the Atlantic Review site, comments are welcome here. 

Euro Summit: Chinese Help and Italian Trouble

The Economist just published this post on the element of this week's eurozone summit that would involve Chinese cash as a part of the currency zone's recapitalization plan. Ever instructive, the article lays out the China factor in some of the magazine's trademark economics-in-layman's-terms. I didn't know, for example, that the EU is China's biggest trading partner. Given all the hub-bub stateside, wouldn't most Americans assume that position was enjoyed (or maligned) by the United States? 

Yet the piece's author makes an effort to signal that the appeal for Chinese cash is neither revolutionary nor a particularly important change in the status quo. He takes a longer-term view on the EU-Chinese relationship, which of course bears direct influence on the American role between the two. 

"Grand political bargains between China and Europe—money in return for more representation at the IMF, or market-economy status—seem wildly improbable. These prizes will eventually come anyway; and weak though parts of Europe are, the EU cannot be seen to trade them too nakedly. Bargaining of this sort would also require both parties to change their positions markedly. China is keen not to be seen as a source of “dumb money”, but requiring big political concessions in return for cash is a pretty clear signal that this is not a commercially attractive investment. As for the euro zone, it can hardly claim that senior Spanish and Italian debt is now safe for institutional investors if it has to horse-trade too hard to get China on board."

And further along the pessimism spectrum is the Wall Street Journal, which, true to form, has expressed typical euro-skepticism on the summit's results and bemoaned the plan's lack of detail and the risks that remain for U.S. companies and stakeholders. Though the European Financial Stability Facility will "backstop" troubled eurozone countries against default, the paper says, this week's decisions fall short of the muscular moves called for by experts and do relatively little to stem fears of a backslide toward recession in Europe and worldwide. 

Both articles signal the lingering dangers of the tenuous Italian situation, where fractious politics in Silvio Berlusconi's government has dimmed hopes for any kind of meaningful action against the euro's woes. Italy is heavily in debt and, as the third-largest economy on the euro, its future determines that of a host of other dependent nations both in and outside the monetary bloc.

Courtesy of the Wall Street Journal and ICAP

Though the chart refers to Italy only, its title -- "Brief Relief" -- sounds just as appropriate for the whole of the eurozone for the many observers that continue to be concerned about the currency's immediate and middle-term prospects.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Update: European Daily

All apologies for a lapse in activity at EurAmerican.  Just a heads-up, I'll be contributing to the European citizen newspaper European Daily, specifically to the "Abroad" section, on a regular basis.  You can check out my work for the Sunday page here.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Mixed Feelings on Mid-Crisis EU

Behind the euro crisis is a crisis of confidence, felt differently but to similarly intense degrees throughout the Continent. 

Northern countries have been feeling taken advantage of, with the common refrain echoing a feeling that the southern EU countries have spent with abandon the considerable benefits received from their neighbors. But "the feeling is mutual," reports Global Post, and in the case of Spain, many feel they have exchanged cash for compromised protections of rights, crisis-time mismanagement, sacrifice of national sovereignty, and kowtowing by Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero toward demanding eurocrats in Brussels. 

Nobel laureate Robert Mundell said on August 26, "I don't think the euro is on the verge of collapsing."

Alan Greenspan, the former head of the US Federal Reserve, said on August 24, "The euro is breaking down."

Eschewing with the "United States of Europe" idea, Romanian Mircea Cărtărescu favors a union centered around the "European mind" and a federation "not solely focused on the issue of economic survival." He says: 

"Present-day Europe relates to the United States as Athens once did to ancient Rome. And although at one point Athens sought to emulate Rome, I can see no reason why modern Europe should seek to emulate the United States."
German ex-foreign minister Joschka Fischer counters that "we need to work toward the United States of Europe now."

In Estonia, a slightly but definitely more optimistic note can be heard in the public opinion of the country's lot as it relates to the EU, again reported by Global Post. Says Swedish Prime Minister, Carl Bildt, 

“I remember the days when the counters of the shops in Tallinn were empty and the people were starving. The economy more or less had to be rebuilt from scratch... If you had asked people on Aug. 20, 1991 whether in 20 years “Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania would be seen as economic success stories in Europe, would be full members of NATO, full members of the European Union,” Bildt asked, “if anyone had said yes, that person would have been seen as a fairly likely candidate for lunacy.”
But such a public, party-line voice is bound to be tempered by ordinary citizens, in this case from Tallinn, the Estonian capital:

"Nineteen-year-old Katrina Ulbeerte, bopping along with her younger sister, laughs when asked what she knew about Soviet times before she was born. In American slang, she said her parents have told her that life then was difficult. “They told about special lessons about, like, communists and, like, all kinds of military stuff. I’m happy I don’t have to go work in a factory!”

"But 55-year-old Ieva Inauska, who couldn’t speak English but conveyed her thoughts quite clearly in broken German and hand gestures, doesn’t see much of a change. “Soviet Union? Bah. European Union? Bah. The European Union bureaucracy is even bigger than the Soviet Union’s!” And, she indicated, she preferred the latter."

Friday, August 19, 2011

EU, Texas Economics: Language, Money, Mobility

The Wall Street Journal compares, of all things, EU economics to Texan ones:

"Arguably, the heart of the euro zone's problem isn't a matter of culture or governance or remaining barriers to trade in goods. Rather, it's the huge hurdle that has always existed: Europe's multiplicity of languages. The fact that few Greeks or Portuguese have enough German to take on professional or even semi-skilled jobs in Germany removes the sort of safety valve that properly integrated federations rely on.
A case in point is the Texan economic miracle, the subject of considerable debate in the U.S. right now. Texan politicians make strong claims for the state's performance relative to the rest of the U.S. during the recovery. Doubters point to the fact that Texan unemployment remains high.
But a close reading of the data by Matthias Shapiro on his Political Math blog highlights something very interesting. Texan unemployment belies the strength of the state's economy because it has had considerable population growth during the past couple of years. Texas's strong employment growth has inspired people to flock to the state—so much so that the actual proportion out of work hasn't come down as fast as it might have done otherwise.
Since the start of the recession in December 2007, Texas's labor force has grown by 6%, astonishingly quickly for such a large state—more than twice as fast as the next-fastest state. When people are hit by hard economic times in one part of the U.S., they pack their bags and move to where the jobs are. The same doesn't happen in Europe.
For instance, the economically active population in Germany, Europe's economic powerhouse, has shrunk by about half a percentage point during the same time Texas has boomed. This is why Germany's unemployment rate has fallen much faster than that of Texas even as unemployment remains at stratospheric levels in countries like Spain.
Even in the years before the financial crisis, immigration to Germany from other European Union countries was equivalent to only about 0.4% of Germany's population, and most of that in the form of cheap labor from neighboring Poland.
Because it's harder for people from poorer euro-zone countries to move to the core, where there are jobs, fiscal transfers are crucial to address imbalances between the economies. But there's currently very little scope for these in Europe. EU spending as a percentage of GDP is less than a tenth of the U.S. federal government's.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Consummate Citizens: Turks Defend Turf in London Riots

Thought I'd break the silence with my first post in way-too-long with this unusual piece on Turkish shopowners taking matters into their own hands during the London riots. 

Al-Jazeera reports a groundswell of local action against the looting and lawlessness currently plaguing London. With PM David Cameron pondering curfews and many in Europe wondering whether the unrest will spread to the Continent -- endemic of the same recession-related problems of unemployment and ever-tighter strains from austerity -- in the coming days. 

Interviewees expressed a surprising common theme of pro-Turkish sentiment, specifically concerning the question of the integration of Turkish-descended European citizens and, by extension, Turkey's accession into the European Union. The best bits of the Al-Jazeera piece are below.

"Our local shopkeeper refused to close. He said 'we are Turkish' as explanation," said one post. Another added: "Reports of heroic scenes on Dalston High Street. Turkish families lining the streets to oppose riots. What great Londoners."
Another, along similar lines, read: "Upper Dalston looks busier than a Saturday night with all the Turks on patrol! Thanks for Keeping Dalston safe!" followed by: "Who needs riot police when you’ve got Turkish shop owners."
One posting characterised the showdown between the Turkish restaurateurs and their masked adversaries as "baklavas versus balaclavas," while another summed up prevailing sentiments with "Say what you will about letting Turkey getting in the EU, they’re there when we need them."
Perhaps extrapolating the policing skills of London's Turks somewhat implausibly to the level of international diplomacy, one post mused: "If only Turkey can bring to Syria in the next few days what they've brought to Dalston and London in the last few."

Sunday, July 10, 2011

German Mothers and Gendernomics

The IHT journalist Katrin Bennhold provides her latest work on mothers in the German workforce -- or rather, their absence.

Only 14 percent of one-child mothers return to full-time work once the baby is born, she notes, and a mere 6 percent of mothers stay full-time after two children. In a culture still defined (tragically, says Bennhold) by the old adage of “kinder, küche, kirche” -- or “children, kitchen, church” -- women too often stand at the losing end of professional prosperity and the leadership roles available to their male counterparts in what is, despite the ongoing eurozone crisis, one of the world's wealthiest nations.

The gender disparity is not for lack of effort by German women. Germany's Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is pointed to as a prominent counter-example when women push for greater equality in the work world. And one of Merkel's cabinet members, Ursula von der Layen, has advocated paternity leave and a quota system for female presence on corporate executive boards.

"Laws help change mentalities," she has said. Adding heft to the German debate from outside, EU vice president Viviane Reding has written to all companies of Germany's DAX stock market, urging increased female visibility in their boards or else risking EU-wide quotas. 

One angle Bennhold mentions -- then leaves disappointingly unexplored -- is the comparison to corporate gender profiles in the United States. Despite the stark contrast between state funding for daycare and other child-oriented services, U.S. boardrooms boast a much greater parity of skirts to suits than Germany can. Behind even such traditionally male-dominated countries as China, Germany scores a paltry two percent of females on executive committees. 

Courtesy New York Times

And Bennhold leaves another, more provocative question well wide of her report's scope: what are the social effects on German women who, seeing how steep the ramp is for career and family, forego child-rearing altogether? The author alludes to the consequences, perhaps unwittingly: 

"One of the countries in most need of female talent — at 1.39 the German birthrate is among the lowest in Europe and labor shortages in skilled technical professions are already 150,000..."

The reader is left to wonder what may be revealed by deeper study on what economic, social and emotional effects are wrought on a society that statistically seems anti-family.

EurAmerican has examined Bennhold's work previously, on French mothers and the conditions particular to their role in a neighboring and similarly male-driven culture to that of her native Germany. In each, she interviews a broad sample of feminists and ordinary women.

She would make her good reports better if she practiced her own lesson of gender equality -- by balancing her perspective with more male voices, and considered them in working toward the common goals of not only gender equality, but maximum opportunity, competitiveness and, I dare say, liberty for all.

UPDATE: Progress on the gender front? French think-tanker Dominique Moisi argues that European women may be the continent's best bet for "agents of change," while the EU Parliament backed a non-binding agreement on July 7 to strengthen obligations for female representation on EU-area executive boards.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Flags and the Fourth of July

Happy Fourth, y'all!

The Pew Research Center has found that fully three-quarters of Americans display the Unites States flag in some form or another, be it in their home, at work, on their cars (ie, bumper stickers) or on their clothing. 

The poll, measured along partisan lines, reveals a range between 67 percent of flag-showing among liberals and 87 percent among conservatives. In other words, the range runs between strong and really strong. One can hardly imagine the contrast were a similar poll to be conducted in Europe...
In a related video, Good Magazine explains its view on "What's Great About America" -- in just over a minute. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Obama's Poland Jaunt: Low Marks Overall

See the latest op-ed published by yours truly at on US President Barack Obama's recent trip to Europe and specifically his jaunt in Poland. 

Obama started strong just by virtue of being in Europe, and stopping in Poland helped provide a badly needed shot in the arm for US public diplomacy and strategic relations in the former Communist bloc. 

But he flailed on Israel -- a poignant subject for Poland, the home of Auschwitz, in which masses of Jews perished at the hands of the Nazis -- offering a dubious "I will always be there for Israel" in response to a question from a concerned Polish Jew. Obama's statement would have been more convincing if he hadn't just been snubbed big-time during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Washington, who called Obama's plan to return to Israel's 1967 borders "indefensible."

Nor did Obama do much better on the military dossier. He highlighted plans to house a squadron of US fighter jets in Poland in 2013, which did generate some positive echo in the national and regional press. Yet the US squadron's presence in the country would have been more significant had these same arrangements not been already scheduled, well in advance of the President's trip.

For these reasons and more, Obama's European tour was more style than substance. 

Monday, June 6, 2011

After Mladic, the Serbian March to EU Accession

In a telling gesture following the recent arrest of Bosnian Serb and former general Ratko Mladic on allegations of war crimes, the EEAS' chief Lady Catherine Ashton announced June 1 that Danish diplomat Peter Sørensen will assume the long-empty post of EU ambassador to Bosnia. 

The nomination came amid a flurry of EU musical chairs, and early indicators suggest the choice is largely disappointing to a broad range of European diplomats and dignitaries.

European Voice reported that Ashton claimed, “I can think of no one better qualified to take over this enhanced role of head of delegation,” which was met with "the sound of spluttering in London and Berlin." 

In more positive news, EV echos the recent press rumoring that Mladic's arrest will now open -- some would say pry -- the doors open toward EU accession.

Yet some insist that Mladic's arrest and subsequent extradition to the International Criminal Tribunal in the Hague, Netherlands is "is not enough to achieve reconciliation in the Western Balkans," according to EUobserver.

Ivan Vejvoda of the German Marshall Fund calls on the court to tend to "unfinished business" left from the Bosnian conflict, in which ethnic and religious conflict erupted into violent conflict in the middle and late 1990s.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Language, Culture and Policy

A pair of posts on language in Europe offer the latest on one of the less purely political (but nonetheless, structural) elements of EU integration. One defends French language, lamenting its diminution and the negative effect this has on francophone clout in EU affairs:

"The choice of language has wide repercussions... If a meeting is held solely in English, the follow-up report must be written in near-perfect English and so the responsibility will go, he says, to an English-speaking expert rather than a French-speaking one. Or had it been agreed that the European patent would only be in English (as opposed to English, French and German, as is currently proposed), the influence of a British approach and English jurisdiction would have been greater..."

Also see a recent video interview from Presseurop of Androulla Vassiliou, the EU Commissioner for Education, Culture and Multilingualism (how different these Europeans are -- the US government would never budget for a "language tsar" of any iteration.) In contrast with the first speaker above, Vassiliou seems to suggest that one should not take on a stiff resistance to learning other languages, because language learning constitutes "learning the culture of others" and serves as a "very good means of communication," as well as the considerable economic implications of language, and culture more broadly, within EU economic affairs. Vassiliou claims that the European cultural products sector (television, film, etc.) grosses more than the European auto industry... Can anyone verify this?

Tidbits on Libya and the EU

A brief from EUobserver reports that on May 26 Hadeiba Hadi, the Libyan Ambassador to the EU, defected from his post as representative of the Qaddafi regime in Brussels. His staff also resigned.

In a statement made to the AFP, Hadi explained that he and his team felt obliged to make a decision to "no longer represent the regime," which is currently embattled against rebel forces seeking to ouster the Libyan leader from his decades-long rule.

Speaking of EU-Libyan affairs, last week EU foreign affairs chief Lady Catherine Ashton opened an EU office in Benghazi, Libya, where rebel governing structures like the Transitional National Council (TNC) are based. In a statement made following a meeting with the TNC's Chairman, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, Ashton promised EU partnership in policy areas including security, economy, health, education and civil society. 

The EU's move to set up shop in Benghazi marks perhaps the boldest diplomatic decision for Libya's long haul. This takes one step further the decision by French president Nicolas Sarkozy to be the first to recognize the Libyan rebels' legitimacy. Much remains to be seen in the development of a Libya without Qaddafi in charge -- and even this, though desired by much of the international community, is a far-from-certain outcome. 

In an unexpected result from the G8 conference currently taking place in Deauville, France, Russian president Dimitri Medvedev has offered to try to coax Qaddafi into stepping down. This seems like an unreliable hand-off of negotiating power should the decision-makers in Europe and the US decide to go with it. But it may allow Russia to assert itself as a key player in conflict resolution, while the EU and US would benefit from some much-needed relief to then focus on issues closer to home such as the ongoing euro crisis and global recession more broadly. More to follow.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Live From New York: A Finnish Expat on the Euro Crisis

A Finn-come-New Yorker expounds on the transatlantic notions that surround the euro crisis, the recent victories by right-wing nationalist parties in Finland's elections, and how observers in the US  may or may not be able to comment on it all. A thought-provoking read.

"Our resentment toward being asked to help our far-flung partners in the Union is also exposing the hypocrisy behind another dearly held Finnish tradition: our disgust at how little compassion Americans seem to have for their fellow citizens in terms of sharing the wealth. When my friends criticize the United States for failing to provide universal health care, I point out that America is twice the size of the European Union. It’s not quite parallel, but if Finns were asked to contribute to the health care of the Greeks, the Irish and the Portuguese, they might feel a little like Americans.
"And now they do.
"Friday afternoon, without the support of the True Finns, Portugal’s bailout was endorsed in Parliament, clearing the way for its approval by the European Union on Monday.
"Because they failed to get what they wanted, the True Finns dropped out of the negotiations to become a coalition partner in the new government.
"But even if they won’t play a major role in determining Finnish policy, the True Finns have prompted some lasting changes, and transformed Finland’s meek stance toward Europe. The leading parties have refused to back further bailouts unless the country in question provides direct guarantees on the loans. (...)
"And the debate they started — about what kind of country Finland is, and wants to be — continues. The True Finns fear that the Finnish way of life will be undermined by immigrants. In my “red-green” circles — as the politically leftist and environmentally aware are called — the fear is that Finland will succumb to close-minded bigots and lose the diversity and benefits that come from belonging to a larger European community.
"For my part, I did what I could to help — I offered a place on my couch in Brooklyn to any political refugees. But in the end, my friends in Helsinki seem to be deciding that this is no time for retreat. Instead they’ll stay to help determine the future of their country.
"Perhaps in the process, we Finns will learn something from that union of states on the other side of the Atlantic. And maybe we’ll even be able to offer some suggestions in return."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Ashton, Clinton Meet -- Washington Snoozes

EEAS chief Lady Catherine Ashton and US Sectretary of State Hilary Clinton met in Washington Tuesday to discuss a buffet of global issues, notably Syria in the context of the Arab Spring uprisings that have rocked the Middle East and North Africa since December 2010. 

A random Google search revealed that, apart from CNN, no major US news networks or print outlets thought the event was worth covering. Meanwhile, transatlantic coverage continues to be dominated by the Arab Spring, late-phase details in the Osama Bin Laden execution, US relations with Pakistan and the Cannes Film Festival and, most recently, the scandal surrounding rape allegations against IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn (see previous EurAmerican post).

What does the EEAS -- and the EU more broadly -- have to do to make headlines in Washington?

Snippets on Strauss-Kahn

As International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn sits in the Rikers Island jail following an arrest on allegations of rape, world media has been of many minds about what it means, and what to expect. They vary in what the predict and project, but all seem to bear the same breathless anticipation for what's around the corner.

Here are a few:

The Wall Street Journal's The Source reports that, contrary to fears, DSK's arrest has not led transatlantic markets to tank.

French political parties are scrambling to find firm footing in the lead-up to the country's presidential elections next year, and Sarkozy's has issued a (characteristically audacious) statement that the Socialist Party has lost “the moral part of the battle for the presidency,” the New York Times says.

Would-be successors to the notoriously womanizing public figure include the Swiss Josef Ackermann, the German Thomas Mirow, the Briton and former Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the Frenchwoman Christine Lagarde. Some European leaders, including Germany's Chancellor, Angela Merkel, have argued that for the traditionally European-led organization, only a European should be considered, so as to continue to steer the Old Continent out of the debt crisis currently embroiling the European Union's monetary standing.  

The IMF has had a heavy, and generous, hand in the bailout process of the eurozone's worst-faring countries, and many in Europe fear their IMF help may dry up if one of theirs is not in control. This piece also notes that, "for the first time, there is a genuine possibility that the I.M.F. position could go to an official from a faster-growing non-Western country, reflecting the shifting global economy" (NYT also). 

EUobserver writes that two EU ministers who are both women -- Austrian finance minister Maria Fekter and Spanish senior official Elena Salgado -- have moved for Strauss-Kahn to step down, so as to preserve the image of the IMF and to take into account the "extraordinarily serious" nature of the allegations.

Presseurop reports via Mediapart that as "a harsh reminder of reality," the IMF boss, despite being "one of the most influential, most powerful, most popular men in the world," still has to "answer for his conduct as an ordinary citizen."  

Euronews covers the sore subject of Strauss-Kahn's damning portrayal in US media, which stands in stark contrast to the 'Guigou Law' passed in France last year to reinforce the presumption of innocence by banning the show of charged persons in handcuffs or being escorted by police. The law was named after the politician who drafted it, the Socialist Elisabeth Guigou.

“I found that image to be of unimaginable brutality, violence and cruelty,” said Guigou, in Global Post.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Bin Laden Reported Dead

"US president Barack Obama is due to make a statement shortly in which he is expected to announce the death of Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda. [...]
"Qais Azimy, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Kabul, said that Afghan officials have confirmed that Bin Laden had died and that his body was with the United States.

"Officials would not confirm whether he had been killed in Afghanistan or Pakistan, and said that the death of the al-Qaeda leader was more of a "symbolic victory", as he was no longer directly connected to the group's field operations, Azimy reported."
The Washington Post posits that this was a CIA operation. It comes on the heels of an already white-hot controversy involving CIA operative Raymond Davis, who was working undercover in Pakistan when he shot and killed two Pakistanis who allegedly tried to rob him. 

Late the night of Sunday, May 1, US President Barack Obama made an address from the White House -- after a delay of over an hour -- replete with imagery of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and an unabashedly pro-American, surprisingly hawkish stance on the breaking news. 

"Justice has been done," Obama declared. The US president also stressed that "we must remain vigilant," and that the operation against Bin Laden was not an act within a larger war against Islam. Importantly, Obama made explicit reference to the fact that this claim was originally made by former US President George W. Bush.

"We will be relentless in defense of our citizens, and our friends and allies," Obama said, with manifest resolution in his voice. 

Crowds spilled into the streets in Washington. Ecstatic chants erupted of "USA! USA!" from crowds that gathered in front of the White House.
The questions we transatlantic thinkers must now ask ourselves include:

- How should the US and Europe respond? 

- What are the security implications involved? How might we anticipate the possibility of reprisals, attacks or other violence in the West?

- What are the long-term effects of a killing of this magnitude, whether "symbolic" or real?

Your comments are welcome.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Germany’s Libya Abstention and the World: What Now?

         Germany’s March 17th decision to abstain from the United Nations vote for a NATO-enforced no-fly zone over Libya has unleashed a firestorm of international criticism – as well as open skepticism on the country’s current and future fitness for leadership on the world stage. The tumultuous last few weeks have observers voicing three primary concerns on whether Germany should (or even could) assume the world leadership position it claims to want: 1) a paradox, both in policy and in image, 2) battered confidence on the part of its foreign partners, and 3) an uncertain future in global leadership.

         Germany’s actions are paradoxical at national, European and international levels. The country long followed draconian foreign-affairs strictures such as “never alone” and “never again Auschwitz,” which guided the country since it emerged, shuddering and ashamed, from its losing role in World War II. After abstention, these tenets seem, at least in the immediate, to have largely been cast aside – with no alternatives proposed to replace them. Equally problematic are the polling results of German opinion on Libya: Reuters reported in April that a whopping 71 percent of Germans support international intervention in the country. According to a contributor at the online Atlantic Community, 65 percent of Germans – essentially, many of the same voters – would disapprove of German participation therein. The country shows a sort of diplomatic allergy to the often ugly business of conflict prevention. Berlin still insists it wants a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, but after its ill-considered abstention, its Western UN allies will surely be loath to grant such a diplomatic trump card to a partner increasingly seen as unreliable.

         The battered confidence in Germany’s recent diplomacy is perhaps best reflected by the United States and France. (...)

Making Sense of the EU: Back to Basics

The EU, or rather, the EU's delegation in Washington, has just released a broad four-page overview of the the European Union. Should be a good guide for those transatlantic policy newcomers seeking to understand the EU in simple terms, as well as those who could use a refresher on "what exactly the European Union is – and what it is not,"  to borrow the delegation's words.

If only answering those questions -- both inside and outside the EU -- were that simple!

Click here to see the document, then scroll to the "Latest Publications" section and click on "EU Focus: Understanding the European Union." For deeper (if dated) info on the EU, see this 2009 survey.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

US Presidential 2012: Among GOP Leaders, No One Thinks of Europe

The Huffington Post ran this piece on the foreign policy ideas of the United States' Republican leaders for the 2012 presidential race. European and transatlantic issues are glaringly absent from the party's foreign agenda.

Also called the GOP (for "Grand Ole Party"), Republicans constitute the other half of the US political party system, with Obama's Democratic party seen as more aligned with European-style ideas on the role of the state, social welfare and other issues. These Republicans, who after the President's rough two-and-a-half years in office, are sure to give Obama a serious run for his money. European observers following the early maneuvers of the 2012 campaign should know these names and judge who might toe the line against Obama, who as the incumbent will surely be nominated again as his party's leader.

Here are EurAmerican's picks for the three best and worst GOP hopefuls when it comes to foreign affairs. At best, the top dogs present a balanced and respectful attitude toward America's involvements abroad, a condition that is not always a given, with a certain focus placed on trade and high-skilled immigration. Among the worst candidates, several posture around imbalanced policy considerations that range from myopic to unrealistic, on such issues as support for Israel and what to do against the threat of Islamic extremism. A casual reading of the HuffPo article reveals that, in a party overwhelmed with either domestic or at least non-European foreign policy questions, few take the time for pronouncements specific to the Old Continent.

The Best Three

1) Mitt Romney

HuffPo says, "in an effort to make the U.S. a more competitive economy -- particularly with China -- Romney has proposed enforcing looser immigration laws to take advantage of highly skilled workers. (...)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Bearish and Bullish on the EEAS

The transatlantic commentariat has said much about the early successes and failures of the European External Action Service (EEAS) and its chief, Lady Catherine Ashton. What follows are two diametrically opposed opinions on how EU foreign policy's been doing.

Presseurop's Iulia Badea Guéritée absolutely slams the fledgling agency. Guéritée posts a withering indictment that claims Ashton has been by turns "absent," "voiceless" and the embodiment of timidity in European foreign affairs. 
"The European External Action Service was created over three months ago to provide the EU the unified voice it lacked and its boss, Catherine Ashton has been remarkably…absent. Absent – or overshadowed by other European leaders – in the changing Arab world, absent in Japan, absent in Libya and absent in Lampedusa. What needs to happen for Ms Ashton and the EEAS to come out of the woods?"
Some paint a more rosy picture of the EU's diplomatic strength. Brookings Institute scholar Justin Vaisse counters that European policy heft is being increasingly felt around the world, not least of all according to yardsticks like the European Council on Foreign Relations' "score card" for EU foreign policy effectiveness. (Vaisse played a founding role in the score card's creation.) He writes proudly that

"... The Scorecard seems to be encouraging a discussion about Europe's role and behaviour in the world – our tools, our values and ideals, our interests, our vision. "Policy" is suddenly back in "European foreign policy." "
Chuffed as Vaisse may be to say so, the question of the true gravitas of the EU's global role is the subject of lively discussion worldwide.

French vs. English, Sarkozy, NPR, etc. etc.

The working-language battle continues in Brussels... See these three posts from the excellent Kovács & Kováts blog, which chronicles the Hungarian presidency of the EU. 

Looks a little like this old EurAmerican post, a throwback from all the way to last August. The post mentions Arthur Goldhammer, the guru behind the blog French Politics, who talked to NPR this week about French President Nicolas Sarkozy's new muscular foreign affairs posture.

Germany as the EU's "Vicar," Global Christian Support for Israel

From EUobserver, a weird analogy that suggests Germany is the "vicar" of Europe, stuck between a rock and a hard place as the reluctant leader of a crisis-emergent European Union. 

The piece cites the sociological concept of "organizational punishment" -- in which the leader of a group purported to uphold communal values is punished whenever it fails to meet its own lofty principles -- to describe Germany's role, much like a vicar in the Catholic church. 

Speaking of religion, see the latest numbers from the Pew Research Center on foreign policy support toward Israel by white American Christians -- fully 64% of white evangelicals, compared with that of 36% of Catholics and 34% of non-evangelical Protestants. How this sentiment differs from the Israel policy espoused by Christians in Europe

More numbers from Pew are below.

Monday, April 11, 2011

EEAS: "Democracy Scholarships" for N. Africa

A Brussels diplomatic official has revealed that the European Union’s nascent diplomatic service will be spearheading a new initiative in North Africa to offer some 2,000 “democracy scholarships” in the wake of the continuing regional turmoil. Now that the world is watching the North African and Middle East regions, the idea may pick up speed from the broad international attention toward providing peaceful stability measures with immediate as well as long-term benefits.

The idea for a European-Mediterranean partnership recalls the Union for the Mediterranean, a program launched in 2008 by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Though still an active project, it has met with only lukewarm enthusiasm among EU members, and has been overshadowed by issues such as the global financial crisis, as well as concerns over immigration and whether such a project would yield much strategic payoff for the European bloc.

The European External Action Service, the EU diplomatic arm known in shorthand as the EEAS, has been reported to be taking on the preliminary stages of organizing the scholarship. Promising students will compete for places at prestigious universities throughout Europe. It is believed that the fund aims to send a clear initial signal to young North Africans that the EU supports the broad popular struggle for democratic rule organized in large part by students and other disaffected young people. 

The ultimate goal for the scholarship, according to those close to the project, is to set in motion a deeper exchange of democratic ideas via a pattern of “circular migration” among the students’ home countries and the EU.

The fund is targeted to appeal both to young North Africans wanting to study in Europe and those who may simply appreciate the EU’s show of solidarity through pro-democracy educational funding. Budget estimates for the scholarship run as high as 50 million euros.

Applicants from Tunisia and Egypt will be given priority initially, and the planners set the start date for the fund as early as the fall semester of 2011. Reports are unclear as to whether the program will be expanded to include nations currently in the most chaotic days of unrest, such as Libya or other Mediterranean coast states.  

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Libyan Ambassador to US Breaks with Qaddafi

The Libyan ambassador to the US has resigned over the uprising currently roiling his home country, reports the Washington Diplomat, a DC monthly covering the diplomatic community in the American capital. At the time of this writing, the article was available in print but not online.

Ali Suleiman Aujali, the 60-year-old who was until last month Qaddafi's representative in Washington, is still residing in the city while his country's rebel government continues in its struggle to establish an alternative government from the authoritarian rule that has lasted over 40 years. A career diplomat, Aujali has served in ambassadorial posts in Malaysia, Argentina, Brazil and Canada.

Aujali's service, juxtaposed with his new and vociferous denouncement of Qaddafi, raises the question as to how Aujali managed to serve the leader since Ajali's public service began in 1969. In a recurring theme of the article's expansive profile, Aujali distinguishes between Libya's diplomatic corps and that group's boss. 

"You must know that not every Libyan diplomat is the last 42 years has dirtied his hands with blood or money... I have never been a mouthpiece of the regime," he explained. When questioned on his marked about-face in recent days, he borrowed a classic Arab proverb, saying, "different occasions require different speeches."

The change in tone resonates with the defection of Moussa Koussa, who last week resigned as Libya's foreign affairs czar. He has fled to London and faces unclear prospects as to whether he may face prosecution relating to the 1988 airplane bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland. The event is widely believed to have been orchestrated by those close to Qaddafi and at his request.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Germany Slammed by French Left, Domestic Press on Libya Vote

The French left has damning words for German foreign policy. The country, which recently decided to abstain from armed intervention in Libya in a March 17 UN Security Council vote, has since faced withering rebukes from the international community. 

Jean Quatremer, a star writer of the left-leaning newspaper La Libération, takes a decidedly EU-focused approach to his criticism, dismayed that "the [European] Union must, therefore, stay confined to what's humanitarian..." He echoed the words of new foreign minister Alain Juppé, who on Wednesday lamented, "must we resign ourselves to the EU remaining a humanitarian NGO?" He also quoted ex-foreign affairs minister Hubert Védrine, who lamented while in office that the EU must not grow into a kind of "giant Switzerland." When the Libé's top name aligns with the center-right French government's official voice on foreign affairs, Germany faces a uniformly hostile neighbor, which will also rally outside opinion into France's camp and against Germany's.

Der Spiegel, Germany's best-known English-language newspaper, has little better to say about the response to Libya by Angela Merkel and the German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle. In an article written collectively by Spiegel staff, the newspaper presents a symbolically potent show of solidarity against their government's latest foreign affairs calls.

"The general sense of consternation," they emphatically write, "raises the question of whether this government is simply out of its depth when it comes to foreign policy." They signal that Germany missed a great opportunity to forge a "yes, but" alternative. The team quotes a German diplomat's accusation that his government is guilty of "historical cynicism," and they surmise that "Merkel's administration now welcomes any bad news from Libya that suggests its partners were wrong to intervene." 

And as if Merkel thought it would alleviate anything, Germany unveiled a conciliatory gesture to send more surveillance planes to NATO operations in Afghanistan as a way to free up allied materiel and military hardware for the Libyan campaign.

France, Libya and Laïcité

The scholars Jonathan Laurence and Justin Vaisse weigh in on the recent about-face by European leaders over mutliculturalism. The article's thrust is that the moves made by Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron are 'tacking to the right' in order to drain far-right voters toward their bases, and that such bald ploys only serve to undo decades of effort at integrating Europe's Muslims. These and other leaders only "savage a straw man" in attacking multiculturalism, and shoot themselves in the foot in the process. Below is a snapshot of the article's multiple thematic threads.

"The anti-immigrant opinions first voiced in late 20th-century Europe increased in intensity during the terrorism jitters of the 2000s and have been reinforced by burgeoning anti-Islam sentiment during the 2010s. What's happening is that the deleterious political impact of the 2008-2009 economic crises is now being felt, and the result is a sizeable populist wave throughout Western Europe.
This wave generally takes the form of extreme right parties -- even though some of them, like in the Netherlands and Britain, incorporate liberal elements like the defense of gay rights and women's rights. (The English Defence League has both Jewish and gay branches.) All of these populist movements, however, have one feature in common: they are explicitly anti-Islam. Just as anti-Semitism was the common denominator of populist movements in the 1930s, the single-minded focus on Muslim immigration has become the defining trait of anti-establishment parties in today's Europe. The logical effect is to push the center-right parties to the right, for fear of losing their constituency.
And tack right they have. In Germany, Merkel's speech was designed to catch up with the national debate sparked by Thilo Sarrazin's bestselling book, Germany Does Away With Itself,  as well as with an assertive nativist wing of her governing coalition. Sarrazin, a former Bundesbank board member originally from the Social-Democrat SPD party, has sold more than a million copies of his book, which denounces the dumbing-down of Germany through Muslim immigration. In Britain, Cameron must keep an eye on his populist wing as well as the British National Party. In the Netherlands, Prime Minister Mark Rutte is cracking down on headscarf wearing and other behavioral signs of Muslim religiosity among state employees and unemployment check recipients in exchange for the parliamentary support of Geert Wilders's anti-Islam faction. In France, Nicolas Sarkozy, who successfully courted voters from Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front in 2007 by broaching the theme of "national identity," kept the flame alive with an official debate on the subject in 2009 and another on the wearing of the burka in 2010. This spring, his UMP party announced yet another debate on "Islam and laïcité" -- as France calls its official policy of religious neutrality.
 The laïcité debate follows on the heels of Sarkozy's aggressive maneuvering in the Libya crisis and may try to bring the French voice on Islam closer to home, in a sense. If the French populace can engage with high-profile political figures and thinkers on the current events of the Muslim world and how they might think about these things as a country, a laïcité discussion may center the discordant voices on whether France should be as active as it currently is. EurAmerican follows religious trends closely, so watch this space for more on how this debate develops in France and elsewhere.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Federal Disunity: Civil-War-era US and the Eurozone

Global Policy, a fairly new world affairs journal, has some interesting things to say on the current eurozone troubles. Its quality of links is slightly derivative, with liberal borrowing from the Economist and even Wikipedia. But it's still a worthy read, if for nothing else that its unorthodox comparison of leadership styles of US President James Buchanan (predecessor to Abraham Lincoln) and Angela Merkel.

"... If Buchanan is remembered as one of the worst American presidents of all time, his successor Abraham Lincoln is remembered as perhaps its greatest. Although lacking in executive experience his underlying principle was unwavering: preserve the union at all costs. To this goal he was willing to subsume all other concerns, including his moral repugnance of slavery. To its end he was willing to commit to and sustain a bloody civil war and rebuff suggestions of compromise. Everything else was negotiable, but union was not. The result was a nation ripped apart by an enormously destructive and prolonged civil war, but also one reborn on a stronger footing. The slavery and secession issues that had, since America’s founding, threatened to rip the nation apart were (at an enormous cost) settled once and for all.

"It is from this parable-like take on the American Civil War era that perhaps lessons can be drawn for Europe’s undisputed present-day leader, Angela Merkel. The seriousness of the conundrum she faces is immense. Preservation of the European project requires a willingness to risk political martyrdom on her own part. The case for Germany continuing as the backstop of the Eurozone grows more unpopular domestically every day. Meanwhile the irresolute action and half-measures that characterised earlier attempts to save the single currency have merely postponed the day of reckoning. They have also, at almost every turn, increased the cost and the stakes of the next move. The case of the Greek Bailout is perhaps the most blatant example. Yet time and again her approach has seemed reductionist and pedantic. Bowing to national pressures she has proven more adept at tinkering with the terms of bailouts and turning the screws on profligate states, than on securing a long-term fix for the single currency. The result has been a continuing narrative of core vs. periphery and an ominous slide towards a series of defaults, which even the German coffers will not be able to rebuff."
See the piece in full here

Friday, March 18, 2011

Americans, St.Patrick's Day and the Morality of Drinking

Dig this from the Pew Research Center's findings on American morality and St. Patrick's Day. This week, Americans will celebrate Ireland's patron saint, and not necessarily because they have Irish heritage. For many this means excessive drinking, though the tradition is not morally neutral, at least in the US. A full 61 percent of Americans polled find excessive drinking morally wrong, Pew reports. There is also a huge disparity on the morals of drinking between self-identified liberals (50%) and conservatives (71%). An even greater divide runs along the education line: forty-three percent of those with a college degree disapproved of excessive alcohol consumption, while those with a high-school education or lower did so at a whopping 74 percent.

Also see Pew's study on American moral perceptions of sex, drugs and cheating on taxes.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Lukashenko Versus WashPo, Or, Basic Freedoms

The Washington Post ran this interview Sunday between Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and one of the newspaper's editors, Lally Weymouth. Last December, the country held elections that gave a victory and a fourth presidential term to Lukashenko. The news incited massive protests and the round-up of over 700 pro-democracy demonstrators. The EU and the US have responded by imposing sanctions and asset freezes on Belarus' top government officials and their families. Relations remain tense as the Lukashenko administration and opposition forces continue to struggle against one another both at home and in foreign diplomacy and press.

On an editorial note, Lukashenko exhibits what seems to be a fundamentally flawed understanding of the exercise of the freedoms of assembly and the press in the United States, which results in what is at times a comically arrogant disdain for these human rights. See the full interview for more discussion on legal rights, amnesty and the jailing of opposition leaders. 

The president's stance utterly owns his designation as "Europe's last dictator," as he was recently described by former U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. He references ideas such as "propaganda" and "the fifth column" that smack of a Cold War rhetoric most in the West would be disappointed to learn had not vanished forever. The president goes so far as to offer a bizarre-o insinuation that President Obama may be assassinated and "repeat the fate of Kennedy" -- and this, according to the Belarusian leader, because he's not keeping a tight enough rein on his political opposition. 

The following are some of the interview's best parts, with Weymouth in italics and Lukashenko in regular typeface.

"If you hold an election and seven out of the nine candidates running against you end up in jail, it is not a very good signal to the West that [Belarus] is an open and democratic place. Plus, there were limits on the amount of money the candidates could raise and how much time they could spend on television. There was only one debate, and you did not participate.

"The question is not about the time limit the candidates [had] in the media. The question is what these candidates said. They were saying that Lukashenko needs to be hanged. Belarus is a wayward country. So, the Americans decided to treat the results of the elections in a very negative way."
"... If your security services had information that people were trying to engage in mass disturbances, they would arrest hundreds of thousands of people.
"I don't think so.
"You don't think so, but I know so."

"Why did you kick out the U.S. ambassador in 2008?

"Why do we need an ambassador who is masterminding the actions of the fifth column?
"Do you really believe this?

"I am the president of Belarus. I know this."

"What is your impression of President Obama?

"Good opinion, but you don't let him do his job.
"Who is "you?"
"The opposition.
"You mean Republicans?
"Not just Republicans - I mean businessmen, some part of the security forces. I don't think Obama would like to repeat the fate of Kennedy.
"Why did you bring that up?
"If Obama will go on pursuing his course of action, there will be people who may not like it. He will pursue the interest of the majority of his people, but there will be radical people who don't like this course of action. It may have bad consequences."