Commentary Magazine


Topic: Angela Merkel

Germany Takes a Bullet

According to a recent report, beefing up sanctions against Iran will cost the German taxpayer dearly: new sanctions will force the German government to pay significant sums (projected at 2 billion euros) to cover the losses incurred by German business. Germany is the biggest EU exporter of goods to Iran. Hundreds of German companies have subsidiaries and offices in Iran; many more attend annual industrial fairs, looking for lucrative deals. And while German companies are not at the forefront of the oil business in Iran, German technology provides Iran with the type of industrial machinery—including drilling and refining technology—that a modern economy needs to develop.

Indeed, all protestations to the contrary, if European companies—Germany, first and foremost—were to pull out of Iran and deny Iranian customers their products, it is highly doubtful that Chinese, Indian, or Russian companies could fill the void. Quantity is less important than quality when one looks at EU-Iran trade. Sure, if European oil companies pulled out of such giant projects as the South Pars oil fields, then Russian, Chinese, and Indian companies might line up to replace them. But, those who suggest that the main reason not to expand sanctions is that they are ineffective unless these other non-Western giants also support them forget that those countries’ industries cannot compete with Western technology. (At least not yet. Otherwise, why would the Iranians be so keen to buy “made in Europe?”)

Germany and its government must be praised for their newly found resolve to pay a steep price to pressure Iran. For the U.S., the choice between profit and principle was never there—its 27-year government-sanctioned embargo of Iran means that there are virtually no American economic and commercial interests to suffer from sanctions fallout. For Europeans, it is a different story. Their choice is real—and they have been roundly criticized for preferring profit over principle. Now it’s crunch time. Bravo to Angela Merkel then, for recognizing that a financial loss is easier to come to terms with (even at that exorbitant projected cost of 2 billion euros) than a nuclear Iran. And let’s hope that Merkel’s resolve—alongside that of the British and French governments, already committed to tougher sanctions—will sway those European leaders who still think that, nukes aside, with Iran it should be business as usual.

According to a recent report, beefing up sanctions against Iran will cost the German taxpayer dearly: new sanctions will force the German government to pay significant sums (projected at 2 billion euros) to cover the losses incurred by German business. Germany is the biggest EU exporter of goods to Iran. Hundreds of German companies have subsidiaries and offices in Iran; many more attend annual industrial fairs, looking for lucrative deals. And while German companies are not at the forefront of the oil business in Iran, German technology provides Iran with the type of industrial machinery—including drilling and refining technology—that a modern economy needs to develop.

Indeed, all protestations to the contrary, if European companies—Germany, first and foremost—were to pull out of Iran and deny Iranian customers their products, it is highly doubtful that Chinese, Indian, or Russian companies could fill the void. Quantity is less important than quality when one looks at EU-Iran trade. Sure, if European oil companies pulled out of such giant projects as the South Pars oil fields, then Russian, Chinese, and Indian companies might line up to replace them. But, those who suggest that the main reason not to expand sanctions is that they are ineffective unless these other non-Western giants also support them forget that those countries’ industries cannot compete with Western technology. (At least not yet. Otherwise, why would the Iranians be so keen to buy “made in Europe?”)

Germany and its government must be praised for their newly found resolve to pay a steep price to pressure Iran. For the U.S., the choice between profit and principle was never there—its 27-year government-sanctioned embargo of Iran means that there are virtually no American economic and commercial interests to suffer from sanctions fallout. For Europeans, it is a different story. Their choice is real—and they have been roundly criticized for preferring profit over principle. Now it’s crunch time. Bravo to Angela Merkel then, for recognizing that a financial loss is easier to come to terms with (even at that exorbitant projected cost of 2 billion euros) than a nuclear Iran. And let’s hope that Merkel’s resolve—alongside that of the British and French governments, already committed to tougher sanctions—will sway those European leaders who still think that, nukes aside, with Iran it should be business as usual.

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A Warning for Paulson

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, traveling yesterday in Africa, acknowledged the support of the G-20 nations for a “best practices” code for sovereign wealth funds. There could now be as much as $3 trillion in such vehicles, which are capital pools accumulated by foreign governments for investment abroad. The amount might be five times larger in half a decade.

“How do we actually deal with funds in state hands?” asks German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Her government is already drawing up plans to restrict investments from other countries. Paulson, on the other hand, has adopted a different approach. “I’d like nothing more than to get more of that money,” he said recently.

Do we really want to encourage what amounts to the “cross-border nationalization” of America’s private enterprises? Norway has a sovereign wealth fund thanks to its oil and gas revenues, but nobody is concerned about Oslo’s $350 billion because of its model management practices. Yet even the Norwegians have allowed political views to affect their investment decisions. They did not like Wal-Mart’s union and other labor practices, so the government divested its stock in the gigantic retailer. They did not try to influence Washington by buying up more of the shares so that they could use the Arkansas-based company to promote its views on, say, the war in Iraq.

Hugo Chavez hasn’t gone quite that far. But he has employed Citgo Petroleum to further his ideological goals. Beginning in 2005, the company, acquired by Venezuela two decades ago, has provided tens of millions of gallons of home heating oil at subsidized prices for poor families in several Northeast states as a stunt to embarrass the United States, and especially the Bush administration. Moreover, he has been gutting Citgo’s operations in the United States to support his “oil socialism” policies at home. As the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, political decisions made in Caracas are ruining the company’s business here. That’s a potential problem because Citgo, which is now run like a police state, owns 5 percent of our nation’s refining capacity. Chavez, should he want to, could throw the American oil market into turmoil merely by turning off the switch.

Our open investment policies are based on the notion that America will prosper as foreign parties participate in the economy. Yet Chavez is beginning to undermine this fundamental assumption, and he is giving no indication that Paulson’s best practices code will deter him. When despots control trillions of dollars in funds, prohibiting investments from autocrats is not protectionist—it’s plain common sense.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, traveling yesterday in Africa, acknowledged the support of the G-20 nations for a “best practices” code for sovereign wealth funds. There could now be as much as $3 trillion in such vehicles, which are capital pools accumulated by foreign governments for investment abroad. The amount might be five times larger in half a decade.

“How do we actually deal with funds in state hands?” asks German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Her government is already drawing up plans to restrict investments from other countries. Paulson, on the other hand, has adopted a different approach. “I’d like nothing more than to get more of that money,” he said recently.

Do we really want to encourage what amounts to the “cross-border nationalization” of America’s private enterprises? Norway has a sovereign wealth fund thanks to its oil and gas revenues, but nobody is concerned about Oslo’s $350 billion because of its model management practices. Yet even the Norwegians have allowed political views to affect their investment decisions. They did not like Wal-Mart’s union and other labor practices, so the government divested its stock in the gigantic retailer. They did not try to influence Washington by buying up more of the shares so that they could use the Arkansas-based company to promote its views on, say, the war in Iraq.

Hugo Chavez hasn’t gone quite that far. But he has employed Citgo Petroleum to further his ideological goals. Beginning in 2005, the company, acquired by Venezuela two decades ago, has provided tens of millions of gallons of home heating oil at subsidized prices for poor families in several Northeast states as a stunt to embarrass the United States, and especially the Bush administration. Moreover, he has been gutting Citgo’s operations in the United States to support his “oil socialism” policies at home. As the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, political decisions made in Caracas are ruining the company’s business here. That’s a potential problem because Citgo, which is now run like a police state, owns 5 percent of our nation’s refining capacity. Chavez, should he want to, could throw the American oil market into turmoil merely by turning off the switch.

Our open investment policies are based on the notion that America will prosper as foreign parties participate in the economy. Yet Chavez is beginning to undermine this fundamental assumption, and he is giving no indication that Paulson’s best practices code will deter him. When despots control trillions of dollars in funds, prohibiting investments from autocrats is not protectionist—it’s plain common sense.

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Tempest over Tibet

Today, Beijing issued a warning to Washington over the planned award of the Congressional Gold Medal to the Dalai Lama. “The move will seriously damage China-U.S. relations,” said Liu Jianchao, a Foreign Ministry spokesman. He also noted that his country hoped that the United States would “correct its mistakes” and cancel the “relevant arrangements.” Those arrangements include President Bush’s receiving His Holiness at the White House today and House Speaker Pelosi’s presenting the award tomorrow at the Capitol. The increasingly visible Laura Bush will attend tomorrow’s ceremony. And so will her husband, who will be speaking at the event. He will be the first sitting President to appear publicly with the 1989 Nobel laureate.

The Chinese government has already shown its displeasure at American defiance of its wishes. Beijing diplomats have raised the issue a number of times at the ambassadorial level. Furthermore, earlier this month Beijing put off a visit by Wu Bangguo, the second-ranked Communist Party leader, to the United States. Beijing has also pulled out of a meeting, scheduled for tomorrow in Berlin, to talk about Iran.

On Sunday, the German government announced that China had canceled upcoming human rights talks (supposed to take place in December) with Chancellor Angela Merkel. The German foreign ministry refused to give any reason for the change in plans, yet an explanation was unnecessary. Beijing’s diplomats have been complaining publicly for weeks that Merkel had met with the world’s most famous refugee last month. In fact, they had been protesting the visit before she received His Holiness, and the cancellation announced Sunday is only the latest in a series of meetings the Chinese have aborted with their German counterparts since last month.

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Today, Beijing issued a warning to Washington over the planned award of the Congressional Gold Medal to the Dalai Lama. “The move will seriously damage China-U.S. relations,” said Liu Jianchao, a Foreign Ministry spokesman. He also noted that his country hoped that the United States would “correct its mistakes” and cancel the “relevant arrangements.” Those arrangements include President Bush’s receiving His Holiness at the White House today and House Speaker Pelosi’s presenting the award tomorrow at the Capitol. The increasingly visible Laura Bush will attend tomorrow’s ceremony. And so will her husband, who will be speaking at the event. He will be the first sitting President to appear publicly with the 1989 Nobel laureate.

The Chinese government has already shown its displeasure at American defiance of its wishes. Beijing diplomats have raised the issue a number of times at the ambassadorial level. Furthermore, earlier this month Beijing put off a visit by Wu Bangguo, the second-ranked Communist Party leader, to the United States. Beijing has also pulled out of a meeting, scheduled for tomorrow in Berlin, to talk about Iran.

On Sunday, the German government announced that China had canceled upcoming human rights talks (supposed to take place in December) with Chancellor Angela Merkel. The German foreign ministry refused to give any reason for the change in plans, yet an explanation was unnecessary. Beijing’s diplomats have been complaining publicly for weeks that Merkel had met with the world’s most famous refugee last month. In fact, they had been protesting the visit before she received His Holiness, and the cancellation announced Sunday is only the latest in a series of meetings the Chinese have aborted with their German counterparts since last month.

Unfortunately for the Chinese, they’re rapidly losing their ability to intimidate Western leaders over Tibet. All of them recognize Beijing’s sovereignty over Tibetan homelands, but increasingly few of them are willing to shun the Dalai Lama. In addition to Merkel, Australia’s John Howard and Austria’s Alfred Gusenbauer met with him over the course of the last few months. Canada’s Stephen Harper will receive the famous Tibetan this month.

Chinese diplomats are ramping up their threats, but few are listening. Nobody believes that human rights dialogues with Beijing are effective, and Wu’s trip to the United States was more for China’s benefit than ours. It’s a shame that China won’t attend the Berlin meeting on Iran, but that will be rescheduled—and in any event Chinese attendance would only complicate matters.

Who cares if the Chinese authoritarians huff and puff? They need the West more than the West needs them. So let them threaten all they want. Why should we prevent the Chinese from creating a diplomatic disaster for themselves?

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Hello, Dalai!

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the new face of Western resolve, will meet with the Dalai Lama this Sunday. In a move obviously intended to further rile Beijing, Germany’s leader will receive His Holiness in the German chancellery.

China immediately summoned Berlin’s ambassador to complain. Chinese diplomats are busy these days because this week they also objected to the Tibetan’s upcoming visit with Canada’s Stephen Harper, scheduled for next month. The Canadian prime minister also went out of his way to poke the Chinese in the eye by announcing that he too would receive the Nobel laureate in a government facility (the Dalai Lama’s last meeting with a Canadian leader, which took place in 2004, was a five-minute affair in the residence of the Roman Catholic archbishop in Ottawa).

China’s dominant Han ethnic group has struggled to control the Tibetans for centuries, but the Chinese Communist Party has opened an especially ugly chapter in this history by trying to suppress—and even eliminate—Tibetan folklore and customs. Many call Beijing’s “modernization” efforts “cultural genocide.” China’s current supremo, Hu Jintao, should be able to shed some light on this. After all, as Party secretary for Tibet he presided over a crackdown that led to the deaths of dozens and perhaps hundreds of citizens in 1989. Many believe he was chosen to be China’s leader precisely because of his brutal repression of the Tibetans.

President Bush, to his credit, has hosted the Dalai Lama. That, however, was the old Dubya. The exhausted president we see today has been reduced to throwing South Lawn events for Chinese authoritarians, denigrating Taiwanese democrats, and helping Beijing repress its Muslims. We know that something must be terribly wrong when a Canadian leader appears more inspiring than ours.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the new face of Western resolve, will meet with the Dalai Lama this Sunday. In a move obviously intended to further rile Beijing, Germany’s leader will receive His Holiness in the German chancellery.

China immediately summoned Berlin’s ambassador to complain. Chinese diplomats are busy these days because this week they also objected to the Tibetan’s upcoming visit with Canada’s Stephen Harper, scheduled for next month. The Canadian prime minister also went out of his way to poke the Chinese in the eye by announcing that he too would receive the Nobel laureate in a government facility (the Dalai Lama’s last meeting with a Canadian leader, which took place in 2004, was a five-minute affair in the residence of the Roman Catholic archbishop in Ottawa).

China’s dominant Han ethnic group has struggled to control the Tibetans for centuries, but the Chinese Communist Party has opened an especially ugly chapter in this history by trying to suppress—and even eliminate—Tibetan folklore and customs. Many call Beijing’s “modernization” efforts “cultural genocide.” China’s current supremo, Hu Jintao, should be able to shed some light on this. After all, as Party secretary for Tibet he presided over a crackdown that led to the deaths of dozens and perhaps hundreds of citizens in 1989. Many believe he was chosen to be China’s leader precisely because of his brutal repression of the Tibetans.

President Bush, to his credit, has hosted the Dalai Lama. That, however, was the old Dubya. The exhausted president we see today has been reduced to throwing South Lawn events for Chinese authoritarians, denigrating Taiwanese democrats, and helping Beijing repress its Muslims. We know that something must be terribly wrong when a Canadian leader appears more inspiring than ours.

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The Politics of Investment

On Monday, German chancellor Angela Merkel said that her government is thinking of enacting measures that would prevent funds controlled by foreign governments from buying German businesses. The concept is simple: if countries are not open to German capital, Germany won’t be open to them either.

The measure seems prompted by Russia’s interest in increasing its 5-percent stake in the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company, the principal shareholder of Airbus. As Merkel noted on Monday, state-controlled buyers don’t always have commercial considerations in mind when they make corporate acquisitions.

Of course, Moscow is not the only predator on the global scene. There is also the world’s largest holder of foreign currency reserves: China. Today, China is sitting on $1.2 trillion in “forex” (called “the greatest fortune ever assembled”) and is creating a vehicle, the State Investment Company, to invest these holdings. Analyst Andy Xie has forecast that China could end up with over $10 trillion in net foreign assets—about five times what Japan possesses.

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On Monday, German chancellor Angela Merkel said that her government is thinking of enacting measures that would prevent funds controlled by foreign governments from buying German businesses. The concept is simple: if countries are not open to German capital, Germany won’t be open to them either.

The measure seems prompted by Russia’s interest in increasing its 5-percent stake in the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company, the principal shareholder of Airbus. As Merkel noted on Monday, state-controlled buyers don’t always have commercial considerations in mind when they make corporate acquisitions.

Of course, Moscow is not the only predator on the global scene. There is also the world’s largest holder of foreign currency reserves: China. Today, China is sitting on $1.2 trillion in “forex” (called “the greatest fortune ever assembled”) and is creating a vehicle, the State Investment Company, to invest these holdings. Analyst Andy Xie has forecast that China could end up with over $10 trillion in net foreign assets—about five times what Japan possesses.


At the same time, Beijing is restricting foreign purchases of Chinese businesses. On Tuesday, Chongqing Commercial Bank announced that the China Banking Regulatory Commission will not allow the Carlyle Group to take an 8-percent stake in the regional lender. This comes on top of Beijing’s requiring the Washington-based investment firm to pare down its proposed shareholding in Xugong Group Construction Machinery.

How to stem the tide of government-backed investors implementing decisions made by distant politburos? We should begin by following Merkel’s lead and requiring investment reciprocity with China. And that may be just the first step in rethinking the free flow of capital. When autocrats begin using economic leverage against Western democracies, investment across national boundaries becomes more than a purely economic matter.

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Crazed Kaletsky

London Times columnist Anatole Kaletsky is a guru to the kind of people who are gullible enough to be impressed by a smattering of economics. His columns typically skate over the arguments, while always hinting at a vast body of evidence to back up his wilder assertions.

Now Kaletsky has launched a pre-emptive strike against those in the United States who believe that Iran must be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons at all costs, and specifically Norman Podhoretz in COMMENTARY. (Kaletsky’s article can be read here.)

Kaletsky makes no attempt to answer Podhoretz’s arguments, which are detailed and cogent. True to form, he prefers to dismiss the Iranian nuclear threat in favor of ad hominem abuse. Echoing the U.N. nuclear inspector Mohamed ElBaradei, who slanders those who advocate a tough line with Iran as “crazies,” Kaletsky makes some crazy claims himself: “There is now strong evidence,” he writes, “that President Bush didn’t even know the difference between Shia and Sunni Muslims when he decided to attack Iraq.” Kaletsky produces no such evidence, for the simple reason that the claim is demonstrably untrue.

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London Times columnist Anatole Kaletsky is a guru to the kind of people who are gullible enough to be impressed by a smattering of economics. His columns typically skate over the arguments, while always hinting at a vast body of evidence to back up his wilder assertions.

Now Kaletsky has launched a pre-emptive strike against those in the United States who believe that Iran must be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons at all costs, and specifically Norman Podhoretz in COMMENTARY. (Kaletsky’s article can be read here.)

Kaletsky makes no attempt to answer Podhoretz’s arguments, which are detailed and cogent. True to form, he prefers to dismiss the Iranian nuclear threat in favor of ad hominem abuse. Echoing the U.N. nuclear inspector Mohamed ElBaradei, who slanders those who advocate a tough line with Iran as “crazies,” Kaletsky makes some crazy claims himself: “There is now strong evidence,” he writes, “that President Bush didn’t even know the difference between Shia and Sunni Muslims when he decided to attack Iraq.” Kaletsky produces no such evidence, for the simple reason that the claim is demonstrably untrue.

Kalestsky has been trying to persuade Gordon Brown to break with Tony Blair’s policies for some time. Now Kaletsky urges Brown to choose what he calls the “genuinely courageous option”:

This is to positively forestall further disasters by breaking publicly with the Bush Administration and trying to develop a genuine European alternative to the suicidal American-led policies, not only in Iraq, but also in Israel, Palestine and Iran.

We shall soon see if Brown is foolish enough to listen to such voices. On an unannounced visit to Iraq a few days ago, Brown sought to reassure Iraqi officials that he has no intention of ordering a precipitous withdrawal of British forces. It is unlikely that Brown would have done this if he were on the point of breaking with the Bush Administration—or even with his predecessor’s foreign policy.

It would be fatal for a new British prime minister to try to exploit anti-Americanism just as Nicolas Sarkozy in France and Angela Merkel in Germany are both mending fences with Washington, while central and eastern Europeans are falling back on NATO in the face of bullying by Putin’s Russia.

If Brown were to distance his government from the United States or Israel, he would quickly discover exactly why Blair values these alliances so much. For when the war on Islamist terror widens into a direct confrontation with Iran, as it is very likely to do during the remainder of Bush’s and Brown’s terms of office, those European states that have failed the Iraqis so badly will suddenly require American protection against missile attack. They will also need American intelligence. If the Iranians were to carry out their threat to activate terrorist cells, possibly armed with WMD, in Europe, then U.S. assistance—logistical, medical, and military—could be needed on a large scale.

The “crazies” are not those who are now urging Americans to start behaving as if they were at war. America is at war. So is Europe. Thanks to the likes of Kaletsky, Europeans just don’t know it yet.

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Tutoiement Partout

Tu or vous? Du or Sie? In English, the second person singular has long since ceased to be a source of political controversy—though in the days when Quakers insisted on calling their social superiors “Thee” and “Thou,” it mattered very much. In French and German, it still matters.

Newly elected French President Nicolas Sarkozy raised eyebrows in Berlin last week on his first official visit by presuming to tutoie Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor: “Chère Angela . . . J’ai confiance en toi.” (Dear Angela . . . I have confidence in you.) Frau Merkel, who addressed him as “Lieber Nicolas” (Dear Nicolas), responded with the formal Sie, at least in public. The French press noted the disparity and gently mocked Mr. Sarkozy—though not nearly as harshly as they did Tony Blair. Blair once dared to tutoie Jacques Chirac, who liked to stand on his dignity as a head of state, deserving deference from mere heads of government. The British prime minister was firmly put in his place. What sounded to British ears like Mr. Chirac’s pomposity was, however, approved of by the French. His Socialist predecessor François Mitterrand was once asked if he would mind if he were addressed as tu: “Si vous voulez” was his reply.

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Tu or vous? Du or Sie? In English, the second person singular has long since ceased to be a source of political controversy—though in the days when Quakers insisted on calling their social superiors “Thee” and “Thou,” it mattered very much. In French and German, it still matters.

Newly elected French President Nicolas Sarkozy raised eyebrows in Berlin last week on his first official visit by presuming to tutoie Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor: “Chère Angela . . . J’ai confiance en toi.” (Dear Angela . . . I have confidence in you.) Frau Merkel, who addressed him as “Lieber Nicolas” (Dear Nicolas), responded with the formal Sie, at least in public. The French press noted the disparity and gently mocked Mr. Sarkozy—though not nearly as harshly as they did Tony Blair. Blair once dared to tutoie Jacques Chirac, who liked to stand on his dignity as a head of state, deserving deference from mere heads of government. The British prime minister was firmly put in his place. What sounded to British ears like Mr. Chirac’s pomposity was, however, approved of by the French. His Socialist predecessor François Mitterrand was once asked if he would mind if he were addressed as tu: “Si vous voulez” was his reply.

But the proper use of tu and vous is complex. After the French Revolution, the distinction was abolished in the interests of egalité et fraternité. In 1793, the Directory even banned vous altogether. It did not take long, however, for the formal mode of address to make a comeback. In the sixth edition of the great dictionary of the Académie Française, published in 1835, the article on tu is quite explicit: “One does not normally use these pronouns . . . except when speaking to very inferior persons, or to those with whom one is on terms of very great familiarity.” The lexicographer notes various exceptions, including the poetic use of tu when addressing kings, princes, and even God. Foreigners, “particularly Orientals,” were sometimes made to use tu in literary texts “in order to preserve their alien character.” In all other contexts, vous is mandatory.

Now Mr. Sarkozy has decreed that French schools must insist on students saying vous to their teachers. Les profs are strongly advised to pay their older pupils the same compliment. This order represents a minor cultural counter-revolution, in line with the new president’s promise to “liquidate the legacy of May 1968, with its abandonment of moral codes.” But according to an excellent report by Charles Bremner in the London Times, the conservative French newspaper Le Figaro sees the “rampant tutoiement” as “spreading from the business world imitating the Anglo-Saxons and now invading private life.”

This is a bit rich: how often do you hear Americans or Britons say “thee” or “thou” to one another—unless they are performing Shakespeare? The truth is that the informal second person singular in English went out with the Victorians, except in poetry (and was considered old-fashioned even then). Blame for the triumph of tutoiement simply cannot be assigned to the Anglosphere. But you can’t keep the French from blaming everything they don’t like about themselves on “les Anglo-Saxons.”

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The German View

There has been much talk about the improvement in American-German relations since Angela Merkel, who grew up in Communist East Germany, took over as chancellor and Gerhard Schroeder, her oleaginous predecessor, who used anti-Americanism as one of his central campaign issues, left office to take a job as a shill for a Kremlin-owned oil company. There is no doubt a great deal of truth to this talk. But, as I discovered during a week as a guest of the American Academy in Berlin, the two countries’ perceptions remain as far apart as ever on a variety of foreign-policy issues.

In the U.S., the biggest issue at the moment is the Iraq war. In Germany it is missile defense—specifically an American plan to deploy a limited missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic to provide protection against Iranian missiles. Russian President Vladimir Putin, even though he knows the planned shield is far too small to interfere with Russia’s massive ICBM force, has vehemently decried this as an act of aggression against his country. (How can a defensive system be aggressive? To answer that question would require a long foray back into the arms-control theology of the 1970′s and 80′s.)

The Germans are in a tizzy because they don’t want to offend Russia. Many still see the country’s role as being a “bridge” between East and West, much as in the cold-war days of Willy Brandt’s ostpolitik. A cynic might note other German interests, such as keeping natural gas from Russia flowing. But whatever the cause, various German officials I spoke with anxiously inquired if there was some way to compromise on the missile-defense plan so as dampen growing tensions with Russia.

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There has been much talk about the improvement in American-German relations since Angela Merkel, who grew up in Communist East Germany, took over as chancellor and Gerhard Schroeder, her oleaginous predecessor, who used anti-Americanism as one of his central campaign issues, left office to take a job as a shill for a Kremlin-owned oil company. There is no doubt a great deal of truth to this talk. But, as I discovered during a week as a guest of the American Academy in Berlin, the two countries’ perceptions remain as far apart as ever on a variety of foreign-policy issues.

In the U.S., the biggest issue at the moment is the Iraq war. In Germany it is missile defense—specifically an American plan to deploy a limited missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic to provide protection against Iranian missiles. Russian President Vladimir Putin, even though he knows the planned shield is far too small to interfere with Russia’s massive ICBM force, has vehemently decried this as an act of aggression against his country. (How can a defensive system be aggressive? To answer that question would require a long foray back into the arms-control theology of the 1970′s and 80′s.)

The Germans are in a tizzy because they don’t want to offend Russia. Many still see the country’s role as being a “bridge” between East and West, much as in the cold-war days of Willy Brandt’s ostpolitik. A cynic might note other German interests, such as keeping natural gas from Russia flowing. But whatever the cause, various German officials I spoke with anxiously inquired if there was some way to compromise on the missile-defense plan so as dampen growing tensions with Russia.

Germans are also anxious to compromise with Iran. A number of them wanted to know if the U.S. was serious about attacking the mullahs’ nuclear program. They have been reinforced in their preference for talk over military action by the quagmire they see in Iraq. They wonder why Americans can’t see the light too.

Germans are now willing to send their military abroad—but only if it won’t be used for combat. The Bundestag has just approved the deployment of six Tornado aircraft to southern Afghanistan following a wrenching debate, even though the Tornados will be used for reconnaissance only. As for German troops, some 3,000 of them are in Afghanistan, but they are not allowed to venture anywhere where they might get shot at; they are not even allowed to come to the aid of NATO allies who are under fire. The German officers I spoke with seemed eager to take a more direct role in the fighting, but the consensus of politicians and journalists was that this will never happen.

Why not? An American observer offered an interesting explanation. It is not so much that the Germans are afraid of getting their own troops killed, he said; they are more afraid of what their troops might do. They realize that counterinsurgency is a nasty type of warfare and that troops of any nationality are liable to commit some excesses. Germans, this American suggested, are deathly afraid that combat atrocities might revive old stereotypes about German militarism. Thus the Germans will continue to stress “soft” power while we (and, to a lesser extent, the Brits) perform the “hard” tasks.

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News from the Continent: Victor’s Justice

It is hardly newsworthy that Europe generally opposes the death penalty. It would be foolish to think that the execution of Saddam Hussein would prove an exception to this cultural rule. To be fair, Europe’s officialdom was somewhat muted in its criticisms of the execution. While the Vatican called Hussein’s execution “tragic news,” and many British bishops decried the loss of life, Britain’s foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, said that Saddam had now been “held to account.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel adopted similarly cautious language: “We respect the verdict, but the German government is known to be opposed in principle to the death penalty.” The French foreign minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, simply “acknowledged” the execution and called on Iraqis to work now for national reconciliation. Much as they might object in principle to capital punishment, European officials were not going to lose sleep, in short, over Saddam’s hanging.

The European press was a different matter. Take the article “No more gallows!” penned by Paolo Mieli, editor of Italy’s leading daily, Il Corriere della Sera, on January 1. Mieli objects to the death penalty in all circumstances but especially for punishing leaders of the vanquished party in wartime. He went so far as to cast doubt on the justice and fairness of the Nuremberg trials. For Mieli, tyrants deserve milder forms of punishment, like detention or exile. The Irish edition of the Sunday Mirror concurred, on the grounds that the death penalty is something that “the civilized world” should always condemn. And the French 24 Heures was on the same wavelength: on December 28, the subtitle of its piece on the forthcoming execution quoted a Human Rights Watch representative as saying “Even for a tyrant, the death penalty remains barbaric.”

Farther from the mainstream, the French Communist newspaper, L’Humanité, smelled a cover-up, informing readers in a January 2 op-ed by Hassane Zerrouky that “the fear of revelations about how Western countries were implicated in the crimes of the dictator explains the desire to eliminate him before he could reveal embarrassing details.” The trial was “a parody of justice,” he wrote, liberally interspersing the names of French companies with those of Rumsfeld, Halliburton, and Bechtel. The message was clear: the real criminals were the leaders and governments ultimately responsible for Saddam’s hanging. The Independent’s Robert Fisk seemed to be of the same opinion. In a December 31 article, he managed to sublimate his disappointment by turning Saddam’s death into a happy occasion for America-bashing: “We’ve shut him up. The moment Saddam’s hooded executioner pulled the lever . . . Washington’s secrets were safe.” Joining this chorus in the January 1 edition of the Guardian, Tariq Ali called Saddam’s execution a “colonial hanging” and a cover-up besides: “what is conveniently forgotten is that most of his crimes were committed when he was a staunch ally of those who are now occupying the country.”

Such rhetoric even found its way into London’s usually more responsible Independent. A December 31 editorial called the verdict – and hanging – “Victor’s Justice,” a theme that also featured prominently in the Mail on Sunday (“A grisly act of victor’s justice that will do nothing to bring peace”) and in its daily twin (“Justice? No, a sordid show of mob vengeance”). The Independent saw no conspiracy and took only some issue with expediency. But it criticized Saddam’s hanging on broader, philosophical grounds: “the deliberate taking of a human life is a crime. It cannot be right, therefore, to punish a crime by committing another. Ultimately, nothing can resist the force of that argument, and eventually the death penalty will be outlawed all over the world. But not, yet, in Iraq, or most southern states of the U.S.”

That journalists tacked irrelevant jabs at the U.S. onto their criticisms of Hussein’s execution removed none of the weight from arguments claiming that, despite his heinous crimes, Hussein should still have been allowed to live. But whatever merit humanitarian philosophical arguments against capital punishment may have, they are difficult to apply in the face of the facts. Saddam was not a candidate for moral or political rehabilitation. His death was the least that the mute cries of his two million victims required—not victor’s justice but the justice of the vanquished. No more gallows? We can only hope. But we know, at least, that there will be no more gallows erected by Saddam Hussein—despite those who remained silent during his brutal reign and raised an outcry only at his death.

It is hardly newsworthy that Europe generally opposes the death penalty. It would be foolish to think that the execution of Saddam Hussein would prove an exception to this cultural rule. To be fair, Europe’s officialdom was somewhat muted in its criticisms of the execution. While the Vatican called Hussein’s execution “tragic news,” and many British bishops decried the loss of life, Britain’s foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, said that Saddam had now been “held to account.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel adopted similarly cautious language: “We respect the verdict, but the German government is known to be opposed in principle to the death penalty.” The French foreign minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, simply “acknowledged” the execution and called on Iraqis to work now for national reconciliation. Much as they might object in principle to capital punishment, European officials were not going to lose sleep, in short, over Saddam’s hanging.

The European press was a different matter. Take the article “No more gallows!” penned by Paolo Mieli, editor of Italy’s leading daily, Il Corriere della Sera, on January 1. Mieli objects to the death penalty in all circumstances but especially for punishing leaders of the vanquished party in wartime. He went so far as to cast doubt on the justice and fairness of the Nuremberg trials. For Mieli, tyrants deserve milder forms of punishment, like detention or exile. The Irish edition of the Sunday Mirror concurred, on the grounds that the death penalty is something that “the civilized world” should always condemn. And the French 24 Heures was on the same wavelength: on December 28, the subtitle of its piece on the forthcoming execution quoted a Human Rights Watch representative as saying “Even for a tyrant, the death penalty remains barbaric.”

Farther from the mainstream, the French Communist newspaper, L’Humanité, smelled a cover-up, informing readers in a January 2 op-ed by Hassane Zerrouky that “the fear of revelations about how Western countries were implicated in the crimes of the dictator explains the desire to eliminate him before he could reveal embarrassing details.” The trial was “a parody of justice,” he wrote, liberally interspersing the names of French companies with those of Rumsfeld, Halliburton, and Bechtel. The message was clear: the real criminals were the leaders and governments ultimately responsible for Saddam’s hanging. The Independent’s Robert Fisk seemed to be of the same opinion. In a December 31 article, he managed to sublimate his disappointment by turning Saddam’s death into a happy occasion for America-bashing: “We’ve shut him up. The moment Saddam’s hooded executioner pulled the lever . . . Washington’s secrets were safe.” Joining this chorus in the January 1 edition of the Guardian, Tariq Ali called Saddam’s execution a “colonial hanging” and a cover-up besides: “what is conveniently forgotten is that most of his crimes were committed when he was a staunch ally of those who are now occupying the country.”

Such rhetoric even found its way into London’s usually more responsible Independent. A December 31 editorial called the verdict – and hanging – “Victor’s Justice,” a theme that also featured prominently in the Mail on Sunday (“A grisly act of victor’s justice that will do nothing to bring peace”) and in its daily twin (“Justice? No, a sordid show of mob vengeance”). The Independent saw no conspiracy and took only some issue with expediency. But it criticized Saddam’s hanging on broader, philosophical grounds: “the deliberate taking of a human life is a crime. It cannot be right, therefore, to punish a crime by committing another. Ultimately, nothing can resist the force of that argument, and eventually the death penalty will be outlawed all over the world. But not, yet, in Iraq, or most southern states of the U.S.”

That journalists tacked irrelevant jabs at the U.S. onto their criticisms of Hussein’s execution removed none of the weight from arguments claiming that, despite his heinous crimes, Hussein should still have been allowed to live. But whatever merit humanitarian philosophical arguments against capital punishment may have, they are difficult to apply in the face of the facts. Saddam was not a candidate for moral or political rehabilitation. His death was the least that the mute cries of his two million victims required—not victor’s justice but the justice of the vanquished. No more gallows? We can only hope. But we know, at least, that there will be no more gallows erected by Saddam Hussein—despite those who remained silent during his brutal reign and raised an outcry only at his death.

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