Commentary Magazine


Topic: Germany

Europe’s Jews: Unwanted, Dead or Alive

When the historian and founding president of Brandeis Abram Sachar wrote a history of the Jewish journey from the death camps to the establishment of the State of Israel, he called it The Redemption of the Unwanted. I’ve always found the term to be depressingly appropriate, both as a profound statement on the flipside of the Jews being the “chosen people” and as an insight into postwar Jewry.

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When the historian and founding president of Brandeis Abram Sachar wrote a history of the Jewish journey from the death camps to the establishment of the State of Israel, he called it The Redemption of the Unwanted. I’ve always found the term to be depressingly appropriate, both as a profound statement on the flipside of the Jews being the “chosen people” and as an insight into postwar Jewry.

Though the Holocaust was over, anti-Semitism was not. And while some Jews bravely chose to rebuild from the rubble–they were rebuilding not just European Jewry but Europe itself, though their European brethren would never concede as much–the Jewish people had understood their status. They were not fleeting victims or convenient scapegoats (or at least not only those things); they were unwanted, dead or alive.

That’s how it must have felt in the days, months, and years after the war. But now that decades have come and gone, should they still feel that way? Europe’s answer, repeated over the weekend, seems to be a clear yes. The main story of Sunday’s bubbling over of European anti-Semitism was the anti-Jewish rioting–perhaps attempted pogrom is a better term–at a Paris synagogue, in which Jews were trapped until evening by anti-Semitic protesters who “tried to force their way into a Paris synagogue Sunday with bats and chairs, then fought with security officers who blocked their way, according to police and a witness.”

The worst part is the sense of inevitability of the violence. Business Insider’s report on the incident has to include one of the most absurd qualifiers you’ll ever read in such a case. Here’s their opening sentence: “French interior minister Manuel Valls condemned ‘with the greatest force’ attacks on two Paris synagogues Sunday by pro-Palestinian protesters who broke away from an otherwise peaceful demonstration.”

It was an “otherwise peaceful demonstration”–you know, besides the attempted pogrom. (Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln….) And surely it is to be appreciated that the French government condemns pogroms. But is it ungrateful to point out that condemning the regular violence against Jews in France is just maybe not enough–not nearly? French Jews are voting with their feet because they feel unwanted, and they feel unwanted because the French state either can’t do anything about France’s horrendous anti-Semitism–a second synagogue was firebombed in Paris yesterday–or it won’t. Either way, the message is clear.

France was not the only location of European anti-Semitism yesterday. And though it may have been minor in comparison–and though there were anti-Semitic outbursts outside Europe too–the symbolism of one of the other incidents must have been truly terrifying. It was in Germany, and here is what happened, according to the AP:

German police allowed an anti-Israel protester to climb inside a police car and shout slogans including “child murderer Israel” and “Allahu akbar!” — Arabic for “God is Great!” — through a police megaphone, a spokeswoman for Frankfurt’s police said Sunday.

Police let the protester use the megaphone during a Free Gaza demonstration Saturday because he had offered to calm down a protest that had turned violent, spokeswoman Virginie Wegner told The Associated Press.

“We as police had come up spontaneously with this unusual method and he abused it — we didn’t expect that,” Wegner said, adding that police were investigating the incident. “Police are neutral during protests.”

Instead of calming things down, the protester — whose identity was not revealed — shouted anti-Israel slogans in German and Arabic in downtown Frankfurt. A video that went viral shows a crowd following the police car, cheering and repeating the chants.

I doubt the Jews of Germany will soon forget hearing anti-Jewish slogans shouted from a police megaphone–in 2014. There are a couple of things wrong with the Frankfurt police’s response. Obviously, letting a protester into the police car to access the megaphone was a boneheaded mistake. But then Wegner defends the police by saying, first, “we didn’t expect that,” and then saying “Police are neutral during protests.”

Well, maybe they should have expected it, and hopefully will from now on. As for their neutrality, it is clearly neutrality in theory not in practice, and it is not doing law and order any favors.

Pogroms in Paris, thuggish intimidation in Germany: does European Jewry have a future? It’s a question we keep asking, though I suspect we keep asking it because we don’t like the apparent answer–like the kid who keeps shaking and re-shaking the magic eight ball until the right prediction comes up. Clarity might be more helpful, which the anti-Semitic incidents do provide. Europe’s anti-Semites could not be clearer: their hatred of Jews has nothing to do with Israeli self-defense. It’s just a convenient excuse to target the unwanted.

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What’s Chuck Hagel’s Problem with Germany?

Once upon a time, then-senator and Democratic nominee for president Barack Obama came to Germany to seek his coronation as an internationalist after what he—and many Germans—considered the dark years of Bush unilateralism.

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Once upon a time, then-senator and Democratic nominee for president Barack Obama came to Germany to seek his coronation as an internationalist after what he—and many Germans—considered the dark years of Bush unilateralism.

Fast-forward six years, and relations between Washington and Berlin have reached their post-World War II nadir. German Chancellor Angela Merkel resents greatly revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency spied on her personal telephone. To be fair, that is not President Obama’s fault, but a practice which precedes him. And, also to be fair, the Germans hardly have their noses clean when it comes to spying. If that episode had only just begun to heal, new revelations of American spying in Germany threaten to re-open the scar.

It could get worse. If the Germans chose to dig deeper, they might be surprised at the training which Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel requires of all Defense Department employees who visit or even transit Germany. Hagel, in his wisdom, mandates that all Defense Department employees undergo an extensive, if often irrelevant, nine-hour “Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE)” training course to receive online instruction on how to evade hostile locals and their police forces and administer creative first aid remedies to avoid having to go to local hospitals or even pharmacies. Now, those in the military who have had to do the real course rather than the online, computer version understand what a joke it is to believe you can learn how to deal with captivity, torture, and extreme duress from a typical Pentagon online training unit, especially one that most computers ironically can’t handle because of the extensive bandwidth required. Taking online SERE training is sort of like taking weaponry training with a water pistol. But, Hagel nonetheless requires it. Perhaps he wants his employees to be able to learn how to forage while in Germany because he does not trust the sandwich shops at the Frankfurt Airport.

The reason why Hagel continues to require such training which he admittedly inherited from his predecessors is probably poor management, but that’s no excuse for the defense secretary seemingly not recognizing that World War II is over and that there is no reason why he and the bureaucracy over which he presides should treat Germany, Canada, Norway, and Japan in the same manner as Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Nigeria. Still, given what the Defense Department bureaucracy requires ahead of travel to Germany, it should come as no surprise should relations between Berlin and Washington fall further. Perhaps, though, simply replacing mindless training with a dose of common sense could do both relations and Pentagon productivity some good.

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The Great War at 100

The 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914, has come and gone, prompting a lot of reflections on the significance and implications of World War I. Even if Gavrilo Princip’s shots were only the excuse, not the real cause, of the Great War, it is hard to exaggerate their significance.

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The 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914, has come and gone, prompting a lot of reflections on the significance and implications of World War I. Even if Gavrilo Princip’s shots were only the excuse, not the real cause, of the Great War, it is hard to exaggerate their significance.

The conflict swept away the entire Ottoman and Habsburg empires along with the governments of Germany, Austria, Turkey, Russia, and other states. It led to the creation of the modern Balkans and the modern Middle East. Nazism, fascism, and Communism–all the great ideological ills of the 20th century–would never have become as virulent as they did absent the devastation wrought by the 1914-1918 conflict. There would have been no Stalin in power, no Hitler, and there would have been no World War II–and hence no Korean War or Vietnam War. It is impossible to imagine how history would have gone otherwise but it would have been incomparably different–and probably for the better.

Even now, with those terrible “isms” having all but disappeared (mercifully!) and with some of the post-World War I states either gone (Yugoslavia) or on the verge of extinction (Syria, Iraq), the legacy of the war lives on. It can be seen not just in the long, depressing rows of crosses to be found in military cemeteries from the Somme to Verdun, nor in the statues of Franz Ferdinand and Gavrilo Pricip now to be found in Sarajevo. It can be found, still, in the map of Europe and the Middle East which, for all of the recent turmoil, largely reflects the legacy of World War I. And it can be found in the way that warfare is waged, running the spectrum from terrorism (of the kind perpetrated by Princip and his comrades in the Black Hand) to the use of tanks and airplanes and fast-moving mechanized infantry maneuvered by radio–all technologies introduced during the First World War.

How did this cataclysm come about? The most popular interpretation, advanced by the most popular account of the war’s origins (The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman) claims it was an accident that no one wanted. That outlook, while still held by some, has been convincingly refuted by a host of historians including many influential German scholars who refused to accept a whitewash of their country’s responsibility for starting the First World War as well as the Second. The excellent British historian Max Hastings marshaled much of the evidence in his recent book “Catastrophe 1914″ (which I reviewed here).

He writes: “The case still seems overwhelmingly strong that Germany bore principal blame. Even if it did not conspire to bring war about, it declined to exercise its power to prevent the outbreak by restraining Austria. Even if Berlin did not seek to contrive a general European conflagration, it was willing for one, because it believed that it could win.”

There is an important implication to this conclusion: namely that wars are not generally the result of “arms races” or “misunderstandings” that can be prevented with international mediation. Rather they are usually the result of deliberate policies by capricious regimes which may not want to fight but are willing to risk conflict in order to achieve their power-hungry aims. It stands to reason that the best bet for preventing future conflict is not in sponsoring more diplomatic negotiations but rather in the forces of freedom keeping their powder dry.

That is something that Great Britain, the guardian of international order in the pre-1914 world, singularly failed to do: London was willing to maintain the greatest fleet in the world but its army was so small that it was not reckoned to be a serious factor in continental calculations and its willingness to stand up to German aggression was in doubt. This hesitancy and unpreparedness on the part of London gave Imperial Germany the opening it was seeking to launch a preemptive campaign of conquest against both France and Russia–something that even the German General Staff, arrogant as they were, might not have dared had they been certain of massive and timely British intervention.

Alas, today, the enemies of freedom, from Moscow to Tehran to Pyongyang, can no longer be certain in the readiness and resolve of the greatest champion of freedom in today’s world–the United States. Our president has allowed red lines to be crossed with impunity and our defense capabilities are deteriorating because of mindless budget cuts. That is a dangerous situation. We are unlikely, thank goodness, to see another conflict on the scale of World War I, but we are courting lesser conflicts that can still prove deadly and dangerous–like the wars now engulfing Iraq and Syria, those progeny of World War I.

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Violent Anti-Semitism Is Back in Germany

Amidst the stream of hate directed against Israel it is easy to become desensitized to the daily incidents of bigotry, particularly the many that emanate from Europe. But when an elderly Jewish man and his daughter are attacked and hospitalized while attending a pro-Israel vigil in Hamburg one can’t help but feel a shiver. The rally in question was being held in solidarity with the three Israeli teenagers that have been kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists. But apparently even that was too much for some to tolerate and before long an aggressive counter-demonstration had gathered. What was it that they were seeking to counter exactly–the rescue of the boys?

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Amidst the stream of hate directed against Israel it is easy to become desensitized to the daily incidents of bigotry, particularly the many that emanate from Europe. But when an elderly Jewish man and his daughter are attacked and hospitalized while attending a pro-Israel vigil in Hamburg one can’t help but feel a shiver. The rally in question was being held in solidarity with the three Israeli teenagers that have been kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists. But apparently even that was too much for some to tolerate and before long an aggressive counter-demonstration had gathered. What was it that they were seeking to counter exactly–the rescue of the boys?

One of the organizers of the vigil—who I will avoid naming here as he has previously had to receive police protection—recounted how the demonstrators knocked the 83-year-old man to the ground before then beginning to kick his daughter who was attempting to protect her father. A press release from the Hamburg for Israel network tells how the victim of the assault had to receive surgery and is still recovering in Hospital. Reportedly the attackers came from the somewhat appropriately named anti-globalization group ATTAC (Association for the Taxation of financial Transactions and Aid to Citizens), but what does any of that have to do with three Jewish boys kidnapped by Hamas?

Perhaps some of those on the demonstration would say that they oppose the IDF’s “heavy handed” efforts to rescue the boys, for some days now such agenda-driven complaints have been coming from the international NGO scene (the German ones among them included). Yet when Syria and Iraq are engulfed in one of the most brutal civil wars imaginable, when Egypt is locking away journalists and executing opponents of the military government en masse, it is simply grotesque that Europeans would point an accusatory finger at Israel, the one place where a stable liberal democracy is being held together, no thanks to the NGOs that seek to undermine it relentlessly.

In the case of Germany it seems memories must fade fast—or perhaps not. Given the prevalence of anti-Israel feeling in Germany one can’t help but wonder if this is part of some perverse attempt to turn the tables back on the Jews. After all in a survey from 2011 47 percent of Germans said that Israel is carrying out a war of extermination against the Palestinians. Can they actually believe this, or is it just convenient for some Germans to believe such things?

In recent years there have been a no shortage of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel incidents in Germany. It was only back in April that an Israeli man was set upon by a group of youths in Berlin, and in January the German newspaper Neue Osnabrucker Zeitung published an editorial claiming that Israel’s definition as a specifically Jewish state rendered it akin to “apartheid” and a “theocracy.” Then in February the president of the European Parliament, Martin Shulz, chose to not only address the Knesset in German but to harangue MKs on the preposterous charge that Israel restricts how much water it allows Palestinians; this at the same time that Assad was starving out Palestinians rebelling in Syria’s refugee camps. And it hardly seems worth dwelling on the ravings of Gunter Grass, formerly the left-wing conscience of Germany, now widely discredited by the revelations of his own Nazi past.

But what can hardly be ignored is that when traveling through the West Bank, so many projects have German sponsorship, and many of these have an activist or political agenda. Nor can one miss the German NGOs and staff members who are all too ready to pass judgment on Israel. With so few Jews left in Germany, it can almost seem as if some Germans have felt the need to follow the Jews all the way to the Middle East.

Reading about incidents like the violent attack in Hamburg it is difficult not to wonder whether many Germans still have an unhealthy relationship with Jewish matters. Europeans in general, and Germans in particular, have been all too quick to rush to condemn the Jewish state. Perhaps there really is no better way for distracting from past guilt than framing your victims for a similar crime.

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The Business of Statecraft and the Abandonment of Ukraine

The news in Ukraine gets bleaker, but a Rubicon of sorts has been crossed. What has turned into a civil war in eastern Ukraine cannot go back to its designation as a series of “protests,” nor can Vladimir Putin’s Russia plausibly go back to feigning nonintervention. Pro-Russian forces have reportedly shot down two Ukrainian government helicopters, at least one of them with shoulder-fired missiles.

The Ukrainian intelligence service is claiming that those “separatists” probably didn’t have shoulder-fired missile launchers stocked away in the linen closet for a rainy day, a sentiment based on some pretty sound logic. This is not Occupy Slavyansk. And yet, the West–especially Europe, quelle surprise–is acting as if it were. As Angela Merkel meets today with President Obama in Washington to discuss the next steps in the synchronized frowning that has characterized the response to Russian aggression thus far, the Wall Street Journal reports she is delivering some bad news for Kiev, with a predictable explanation.

“Angela Merkel is carrying a clear message from Germany’s business lobby to the White House: No more sanctions,” according to the Journal. “Several of the biggest names in German business,” including Siemens, Adidas, Volkswagen, and Deutsche Bank, “have made their opposition to broader economic sanctions against Russia clear in recent weeks, both in public and in private.” The Journal goes on to explain that, essentially, we have a new answer to Henry Kissinger’s famous question. If you want to talk to Europe, call the CEO of Adidas:

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The news in Ukraine gets bleaker, but a Rubicon of sorts has been crossed. What has turned into a civil war in eastern Ukraine cannot go back to its designation as a series of “protests,” nor can Vladimir Putin’s Russia plausibly go back to feigning nonintervention. Pro-Russian forces have reportedly shot down two Ukrainian government helicopters, at least one of them with shoulder-fired missiles.

The Ukrainian intelligence service is claiming that those “separatists” probably didn’t have shoulder-fired missile launchers stocked away in the linen closet for a rainy day, a sentiment based on some pretty sound logic. This is not Occupy Slavyansk. And yet, the West–especially Europe, quelle surprise–is acting as if it were. As Angela Merkel meets today with President Obama in Washington to discuss the next steps in the synchronized frowning that has characterized the response to Russian aggression thus far, the Wall Street Journal reports she is delivering some bad news for Kiev, with a predictable explanation.

“Angela Merkel is carrying a clear message from Germany’s business lobby to the White House: No more sanctions,” according to the Journal. “Several of the biggest names in German business,” including Siemens, Adidas, Volkswagen, and Deutsche Bank, “have made their opposition to broader economic sanctions against Russia clear in recent weeks, both in public and in private.” The Journal goes on to explain that, essentially, we have a new answer to Henry Kissinger’s famous question. If you want to talk to Europe, call the CEO of Adidas:

In most countries, it would be highly unusual for corporate executives to inject themselves into geopolitics and matters of national security with the forcefulness that a number of German business leaders have. But many of Germany’s largest companies have substantial Russian operations, built in some cases over decades, and worry that tough economic sanctions would rob them of a key growth market when their home market—Europe—is stagnant.

That has led to intense pressure on Berlin. Germany’s chancellor has repeatedly criticized Russia for its actions in Ukraine and warned the Kremlin it would face serious consequences if it doesn’t change course. Yet Ms. Merkel has stopped short of endorsing broader economic sanctions, opting instead to impose travel bans and asset freezes on individuals with close ties to the Kremlin.

It’s easy to begin, at least, with some sympathy for Merkel. Thanks to the EU’s fiscal troubles, Germany has taken the role of Europe’s financial backstop. It’s a mostly thankless job that earns the German government, when they try to fix the messes caused by other reckless European countries, obnoxious and offensive Nazi comparisons. This resistance to German hegemony is, for obvious reasons, coded into the continent’s DNA. Germany’s response has often been resignation to the role: to simply sign the checks while letting France command Europe’s military decisions.

Because of all that, Germany’s economic policy does not exist in a vacuum. Whether as penance for past sins or a paternal responsibility to Europe’s wayward sons, Germany must consider others when setting policy, ever mindful that Berlin can absorb losses others cannot.

However: there’s a limit to such excuses, and it’s not clear that long-term this would even be the right economic approach, let alone the right moral approach, which it plainly is not. After all, is constant political and military turmoil in major energy producers good for global markets and trade in the long run? And how will it affect European markets for expansionist powers to continue encroaching on Europe’s borders? (There are concerns Russia could target Moldova next, which is west of Ukraine.)

The state system in place is far from perfect, but allowing it to be undermined is unlikely to be good for business. After all, Merkel surely remembers how Germany came to be economically successful and the EU common market broadly integrated, and it began with throwing off the yoke of Russian tyranny and imperialism.

Merkel knows this not only because she is the head of government of the country that has basically become Europe’s central banker. She knows this because she grew up in East Germany. And here is where the moral and the material meet. It can’t be good for Europe’s economic future to yawn at Europe’s steady destabilization. But it certainly isn’t right. Merkel is where she is because there is no more East Germany, no more suffocating control by Moscow. Other independent states with sovereign borders deserve the same, no matter what the management at Adidas thinks.

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Ronald Asmus’s Extraordinary Legacy

Three years ago today, Ronald Asmus died at the very young age of 53 from cancer-related illnesses. Asmus was NATO’s champion in the Clinton administration, where his ideas about expanding NATO to eventually include a broad array of European countries but especially, as soon as was feasible, the trio of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, were heterodox. The story of how he accomplished it holds immediate relevance to the current conflict in Ukraine and lessons for American officials debating our role in fostering European stability.

Perhaps most of all, it’s worth recalling simply because history has vindicated Asmus. It is easy to forget just how unthinkable Asmus’s ideas were less than a decade before they came to fruition. Asmus was undeterred in part because his ideas about European unity and Western alliances had been pooh-poohed before. As he wrote in his book, Opening NATO’s Door:

I was part of a generation of Western academics raised with the conventional wisdom that a divided Germany and continent was a more or less permanent feature of Europe’s geopolitical landscape. When I opted to write my doctoral dissertation on overcoming the division of Germany in the mid-1980s, several colleagues suggested that I consider a less esoteric and more topical issue. No one imagined that by the time I had completed my thesis that division would be no more. Conventional wisdom not only underestimated Moscow’s willingness to let go of its satellites. It also misjudged the strong desire among the people of what was then still called Eastern Europe to liberate themselves and become part of the West. It was a lesson I would remember in the years ahead as the NATO enlargement debate raged and cautious diplomats argued that fulfilling Central and East European aspirations to join the Alliance was simply not politically or strategically feasible.

Asmus’s crucial insight into NATO enlargement was that independent states should be treated as just that–independent. It’s common to think of the postwar order as consisting, at a simplified level, of large states and small states. That’s certainly how the great powers spoke when drawing lines after the Second World War. But it would be more helpful to think of them as power states and peripheral states. Asmus thought the peripheral states–though he doesn’t use that term–deserved the right to chart their own path.

After the Cold War, the very reasonable desire on behalf of first the Bush administration then the Clinton administration was to maintain stability in Europe. But the system that underpinned that stability was outdated and, in some respects, unjust. Asmus realized that. In Central and Eastern Europe, he noted, “Yalta” was a watchword not only for Western abandonment of Poland but the relegation of peripheral states to second-class status. He even writes of working with allies at one point to formulate “a strategy to overcome Yalta.” That chapter is titled “Dismantling Yalta.” It’s an indication of just how much conventional wisdom Asmus was seeking to subvert.

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Three years ago today, Ronald Asmus died at the very young age of 53 from cancer-related illnesses. Asmus was NATO’s champion in the Clinton administration, where his ideas about expanding NATO to eventually include a broad array of European countries but especially, as soon as was feasible, the trio of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, were heterodox. The story of how he accomplished it holds immediate relevance to the current conflict in Ukraine and lessons for American officials debating our role in fostering European stability.

Perhaps most of all, it’s worth recalling simply because history has vindicated Asmus. It is easy to forget just how unthinkable Asmus’s ideas were less than a decade before they came to fruition. Asmus was undeterred in part because his ideas about European unity and Western alliances had been pooh-poohed before. As he wrote in his book, Opening NATO’s Door:

I was part of a generation of Western academics raised with the conventional wisdom that a divided Germany and continent was a more or less permanent feature of Europe’s geopolitical landscape. When I opted to write my doctoral dissertation on overcoming the division of Germany in the mid-1980s, several colleagues suggested that I consider a less esoteric and more topical issue. No one imagined that by the time I had completed my thesis that division would be no more. Conventional wisdom not only underestimated Moscow’s willingness to let go of its satellites. It also misjudged the strong desire among the people of what was then still called Eastern Europe to liberate themselves and become part of the West. It was a lesson I would remember in the years ahead as the NATO enlargement debate raged and cautious diplomats argued that fulfilling Central and East European aspirations to join the Alliance was simply not politically or strategically feasible.

Asmus’s crucial insight into NATO enlargement was that independent states should be treated as just that–independent. It’s common to think of the postwar order as consisting, at a simplified level, of large states and small states. That’s certainly how the great powers spoke when drawing lines after the Second World War. But it would be more helpful to think of them as power states and peripheral states. Asmus thought the peripheral states–though he doesn’t use that term–deserved the right to chart their own path.

After the Cold War, the very reasonable desire on behalf of first the Bush administration then the Clinton administration was to maintain stability in Europe. But the system that underpinned that stability was outdated and, in some respects, unjust. Asmus realized that. In Central and Eastern Europe, he noted, “Yalta” was a watchword not only for Western abandonment of Poland but the relegation of peripheral states to second-class status. He even writes of working with allies at one point to formulate “a strategy to overcome Yalta.” That chapter is titled “Dismantling Yalta.” It’s an indication of just how much conventional wisdom Asmus was seeking to subvert.

Part of the reason NATO was an option at all in the early days was that the existing European structures were simply not up to the task of integrating and protecting the post-Soviet states. Initial hopes were that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) could take stewardship of such an integration. But it was heavy on the cooperation and light on the security. Then there was the European Union, but France was opposed to opening its doors to full membership. “That left NATO,” Asmus writes.

There were a few turning points in NATO’s favor, some more famous than others. For Asmus, it was the Foreign Affairs article he authored along with two other colleagues at RAND in 1993 making the case for NATO enlargement. Another was a speech given around that time by Volker Ruehe, an up-and-coming German politician who had taken the defense portfolio in the German governing coalition. Ruehe, apparently without even telling the country’s foreign minister, gave a speech calling for NATO and the EU to put Central and Eastern European countries on the path to full membership. Asmus writes:

On the plane during the flight back to Cologne, one of Ruehe’s top military advisors remarked that it had been a mistake to give the speech and it would take Germany years to recover from the damage caused by the Minister’s comments. He was mistaken. Within several years every one of Ruehe’s core ideas would be embraced by the U.S. and would become official Alliance policy.

It was one of many examples that showed support for the alliance was always higher than it appeared, but also that the West (especially Europe) needed a good shove in the right direction every so often. The rest is, as they say, history.

Bill Clinton, too, deserves a fair amount of credit. Not only was he receptive to the ideas that led to NATO expansion, but he was a compelling spokesman for the cause. As the events in Ukraine this year and Georgia a few years ago showed, the countries most likely to be attacked by Russia are those without security guarantees from the West. Clinton made this point repeatedly. In 1997, Asmus notes, Clinton gave a speech to West Point graduates and declared that he wanted to expand NATO “to make it less likely that you will ever be called to fight in another war across the Atlantic.” Later that year Clinton met privately with a group of senators to gauge their support. “Extending a security guarantee is important,” Clinton told them. “No NATO member has ever been attacked.”

Joe Biden, too, made a powerful argument, telling skeptics like Jack Matlock and Michael Mandelbaum that not to enlarge NATO simply because there was no immediate threat from Russia was “a prescription for paralysis.” As we’ve seen in recent years, such complacency does indeed set in and grind progress to a halt.

And that is key to truly grasping the significance of what Asmus accomplished. Letting opportunities slip by, when it comes to European integration, often means there will be no second chance. Asmus saw an opportunity, made his case, and accomplished something historic before it was buried in bureaucratic inertia.

After the Senate overwhelmingly approved the expansion, Jan Nowak, the famed courier between the Polish underground resistance and Allied governments who was 84 years old at the time of the vote, approached Asmus from the Senate’s visitor’s galley. “I never thought,” he said with broad smile, “that I would live to see the day when Poland is not only free—but safe.” That was Asmus’s monumental achievement, and thanks to his determination it is America’s legacy.

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Putin to Ukraine: Pay Up

Having annexed the Crimea and destabilized much of eastern Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin seems intent not on de-escalating the conflict, but rather exacerbating it, with exposing European Union impotence as a bonus. After all, faced with a crisis to European identity, the European Union has fallen on the sword of short-term economic interests in order to justify turning their collective back (short of ineffective rhetoric and weak symbolic action) on Ukraine.

In a way it’s understandable: London’s real-estate bubble is a direct result of Russian investment. France has always put France first before any collective security responsibility. That is why it has only delayed rather than scrapped a multibillion dollar deal to sell Russia helicopter carriers. German officials have long prioritized receiving a share of Russia’s oil wealth over any action which might undercut their ability to do so. Former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder famously went to work for the Russian energy giant Gazprom after leaving office. While he reportedly infuriated his successor Angela Merkel by backing Putin, Merkel’s own foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, was Schröder’s chief-of-staff. Hire a Russia apologist as foreign minister and the crocodile tears about his former boss shilling for the Russians falls a bit flat.

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Having annexed the Crimea and destabilized much of eastern Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin seems intent not on de-escalating the conflict, but rather exacerbating it, with exposing European Union impotence as a bonus. After all, faced with a crisis to European identity, the European Union has fallen on the sword of short-term economic interests in order to justify turning their collective back (short of ineffective rhetoric and weak symbolic action) on Ukraine.

In a way it’s understandable: London’s real-estate bubble is a direct result of Russian investment. France has always put France first before any collective security responsibility. That is why it has only delayed rather than scrapped a multibillion dollar deal to sell Russia helicopter carriers. German officials have long prioritized receiving a share of Russia’s oil wealth over any action which might undercut their ability to do so. Former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder famously went to work for the Russian energy giant Gazprom after leaving office. While he reportedly infuriated his successor Angela Merkel by backing Putin, Merkel’s own foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, was Schröder’s chief-of-staff. Hire a Russia apologist as foreign minister and the crocodile tears about his former boss shilling for the Russians falls a bit flat.

Putin understands that for European Union leaders, economics trumps principle. Perhaps this is why, in an episode of the talk show “Vesti v Subbotu” (Vesti on Saturday) aired on Saturday, April 19, Putin ignored the fact that he had invaded the country and complained that the new Ukrainian government had fallen behind on their payments for Russian gas:

[Interviewer]: Today you threw in one very interesting calculation. In one month’s time, you will revisit the Ukrainian gas payment issue. In one month’s time, it will be 17 May, with eight days to go before the planned [presidential] election in Ukraine. Does it mean that you will recognize the May 25 election or are you…

[Putin]: This has nothing to do with the election. We are not linking the economy with the political process in Ukraine. We simply had to receive money, on 7 April this year, for the gas delivered in March. We did not receive it. I repeat, this is 525m dollars. Zero [was received].

So, there you go: Putin effectively has issued an ultimatum to Ukrainians that they must pay their gas bill eight days before Ukrainians go to the polls. Finance is finance and principle is principle, but finance trumps principle. Ukraine may be the sacrificial lamb, but how comforting it must be for Angela Merkel that Putin is finally acting European.

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The Debate We Should Be Having About Rand Paul and Sanctions

Rand Paul was put on the defensive this week over criticism stemming from comments he made last year, posted on Jennifer Rubin’s Washington Post blog, on Iran sanctions: “There are times when sanctions have made it worse. There are times–leading up to World War II, we cut off trade with Japan. That probably caused Japan to react angrily. We also had a blockade on Germany after World War I, which may have encouraged some of their anger.”

As with a great many conversations involving Hitler, the debate went off course almost immediately in ways that were unfair to Paul. The senator’s senior advisor told the Post in response: “World War II was a necessary war, a just war, a fully declared war, and an entirely victorious war; the megalomaniac Hitler was to blame for the war and the Holocaust.” So some of the sympathy for Paul is warranted: his recorded statements didn’t suggest that the United States was at fault for Hitler’s rise and the subsequent consequences.

“There’s a debate to be had on foreign policy,” David Harsanyi argues, reasonably. “This isn’t it.” Harsanyi goes on to make the following point:

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Rand Paul was put on the defensive this week over criticism stemming from comments he made last year, posted on Jennifer Rubin’s Washington Post blog, on Iran sanctions: “There are times when sanctions have made it worse. There are times–leading up to World War II, we cut off trade with Japan. That probably caused Japan to react angrily. We also had a blockade on Germany after World War I, which may have encouraged some of their anger.”

As with a great many conversations involving Hitler, the debate went off course almost immediately in ways that were unfair to Paul. The senator’s senior advisor told the Post in response: “World War II was a necessary war, a just war, a fully declared war, and an entirely victorious war; the megalomaniac Hitler was to blame for the war and the Holocaust.” So some of the sympathy for Paul is warranted: his recorded statements didn’t suggest that the United States was at fault for Hitler’s rise and the subsequent consequences.

“There’s a debate to be had on foreign policy,” David Harsanyi argues, reasonably. “This isn’t it.” Harsanyi goes on to make the following point:

What Paul never contends is that Hitler’s ideology hinged on the idea of opposing Versailles. He was talking about Germany and Germans. In front of me is Paul Johnson’s Modern Times, where the author basically makes the same case and Margaret MacMillan’s Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World, in which she writes that though Versailles’ impact had likely been exaggerated by German governments, it allowed political parties like the Nazis to tap into widespread “anger” and resentment. Sounds like that’s what Rand was saying.

True enough, though it’s worth noting that in Modern Times, Johnson has much more to say about the grievances unleashed by Versailles, and they center on the ethnic strife sparked by transferring Europe to the individual nation-state model from the age of empires–“self-determination,” in Johnson’s writing, which created more restive minority populations because there were more states. Where economic factors played a role, Johnson seems to put emphasis on the fact that more states also meant more poor states, especially in the immediate postwar period, and he notes that Germany was considered to have defaulted on its postwar obligations as well. If any aspect of Versailles encouraged German expansionism, Johnson appears to blame the fact that “under the Treaty it was forbidden to seek union with Germany, which made the Anschluss seem more attractive than it actually was.”

But I think Paul’s defenders here are on less steady ground in dismissing Paul’s comments as they relate to Pearl Harbor. He prefaced his sanctions comments–at least on Pearl Harbor–by saying sometimes sanctions “have made it worse.” Taken individually, sanctions on a nation can be treated this way. But it doesn’t always apply, and it applies perhaps less to Japan than almost any other scenario (Germany, Iraq, Iran, etc.).

As some have said since Paul’s comments, Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor was a sort of preemptive strike to at least temporarily avert an American response to simultaneous Japanese aggression throughout the region, including on Singapore, Hong Kong, and the Philippines. But another important facet of this is that the sanctions weren’t a surprise to Japan, because they were in response to Japanese action. As the historian Ian Toll writes, Japan took action its leaders–reminded by Admiral Yamamoto, who initially wanted to avoid an unwinnable war–knew would precipitate sanctions, and the whole process would bring them toward war:

From his flagship, Nagato, usually anchored in Hiroshima Bay, Yamamoto continued to warn against joining with the Nazis. He reminded his government that Japan imported around four-fifths of its oil and steel from areas controlled by the Allies. To risk conflict, he wrote, was foolhardy, because “there is no chance of winning a war with the United States for some time to come.”

But Japan’s confused and divided government drifted toward war while refusing to face the strategic problems it posed. It signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy in Berlin in September 1940. As Yamamoto had predicted, the American government quickly restricted and finally cut off exports of oil and other vital materials. The sanctions brought events to a head, because Japan had no domestic oil production to speak of, and would exhaust its stockpiles in about a year.

Yamamoto realized he had lost the fight to keep Japan out of war, and he fell in line with the planning process.

Yamamoto warned against the process because he wrongly thought his leaders wanted to avoid war, when in fact they provoked it. This doesn’t mean Paul is “blaming” the U.S. for the attack on Pearl Harbor (and by extension, American entry into World War II). But it raises questions about Paul’s selective use of history–and bad history does not usually inform good policy.

I have raised this issue with Paul before. When he made his major foreign-policy address a year ago, he advocated a greater emphasis on containment. But he conflated the Kennanite version of containment with the strategy that ultimately won the Cold War, which was far from the truth. In reality, Kennan’s ideas were central to the Truman administration’s decision to embrace containment, but his version of containment was so different that Kennan adamantly refused to take credit for it.

It is far from clear that a nuclear Iran would be containable the way the Soviet Union was–in fact, it’s unlikely. But Paul’s version of containment would not have even contained the Soviet Union. Paul’s habit of cherry-picking history to create precedents for his own preferred strategy seems to be present with his comments on Japanese sanctions and Pearl Harbor as well. It certainly doesn’t make him a blame-America-firster. But it does suggest unsound strategic judgment.

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Siemens CEO’s Craven Photo-Op with Putin

The giant German engineering firm Siemens AG has, in common with other large German companies that have been around a long time, a deplorable history of having cooperated with the Nazi regime. The Anti-Defamation League notes:

Siemens ran factories at Ravensbrück and in the Auschwitz subcamp of Bobrek, among others, and the company supplied electrical parts to other concentration and death camps. In the camp factories, abysmal living and working conditions were ubiquitous: malnutrition and death were not uncommon. Recent scholarship has established how, despite German industry’s repeated denials, these camp factories were created, run, and supplied by the SS in conjunction with company officials — sometimes high-level employees.

So one would think that the current management of Siemens would have some sensitivity about embracing a modern-day dictator whose aggression has been compared to that of 1930s Germany. Apparently not. Even as the leaders of the West are struggling to isolate and punish Vladimir Putin for his illegal declaration of Anschluss with Crimea, the CEO of Siemens AG, Joe Kaeser, was meeting with Putin at his official residence outside Moscow.

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The giant German engineering firm Siemens AG has, in common with other large German companies that have been around a long time, a deplorable history of having cooperated with the Nazi regime. The Anti-Defamation League notes:

Siemens ran factories at Ravensbrück and in the Auschwitz subcamp of Bobrek, among others, and the company supplied electrical parts to other concentration and death camps. In the camp factories, abysmal living and working conditions were ubiquitous: malnutrition and death were not uncommon. Recent scholarship has established how, despite German industry’s repeated denials, these camp factories were created, run, and supplied by the SS in conjunction with company officials — sometimes high-level employees.

So one would think that the current management of Siemens would have some sensitivity about embracing a modern-day dictator whose aggression has been compared to that of 1930s Germany. Apparently not. Even as the leaders of the West are struggling to isolate and punish Vladimir Putin for his illegal declaration of Anschluss with Crimea, the CEO of Siemens AG, Joe Kaeser, was meeting with Putin at his official residence outside Moscow.

In a visit that was billed by newspapers as a “vote of confidence” in Putin, Kaeser posed alongside Putin and declared: “Siemens has been present in Russia since 1853—a presence that has survived many highs and low. We want to maintain the conversation even in today’s politically difficult times. For us, dialogue is a crucial part of a long-term relationship.”

It’s obvious what Kaeser is up to: He is trying to protect $2.99 billion in sales that his company had in Russia last year. Yet it is hard to make the case that Russia is a make-or-break market for this industrial giant since it accounts for only 2.9 percent of Siemens’ revenues. In short, Kaeser’s reprehensible embrace of an international outlaw who has violated Ukrainian sovereignty and routinely violates the civil liberties of his own people is not even compelled by the bottom line. It is completely craven toadying of the kind that Siemens may well regret some day–just as so many companies, including his own, came to regret the public-relations damage of having done business with Hitler or, in more recent times, with despots like Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein.

Alas, the fact that Kaeser feels so free to almost literally embrace Putin shows how little will Europe has to confront the predator on its doorstep. Instead of reprimanding Kaeser, Chancellor Angela Merkel, who as a former citizen of East Germany should be more sensitive to dealing with ex-KGB thugs, simply said: “Business contacts are still taking place and I am not interested in seeing the situation escalate, but rather among towards a de-escalation.”

With such cravenness being displayed by the most powerful state in Europe, Putin must be getting the message loud and clear that his aggression is essentially cost-free.

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What Is the Cost of Inaction?

Western reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been muted by concerns about the cost of any response. Germany has always been mercantile in its foreign policy—just remember its efforts to erode Iranian sanctions for the sake of short-term profit, even at the time National Intelligence Estimates agree that Iran was experimenting with nuclear bomb triggers. Germany, too, appears to have been the source of much of the chemical munitions Saddam Hussein used in the 1980s against the Kurds. It should not surprise, therefore, that German chancellor Angela Merkel is reluctant to impose biting sanctions on Russia in response to its aggression, for she rightly points out that Russian President Vladimir Putin would respond by cutting off gas shipments to Central and Eastern Europe.

Putin has leverage over the United States as well: Not only might he nationalize the operations of American companies doing business in Russia, but he also effectively holds U.S. military equipment hostage since much of it is being transshipped across Russia as the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan.

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Western reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been muted by concerns about the cost of any response. Germany has always been mercantile in its foreign policy—just remember its efforts to erode Iranian sanctions for the sake of short-term profit, even at the time National Intelligence Estimates agree that Iran was experimenting with nuclear bomb triggers. Germany, too, appears to have been the source of much of the chemical munitions Saddam Hussein used in the 1980s against the Kurds. It should not surprise, therefore, that German chancellor Angela Merkel is reluctant to impose biting sanctions on Russia in response to its aggression, for she rightly points out that Russian President Vladimir Putin would respond by cutting off gas shipments to Central and Eastern Europe.

Putin has leverage over the United States as well: Not only might he nationalize the operations of American companies doing business in Russia, but he also effectively holds U.S. military equipment hostage since much of it is being transshipped across Russia as the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan.

While the costs of doing something are high, it’s imperative that policymakers also question the cost of doing nothing. For years, a major argument against significant sanctions on Iran was what the result might be at the gas pump. But the idea that the status quo was and is tenable is nonsense: Should Iran develop nuclear weapons, then it would be in a position through blackmail or otherwise to drive up the price of oil even further. After all, who would stop Iran utilizing conventional forces to disrupt oil flow if Tehran boasted its own nuclear deterrent?

The situation is now similar with regard to Russia. There is no doubt that any response will be expensive. But a more important question is what will the expense be a decade down the line should Putin push into the Baltics or should he conclude that Western officials are so craven and such paper tigers that he can conduct pipeline blackmail anyway? Sometimes inaction may seem like the best of all short-term options, but seldom does it pay off in the long term.

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What a German Trial Says About Iran’s Aims

Jonathan Tobin has already noted that President Obama is lying about Iran sanctions. Not only does it stop short of previous demands of Tehran and deals with Iran when it comes to uranium enrichment and the fate of uranium already enriched, but it also apparently sidesteps the issue of plutonium work at the Arak heavy-water reactor. When Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry seal the deal, they might as well announce it with a declaration, “I have in my hand a piece of paper, signed by Mohammad Javad Zarif.”

The problem is that it’s not only a White House that is willing to embrace the fiction of caring if Iran develops a nuclear weapon, but also Germany. Germany’s “Stop the Bomb” Campaign reports:

Unexpectedly lenient penalties were imposed today against four merchants and entrepreneurs by the Higher Regional Court of Hamburg in the Arak trial in Hamburg… The convicts had supplied components for the Iranian heavy water reactor in Arak and falsified documents in order to mislead the regulatory authorities. If the reactor in Arak goes on line as planned next year, plutonium for two nuclear bombs per year would be produced there… The trial also revealed a blatant failure of the German supervisory authorities, in particular the Federal Office of Export Control (BAFA). The special components for the nuclear weapons program were delivered to Iran despite repeated warnings and evidence from the U.S., but also from the German intelligence service. While the BAFA issued a so-called “zero notice” clearance certificate, the foreign ministry also restrained concerns about the exports. The judge spoke of “misconduct” by the authorities.

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Jonathan Tobin has already noted that President Obama is lying about Iran sanctions. Not only does it stop short of previous demands of Tehran and deals with Iran when it comes to uranium enrichment and the fate of uranium already enriched, but it also apparently sidesteps the issue of plutonium work at the Arak heavy-water reactor. When Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry seal the deal, they might as well announce it with a declaration, “I have in my hand a piece of paper, signed by Mohammad Javad Zarif.”

The problem is that it’s not only a White House that is willing to embrace the fiction of caring if Iran develops a nuclear weapon, but also Germany. Germany’s “Stop the Bomb” Campaign reports:

Unexpectedly lenient penalties were imposed today against four merchants and entrepreneurs by the Higher Regional Court of Hamburg in the Arak trial in Hamburg… The convicts had supplied components for the Iranian heavy water reactor in Arak and falsified documents in order to mislead the regulatory authorities. If the reactor in Arak goes on line as planned next year, plutonium for two nuclear bombs per year would be produced there… The trial also revealed a blatant failure of the German supervisory authorities, in particular the Federal Office of Export Control (BAFA). The special components for the nuclear weapons program were delivered to Iran despite repeated warnings and evidence from the U.S., but also from the German intelligence service. While the BAFA issued a so-called “zero notice” clearance certificate, the foreign ministry also restrained concerns about the exports. The judge spoke of “misconduct” by the authorities.

Perhaps because they are after a legacy and consider a bad deal better than no deal, or perhaps because the Iranians have won the battle of endurance, it looks like the White House is willing to give up on the effort to stop Iran’s nuclear program. It is, in effect, allowing Iran to have all the components necessary to complete a bomb when and if the Iranian government makes the decision to pursue that end. That the Iranians have been surreptitiously importing banned technology to process plutonium is simply the sad epitaph to any doubt about what Iran is after and the damage Obama and Kerry are prepared to do to U.S. national security and that of our allies throughout the Middle East.

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Falling for Snowden’s Delusions

It scarcely seems possible, but Edward Snowden gets more odious by the day. It’s bad enough that he has leaked to the world top-secret details of highly sensitive and important NSA surveillance operations, thus doing more damage to American national security than a baker’s dozen of previous spies. What’s even more galling is that, while hiding in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, he has the nerve to position himself as a saintly whistle-blower who is striking a blow for truth, justice, and the American way.

The reality is precisely the opposite: He is empowering freedom’s enemies, from Beijing to Moscow to the western frontier region of Pakistan where al-Qaeda’s top leaders shelter, by revealing to them the secrets of how the NSA monitors them. At the same time he is spreading dissension and disunity in the Western alliance by revealing how the U.S. spies on its allies–but without saying anything about how those allies spy on us.

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It scarcely seems possible, but Edward Snowden gets more odious by the day. It’s bad enough that he has leaked to the world top-secret details of highly sensitive and important NSA surveillance operations, thus doing more damage to American national security than a baker’s dozen of previous spies. What’s even more galling is that, while hiding in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, he has the nerve to position himself as a saintly whistle-blower who is striking a blow for truth, justice, and the American way.

The reality is precisely the opposite: He is empowering freedom’s enemies, from Beijing to Moscow to the western frontier region of Pakistan where al-Qaeda’s top leaders shelter, by revealing to them the secrets of how the NSA monitors them. At the same time he is spreading dissension and disunity in the Western alliance by revealing how the U.S. spies on its allies–but without saying anything about how those allies spy on us.

It is hard not to gag while reading Snowden’s overblown “manifesto for truth” published in Der Spiegel. “Citizens have to fight suppression of information on matters of vital public importance,” he writes. “To tell the truth is not a crime.” True, but citizens don’t have the right to reveal on their own authority highly classified information that they have pledged to keep secret.

If he had wanted to be a whistleblower, Snowden should have notified the congressional intelligence committees of the activities he objected to. The fact that he did not do so is, of course, because there was nothing to blow the whistle on–there is no evidence that NSA has done anything it is not authorized to do or that it has acted in any way for ulterior personal or political motives.

However he tries to spin it, Snowden is a traitor to the United States who is under the effective control of the FSB. This is the successor agency to the KGB, and still one of the world’s most illiberal intelligence services–and one whose electronic surveillance activities rival those of the NSA and are far more malignant because they can result in the incarceration of political dissidents. It is sad to see all too many well-intentioned people in the West fall for Snowden’s self-serving delusions, which do so much to harm not only the security of the U.S. but also of allies such as Germany.

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Reality Intervenes in NSA Debate

Outraged Europeans would prefer to think that when it comes to privacy issues, they are the good guys and those nasty Americans are the bad guys. We have even been treated to the dubious spectacle in recent days of being lectured by the Germans, of all people, on how much they respect civil liberties and how little regard we have for them—which conveniently elides the inconvenient fact that the only reason that Germans have any civil liberties to enjoy is because of the U.S. Armed Forces which overthrew the Nazis and protected them from the Communists.

More to the point, the narrative of European innocence on state-sponsored snooping can only be maintained by a complete denial of reality. The details are of course classified, but some tantalizing tidbits are now seeping into public discussion. For example this Wall Street Journal article: “Millions of phone records at the center of a firestorm in Europe over spying by the National Security Agency were secretly supplied to the U.S. by European intelligence services—not collected by the NSA, upending a furor that cast a pall over trans-Atlantic relations.”

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Outraged Europeans would prefer to think that when it comes to privacy issues, they are the good guys and those nasty Americans are the bad guys. We have even been treated to the dubious spectacle in recent days of being lectured by the Germans, of all people, on how much they respect civil liberties and how little regard we have for them—which conveniently elides the inconvenient fact that the only reason that Germans have any civil liberties to enjoy is because of the U.S. Armed Forces which overthrew the Nazis and protected them from the Communists.

More to the point, the narrative of European innocence on state-sponsored snooping can only be maintained by a complete denial of reality. The details are of course classified, but some tantalizing tidbits are now seeping into public discussion. For example this Wall Street Journal article: “Millions of phone records at the center of a firestorm in Europe over spying by the National Security Agency were secretly supplied to the U.S. by European intelligence services—not collected by the NSA, upending a furor that cast a pall over trans-Atlantic relations.”

Or this AP story: “A former foreign minister of Greece says the U.S. is not the only country eavesdropping on foreign diplomats: his country’s secret services did that to U.S. ambassadors in Athens and Ankara in the 1990s.”

What a surprise: The Europeans engage in espionage and surveillance too. And, as it turns out, their spy agencies often operate with less oversight than our own.

So perhaps, just perhaps, we will hear fewer smug lectures from across the Atlantic about the horrors of the NSA and more recognition of the complex realities, including the fact that NSA surveillance helps to protect the Europeans from terrorism and other threats.

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Obama Throws Intel Community Back Under the Bus

The revelations about NSA spying on allied leaders are now officially a scandal. No, that scandal isn’t that the U.S. spies on its allies–all nations do that and some go further than that. See, for instance, this report claiming that South Korea has been stealing U.S. military technology. No, the scandal is that, faced with embarrassing allegations, President Obama is trying to throw General Keith Alexander, the head of the NSA, and the rest of the intelligence community under the bus by claiming that he had no idea what was going on.

Not surprisingly, anonymous leakers in the intelligence community are pushing back to shred the White House alibi. According to the Los Angeles Times:

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The revelations about NSA spying on allied leaders are now officially a scandal. No, that scandal isn’t that the U.S. spies on its allies–all nations do that and some go further than that. See, for instance, this report claiming that South Korea has been stealing U.S. military technology. No, the scandal is that, faced with embarrassing allegations, President Obama is trying to throw General Keith Alexander, the head of the NSA, and the rest of the intelligence community under the bus by claiming that he had no idea what was going on.

Not surprisingly, anonymous leakers in the intelligence community are pushing back to shred the White House alibi. According to the Los Angeles Times:

Obama may not have been specifically briefed on NSA operations targeting a foreign leader’s cellphone or email communications, one of the officials said. “But certainly the National Security Council and senior people across the intelligence community knew exactly what was going on, and to suggest otherwise is ridiculous.”

If U.S. spying on key foreign leaders was news to the White House, current and former officials said, then White House officials have not been reading their briefing books.

The intel community isn’t happy about being blamed for conducting what Obama implies is a rogue operation: “People are furious,” said a senior intelligence official. “This is officially the White House cutting off the intelligence community.”

Not only is Obama blaming the intel community for doing something wrong, he is leaking word that he will order a ban on spying on allied leaders. One wonders how “allies” will be defined since no nation stands with the U.S. on every single important issue. Germany, for example, supported us in Afghanistan but not in Libya. (I am tempted to say Germany didn’t support us in Syria either but since we have no coherent policy on Syria it is hard to say whether they support us or not.) If he is serious about it, Obama’s actions will result in a loss of valuable intelligence and will hardly appease the NSA’s critics who think that all data-hunting operations except perhaps those focused on Ayman al-Zawihiri’s emails should be shut down.

Obama was aware earlier in his administration of the danger of stigmatizing the hard-working intelligence professionals he needs to keep America safe; that’s why the administration shut down attempts to prosecute CIA personnel over the use of torture. But now, in a frenzy to appease European critics, the president is demoralizing the intel community and sending them a signal that aggressive collection efforts will not be rewarded. That’s a bad tradeoff.

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Multilateral Counterterrorism and the Sovereignty Objection

Yesterday I expressed doubt that there would be major disruptions to U.S.-European security cooperation because of the latest “revelations” that allies spy on each other. European leaders would, I acknowledged, have to at least feign outrage to placate public opinion, but it’s likely to end there. Today the New York Times offers some more evidence to support this. The paper reports that the French and German governments have agreed to “hold talks” on new guidelines for mutual snooping with the United States.

The noncommittal language is an indication that the leaders of those countries will lodge a complaint with the Obama administration as an end in itself. As for any tangible changes in cooperation with the U.S., Angela Merkel sought to either dismiss or defuse such speculation. She was clear that she wouldn’t seriously consider ending U.S.-EU free-trade negotiations; she was cool to suspending data-sharing agreements for joint counterterrorism programs; and she seems to have succeeded in delaying consideration of increased privacy rules that would hamper American technology companies.

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Yesterday I expressed doubt that there would be major disruptions to U.S.-European security cooperation because of the latest “revelations” that allies spy on each other. European leaders would, I acknowledged, have to at least feign outrage to placate public opinion, but it’s likely to end there. Today the New York Times offers some more evidence to support this. The paper reports that the French and German governments have agreed to “hold talks” on new guidelines for mutual snooping with the United States.

The noncommittal language is an indication that the leaders of those countries will lodge a complaint with the Obama administration as an end in itself. As for any tangible changes in cooperation with the U.S., Angela Merkel sought to either dismiss or defuse such speculation. She was clear that she wouldn’t seriously consider ending U.S.-EU free-trade negotiations; she was cool to suspending data-sharing agreements for joint counterterrorism programs; and she seems to have succeeded in delaying consideration of increased privacy rules that would hamper American technology companies.

Any threats to the free-trade negotiations would reek of excuse-making: France has already threatened the viability of trade talks over its insistence on protecting its glorified soft-core pornographers from international competition. Torpedoing negotiations over security concerns would just enable them to put a more respectable gloss on protectionist impulses. Attacking cooperating private-sector behemoths like Google comes off as petty and punitive, and Britain successfully stepped in to ensure cooler heads would ultimately prevail on that score.

Counterterrorism efforts are likely to remain the focus of the controversy, since that’s the overarching point of contention. Yet it won’t be easy to disentangle aspects of the NSA’s program in Europe that France and Germany can do without from those on which they, too, rely. Today’s CNN report on the rift explains the bind the Europeans have found themselves in when seeking to protest the alleged phone-tapping of European heads of state:

The Europeans have been very grateful to share the benefits of the NSA’s immense data-gathering abilities in counter-terrorism and other fields. U.S. diplomatic cables disclosed by WikiLeaks show Germany was enthusiastic in 2009 and 2010 for closer links with the NSA to develop what is known as a High Resolution Optical System (HiROS) — a highly advanced “constellation” of reconnaissance satellites. One cable from the U.S. Embassy in Berlin said: “Germany anticipates that their emergence as a world leader in overhead reconnaissance will generate interest from the USG and envisions an expansion of the intelligence relationship.”

The 9/11 attacks changed espionage beyond recognition, leading to massive investment in the U.S. in “technical means” — the flagship of which is the enormous NSA data center being completed in Bluffdale, Utah. Its computing power, according to the specialist online publication govtech.com is “equivalent to the capacity of 62 billion iPhone 5s.” But 9/11 also shifted the balance between intelligence-gathering and civil liberties, with the U.S. federal government acquiring new powers in the fight against terrorism — some sanctioned by Congress but others ill-defined.

The technology that allows such enormous data-harvesting cannot be put back in the box, but the limits to its use pose an equally huge challenge. Ultimately, the Europeans need to collaborate with the U.S. on intelligence-gathering, to deal with international terrorism, cyber threats and organized crime. But the Snowden allegations, whether reported accurately or not, have changed the public perception and mood in Europe, obliging leaders like Merkel to take a tougher stand.

This duality is not limited to Europe. The United States is repeatedly accused of violating the sovereignty of nations in public with whom they are colluding in private. Public opinion on this score is seen as something to be managed by leaders who must carefully tend to domestic populist instincts with rhetoric that contrasts sharply with their actions.

Just this week Bob Woodward and Greg Miller reported on how Pakistan fits into this picture. Here is their lead: “Despite repeatedly denouncing the CIA’s drone campaign, top officials in Pakistan’s government have for years secretly endorsed the program and routinely received classified briefings on strikes and casualty counts, according to top-secret CIA documents and Pakistani diplomatic memos obtained by The Washington Post.”

Pakistan is a hotbed of anti-American sentiment in part due to the mutually beneficial security cooperation that Pakistan both conducts and undercuts as it seeks to protect itself from the very terrorist groups it enables. The Washington Post article nods toward Pakistani cooperation with the drone program as a “poorly kept” secret, which it is. But the documents show, the Post notes, “the explicit nature” of the bilateral agreement on drones.

Nonetheless, Pakistan’s foreign ministry told the Post that a new day has dawned and the current Pakistani government is united in its opposition to drone strikes. It’s plausible, however, that the revelations will have the opposite effect. “I think people knew it already, but this makes it much more obvious, and the [Pakistani] media and others will have to cool off,” a retired Pakistani general told the Post. That’s because it’s not so easy to portray it as a violation of sovereignty when it is very much not a violation of sovereignty–a lesson the Europeans should keep in mind.

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Why We Spy

I have a word of advice for American allies outraged by alleged NSA spying on their leaders: Grow up. That means you Germany. You too France. And you, Brazil. Mexico too. Also the EU and the UN.

Does the NSA spy on your leaders? Probably. Do you spy on leaders of allied states including the United States? Probably. You just don’t have the resources or capability to spy as effectively as the NSA does. But if you did, you would.

Don’t bother denying it. All states subscribe to the principle enunciated by Lord Palmerston, the 19th century British foreign minister and prime minister: “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.”

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I have a word of advice for American allies outraged by alleged NSA spying on their leaders: Grow up. That means you Germany. You too France. And you, Brazil. Mexico too. Also the EU and the UN.

Does the NSA spy on your leaders? Probably. Do you spy on leaders of allied states including the United States? Probably. You just don’t have the resources or capability to spy as effectively as the NSA does. But if you did, you would.

Don’t bother denying it. All states subscribe to the principle enunciated by Lord Palmerston, the 19th century British foreign minister and prime minister: “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.”

In the pursuit of their interests, all states need as much information as possible about the actions and (even harder to fathom) the intentions of other states, even (or perhaps especially) those with whom they are allied at the moment. There is pretty much no state on whose automatic loyalty you can count. Witness how our close allies the French refused to support the Iraq war but took the lead in Mali. Or how the Germans chose to sit out Iraq but participated in Afghanistan. And that’s only looking at security policy; economic policy is also a big deal. The reason why all advanced nations spend a lot of money on intelligence is, in part, to help them answer such questions.

Sure, a much bigger part of the intelligence budget goes, as it should, to analyzing the actions and intentions of enemies, but even if you are narrowly focused on bad actors such as Iran or al-Qaeda, you must have accurate information on the actions of your allies: Will the Germans support tougher sanctions? Will the Italians cooperate in a rendition? And so on. That’s why nations spy on each other in private, even while pledging eternal friendship in public.

That’s why the U.S. intelligence community fears penetration by the intelligence service of Israel (an ally) at least as much as it fears penetration by the intelligence services of avowed enemies such as Iran and Cuba. And with good cause.

There is a partial exception: the “five eyes” alliance between the U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Those nations, which have been sharing sensitive signals intelligence since World War II, probably don’t spy on each other’s leaders–but they do spy on each other’s citizens. In fact this intelligence sharing allows them to do an end-run around prohibitions on domestic surveillance: the Brits can spy on our citizens, we can spy on theirs, and then we can share the results.

Everyone else–every other country outside the “five eyes”–is fair game for American spying, and we are fair game for theirs. Of course the leaders of France, Germany, Brazil, et al. know this. But their voters don’t. Much of their anger is faked for public consumption. The only outrage is that anyone is outraged.

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Nixon’s Ghost and the Specter of Hypocrisy

In August 2008, the New York Times checked in on the celebrities expected to attend the Democratic and Republican presidential nominating conventions, and came to an unsurprising tally: “When it comes to big name entertainment and partying, it looks like the Democratic National Convention in Denver later this month might have an edge over the Republican gathering in St. Paul in early September.”

One of the many stars lining up on the Democratic side to spread the gospel of Barack was the actor Maggie Gyllenhaal, who continued to support President Obama in his bid for reelection again four years later. But Gyllenhaal is suddenly not so enthusiastic about the government. She is unnerved by the revelations about the NSA, and has joined an organization to rally this weekend called Stop Watching Us. She and other Hollywood celebrities, such as John Cusack, released a promotional video, which the ACLU is enthusiastically sharing. There’s one curious element to the video, however: it targets, repeatedly, one president: Richard Nixon.

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In August 2008, the New York Times checked in on the celebrities expected to attend the Democratic and Republican presidential nominating conventions, and came to an unsurprising tally: “When it comes to big name entertainment and partying, it looks like the Democratic National Convention in Denver later this month might have an edge over the Republican gathering in St. Paul in early September.”

One of the many stars lining up on the Democratic side to spread the gospel of Barack was the actor Maggie Gyllenhaal, who continued to support President Obama in his bid for reelection again four years later. But Gyllenhaal is suddenly not so enthusiastic about the government. She is unnerved by the revelations about the NSA, and has joined an organization to rally this weekend called Stop Watching Us. She and other Hollywood celebrities, such as John Cusack, released a promotional video, which the ACLU is enthusiastically sharing. There’s one curious element to the video, however: it targets, repeatedly, one president: Richard Nixon.

Now in fairness, the video also includes appearances and commentary by Oliver Stone, so perhaps it’s not meant to be taken seriously anyway. But it’s a good example of the cognitive dissonance this president has inspired in his followers. Nixon, who takes a starring role in the video, remains the mascot for government intrusion and overreach.

At the rally, Michigan Republican Congressman Justin Amash will join such luminaries as Noami Wolf and Dennis Kucinich to speak about the dangers of, presumably, the Nixon administration’s crackdown on domestic liberty, his failing strategy in Vietnam, his belligerence toward Cuba, and his outdated anti-Communism. Oliver Stone does not appear slated to speak at the rally, so Harry Truman will be spared the Nixon treatment.

But at least Cusack and Co.’s outrage seems genuine. While the ACLU rallies against Nixon, our allies abroad are complaining about more phone-tapping allegations, specifically against France and Germany. Marc Ambinder throws some cold water on the outrage there too:

Of course, Brazil, France, Germany, and Mexico do exactly the same thing. They want their leaders to gain a decision advantage in the give and take between countries. They want to know what U.S. policymakers will do before the Americans do it. And in the case of Brazil and France, they aggressively spy on the United States, on U.S. citizens and politicians, in order to collect that information. The difference lies in the scale of intelligence collection: The U.S. has the most effective, most distributed, most sophisticated intelligence community in the West. It is Goliath. And other countries, rightly in their mind, are envious.

“The magnitude of the eavesdropping is what shocked us,” former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told France Info radio. “Let’s be honest, we eavesdrop too. Everyone is listening to everyone else.”

The difference, he added, is that “we don’t have the same means as the United States — which makes us jealous.”

But there’s a limit to the utility of pointing out others’ hypocrisy. A Foreign Affairs essay making the rounds today is from Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore, arguing that the real damage from the WikiLeaks and Snowden revelations is that they will expose America’s hypocrisy. And acting hypocritically, they write, is a crucial and underappreciated strategic necessity:

Of course, the United States is far from the only hypocrite in international politics. But the United States’ hypocrisy matters more than that of other countries. That’s because most of the world today lives within an order that the United States built, one that is both underwritten by U.S. power and legitimated by liberal ideas. American commitments to the rule of law, democracy, and free trade are embedded in the multilateral institutions that the country helped establish after World War II, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, and later the World Trade Organization. Despite recent challenges to U.S. preeminence, from the Iraq war to the financial crisis, the international order remains an American one.

This system needs the lubricating oil of hypocrisy to keep its gears turning. To ensure that the world order continues to be seen as legitimate, U.S. officials must regularly promote and claim fealty to its core liberal principles; the United States cannot impose its hegemony through force alone. But as the recent leaks have shown, Washington is also unable to consistently abide by the values that it trumpets. This disconnect creates the risk that other states might decide that the U.S.-led order is fundamentally illegitimate.

I remain skeptical, however. It’s not just that our allies act hypocritically; it’s that they want us to act hypocritically. If nations cater first and foremost to their interests, then they care about the policies of the United States, not the gap between public rhetoric and action. The same is true for the domestic audience: most Americans were happy that President Obama continued many of the anti-terrorism methods used by the Bush administration, because they are vital to national security.

Obama’s hypocrisy was and continues to be noted by conservatives. But conservatives don’t oppose the policies that result from that hypocrisy, because the policies matter more than campaign promises. That is not to say that the public approves of politicians being dishonest to gain office: Obama may have genuinely thought what Bush was doing was wrong and unnecessary until he began getting intelligence briefings. Politicians who don’t have access to all the information are not liars just because they later discovered that their initial instincts were wrong.

Likewise, our allies abroad benefit tremendously from the American national-security infrastructure. They might be angered by the Snowden leaks, but that’s because they’re hypocrites too, and the leaks open them up to domestic criticism for their own hypocrisy. The leaks are plenty damaging to national security, but it’s unlikely they’re going to lose the U.S. the cooperation and support of allies who rely on American power projection and won’t presume to pretend otherwise.

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Germany Shows EU Lack of Iran Resolve

Turkey may be the West’s biggest leak on Iran sanctions, but as has unfortunately been a frequent theme of mine here at COMMENTARY, Germany is the greatest example of Europe’s cravenness and lack of resolve toward Iran’s nuclear program. Alas, it seems, despite Obama’s lofty rhetoric and his promise to rework diplomacy, the trend continues. According to Germany’s “Stop the Bomb” campaign:

The Institute of Religious Studies in Potsdam and the URD in Qom declared the beginning of cooperation in 2011. In September, a delegation of the University of Potsdam and the Goethe University Frankfurt / Main will travel to Iran… The cooperation is backed by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), which signed a Memorandum of Understanding last year, in order to strengthen academic relationships with Iran. The fact that Kamran Daneshjoo, the Iranian Minister of Science, Research, and Technology at the time, was on the European Union sanctions list because of his alleged involvement in Iranian nuclear warhead design and work, was ignored.

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Turkey may be the West’s biggest leak on Iran sanctions, but as has unfortunately been a frequent theme of mine here at COMMENTARY, Germany is the greatest example of Europe’s cravenness and lack of resolve toward Iran’s nuclear program. Alas, it seems, despite Obama’s lofty rhetoric and his promise to rework diplomacy, the trend continues. According to Germany’s “Stop the Bomb” campaign:

The Institute of Religious Studies in Potsdam and the URD in Qom declared the beginning of cooperation in 2011. In September, a delegation of the University of Potsdam and the Goethe University Frankfurt / Main will travel to Iran… The cooperation is backed by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), which signed a Memorandum of Understanding last year, in order to strengthen academic relationships with Iran. The fact that Kamran Daneshjoo, the Iranian Minister of Science, Research, and Technology at the time, was on the European Union sanctions list because of his alleged involvement in Iranian nuclear warhead design and work, was ignored.

There’s a myth out there that people-to-people dialogue is always positive. Perhaps that’s true if you’re a fan of the Dennis Rodman school of diplomacy, but it is unsupported by evidence. Rogue regimes seldom serve up ordinary people to such dialogues, but rather transform well-meaning foreign activists and academics into useful idiots. The University of Potsdam and DAAD’s willingness to work not with free Iranians, but rather respectively with a clerical propaganda center and a sanctioned official shows just how empty German resolve can be.

European Union countries—especially Germany—may talk a good game when it comes to diplomacy but, time and time again, they show that their diplomacy is pro forma and their rhetoric empty. German officials and businessmen worship at the altar of the status quo divorced completely from the human rights idealism and security responsibility for which they claim to stand. Let us hope that the United States never ceases to lead, because the European Union’s largest country is simply not up to the task.

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Germany Again Seeks to Cheat on Iran Sanctions

Germany has certainly been among Europe’s weakest links when it comes to upholding sanctions against Iran. While the White House continues to grant waivers to Germany, German companies have attended trade and investment fairs in Iran. The German-Iranian Chamber of Commerce has also helped shepherd German companies through the process of investing in Iran’s energy sector, never mind the sanctions regime. Now it seems the German government is at it again. According to Germany’s “Stop the Bomb” campaign:

Under the patronage of German Federal Environment Minister Peter Altmaier and Federal Minister of Economics Philipp Rösler, on 10 July 2013 a conference will be held with the title “Energy Security – How to Feed and Secure the Global Demand.” Among the speakers are Federal Environment Minister Peter Altmaier and Iranian Oil Minister Rostam Ghasemi, a General of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards… According to a press release on the conference “high level policy maker” will discuss “political developments in producing countries” and “geostrategic implications of changing global energy supply routes.” However, the EU imposed sanctions against Iran’s energy sector and the Iranian Ministry of Petroleum is as an entity on the EU sanctions list.

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Germany has certainly been among Europe’s weakest links when it comes to upholding sanctions against Iran. While the White House continues to grant waivers to Germany, German companies have attended trade and investment fairs in Iran. The German-Iranian Chamber of Commerce has also helped shepherd German companies through the process of investing in Iran’s energy sector, never mind the sanctions regime. Now it seems the German government is at it again. According to Germany’s “Stop the Bomb” campaign:

Under the patronage of German Federal Environment Minister Peter Altmaier and Federal Minister of Economics Philipp Rösler, on 10 July 2013 a conference will be held with the title “Energy Security – How to Feed and Secure the Global Demand.” Among the speakers are Federal Environment Minister Peter Altmaier and Iranian Oil Minister Rostam Ghasemi, a General of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards… According to a press release on the conference “high level policy maker” will discuss “political developments in producing countries” and “geostrategic implications of changing global energy supply routes.” However, the EU imposed sanctions against Iran’s energy sector and the Iranian Ministry of Petroleum is as an entity on the EU sanctions list.

Alas, it seems that the erosion of American credibility has occurred not only among U.S. adversaries but also with regard to U.S. allies. What to do? Germany wants its defense minister to take the helm of NATO. If the Obama administration wanted to be taken seriously, it would make German seriousness regarding one of the greatest collective security threats the West faces a condition of signing off on any such appointment. Alas, it seems, Obama’s strategy appears to assuage Berlin by undermining U.S. credibility even further.

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How Obama Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Cold War

It was difficult to escape the too-perfect photo making the rounds yesterday of the G-8 country leaders smiling as a mammoth storm cloud ominously approached. The metaphor was obvious, but it was an appropriate lead-in to the press coverage greeting President Obama this morning on his growing isolation on the world stage. The Europeans are disappointed, it seems, in anything Obama does. The Germans say his NSA snooping is too much a projection of American meddling and militarism abroad, and the French say his lack of resolve on Syria is evidence of not enough American meddling and militarism abroad.

And don’t even get them started on his inability to lower the ocean tides. But it’s not just “friends.” While Obama has spent his time in office deriding Cold War parallels, the New York Times has an extensive story today that touches on why that conflict is suddenly relevant. The Times reports on Obama’s recent time spent “tangling with the leaders of two cold war antagonists,” the presidents of China and Russia, and their newfound refusal to feign warmth. And what’s more, though the president has always been unable to get much cooperation from Russia or China, it seems to be dawning on the White House that there was a subtle shift in attitudes and suspicions somewhere along the way, undetected at the time but undeniable now.

That, too, makes the Times’s historical echoes apt. As John Lewis Gaddis has written about the post-World War II security dilemmas and the expanding mutual distrust:

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It was difficult to escape the too-perfect photo making the rounds yesterday of the G-8 country leaders smiling as a mammoth storm cloud ominously approached. The metaphor was obvious, but it was an appropriate lead-in to the press coverage greeting President Obama this morning on his growing isolation on the world stage. The Europeans are disappointed, it seems, in anything Obama does. The Germans say his NSA snooping is too much a projection of American meddling and militarism abroad, and the French say his lack of resolve on Syria is evidence of not enough American meddling and militarism abroad.

And don’t even get them started on his inability to lower the ocean tides. But it’s not just “friends.” While Obama has spent his time in office deriding Cold War parallels, the New York Times has an extensive story today that touches on why that conflict is suddenly relevant. The Times reports on Obama’s recent time spent “tangling with the leaders of two cold war antagonists,” the presidents of China and Russia, and their newfound refusal to feign warmth. And what’s more, though the president has always been unable to get much cooperation from Russia or China, it seems to be dawning on the White House that there was a subtle shift in attitudes and suspicions somewhere along the way, undetected at the time but undeniable now.

That, too, makes the Times’s historical echoes apt. As John Lewis Gaddis has written about the post-World War II security dilemmas and the expanding mutual distrust:

Because the Anglo-American relationship with the Soviet Union had fallen into this pattern well before World War II ended, it is difficult to say precisely when the Cold War began. There were no surprise attacks, no declarations of war, no severing even of diplomatic ties. There was, however, a growing sense of insecurity at the highest levels in Washington, London, and Moscow, generated by the efforts the wartime allies were making to ensure their own postwar security.

Just an ominous cloud that kept advancing until it was right overhead. And now, it seems, Obama is embracing reality and pushing back. Today he spoke at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, but with a slight adjustment: he spoke from the eastern side of the gate, to revel in the absence of despotism and division. He was joined at the speech by 92-year-old Gail Halvorsen, the former Air Force pilot known as the “original Candy Bomber” during the heroic Berlin Airlift exactly 65 years ago next week. And he paid tribute specifically to the crucial symbolic role played by the West’s willingness to establish in West Berlin the free world’s superior answer to the subjugation of East Berlin:

During that time, a Marshall Plan seeded a miracle, and a North Atlantic Alliance protected our people.  And those in the neighborhoods and nations to the East drew strength from the knowledge that freedom was possible here, in Berlin — that the waves of crackdowns and suppressions might therefore someday be overcome. 

No moral relativism there. What we had was better than what the proponents of dreary and brutal socialism had to offer. Our system was just and theirs dishonorable. Our side was the future, theirs the past. Where once Obama’s rhetoric smacked of “peace dividend” complacency, he told Berlin that “complacency is not the character of great nations.  Today’s threats are not as stark as they were half a century ago, but the struggle for freedom and security and human dignity — that struggle goes on.  And I’ve come here, to this city of hope, because the tests of our time demand the same fighting spirit that defined Berlin a half-century ago.”

The president would like to reduce nuclear stockpiles in a negotiated agreement with Russia, but the prospects for such cooperation aren’t great. And of course he wants to harness this new anti-complacency, in part, to stave off global warming and promote political activism. But he also defended the anti-terror programs currently in the news and when he spoke of Osama bin Laden’s death, he added that “Our efforts against al Qaeda are evolving”–a less triumphal but more realistic approach to understanding and waging the war on terror.

The onset of the Cold War was both disappointing and understated because the world seemed to have been at war for half a century, and many had no desire to accept the reality that war would continue. If you think Americans are war-weary after Iraq and Afghanistan, just imagine how they felt after two world wars. And they got off easy–World War II arguably didn’t really end in Poland when it ended for the West, tyranny having continued seamlessly there.

But reality always intervenes. And it has once again. Obama may not have been interested in the history and lessons of the Cold War, but to paraphrase Trotsky, the Cold War was interested in him. Gone seems to be his dismissive attitude toward the conflict, replaced with a disdain for those who still look east for strength or salvation. It remains to be seen whether this will have any significant implications for the president’s foreign policy, but if it doesn’t, it will be due to stubbornness, not cluelessness.

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