Friday, September 05, 2003
Old Europe plays out

Recently, France and Germany decided to reject a US proposal to add international troops to the US-led occupation of Iraq. In FAZ Weekly, Michael Gavin mentions that German opposition criticised Schröder for this:
Merkel [German opposition leader] said Schröder's unequivocal declaration last summer that Germany would not take part in any war against Iraq had limited the country's diplomatic leverage and damaged German-U.S. relations. "And here we have another of these moves, where things are laid down very quickly," she added. "I don't like it."
I don't like it either, especially because there are already successful collaborations taking place, more of that later.

Interesting enough, Powell mentioned according to Yahoo! News:
If they [Schröder and Chirac] have suggestions, we'd be more than happy to listen to those suggestions.
This is an interesting statement that in a way captures the quandary the US faces at the moment. Even though Iraq was liberated in an incredibly swift and professional way, the after-war scenario is unstable and uncontrolled, with nearly daily US army casualties. The US costs of 4 bio. $ every month are another argument in favor of letting other nations participate in a peace-keeping mission in Iraq. But Chirac and Schröder have decided to stick to their Non/Nein. They are playing out.

In die Zeit (print edition), Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff mentions the following three options to increase security and stability in Iraq (own translation):
- Send more US troops;
- Recruit more Iraqi security personnel;
- Let UN participate and increase the amount of allied troops.
But then, Kleine-Brockhoff dissects each point - the US military is already strained; assembling an Iraqi security system takes too much time, Iraq would fall into chaos; and many armies are strained as well (Britain, Poland, Germany, etc.) or might become "part of the problem" (Turkey, Pakistan, India).
As mentioned before, Europe seems to perceive the threat from Islamism differently in terms of quantity, not quality (of course, the question remains: when does a certain quantity turn into quality?). William Drozdiak notes in the Washington Post (emphasis mine):
While Americans feel acutely vulnerable in the global war against terrorism and no longer enjoy the sense of protection once afforded by two oceans and a vast land mass, Europeans feel perhaps more secure than at any time in their history. For four centuries, every generation of young Germans and French prepared to wage war against each other. That prospect is now simply unthinkable. With the waning of the Balkan wars and rapid integration of Russia with the West, Europeans generally believe they face no serious security threat -- unless they are dragged into conflict elsewhere by the United States.
Europe tends to play down 9-11 and its consequences, although EuroPundits states in a great post [referring to a survey mentioned in the Washington Post and International Herald tribune] that there are more parallels in the perception of the war on terror between the US and Europe than one imagines; e.g. (emphasis mine)
Think about the following: they [Europeans] do not seem to be worried about Kyoto, the ICC (International Criminal Court), Global Warming, Genetically Modified Food, the absence (for the time being) of WMDs in Iraq, the hegemony of Hollywood, Pop Music and the English language, Arabophobia or Islamophobia, the Jewish/Zionist takeover or world media and finances. In short, not one of the fashionable causes preached by their own establishments has changed the fact that, when it comes to identify real existential dangers, they're still able to see through the ideological fog.

So far, so good. Let us assume a significant amount of Europeans is aware of the threat of Islamism, among them, of course, Old Europe's leaders. Further, an Iraq that is unstable and infiltrated by Islamists is not in Europe's interest at all (I even think Europeans prefer stability in that region over democracy, with all its labor pains; therefore, the - cynical - refusal to liberate Iraq, among other reasons mentioned). The question then is: why doesn't Old Europe jump on the bandwagon now?

The always brilliant Steven Den Beste mentions the key question (emphasis mine):
The real question, then, is whether Bush has become sufficiently desperate that he's willing to actually give the UN enough power over the situation so that it can prevent reform from taking place, and that is what most commentators have debated, fearfully or hopefully, over the last couple of weeks.
Indeed. France and Germany say they would join peace-keeping in an UN framework, and Powell has shown some plight in asking "what do you want?" - because the price in lives and money is dire, though I say: hats off to the United States for this sacrifice. But the US need support, and even though France and Germany want a stable Iraq, they also want their share of influence - and they shamelessly raise the price. They are playing out, because it won't get better quickly in Iraq - if nothing happens, the situation in Iraq with nearly daily casualties and high costs could threaten a reelection of President Bush, although the Democrats will probably not nominate Lieberman who appears determined to continue the war on terror. And a destabilized Iraq would not only threaten Bush's reelection, but a failure in Iraq would also be seen as a signal by al-Qaeda and other terrorists to continue their mission by force. This is in nobody's interest.

An interesting solution to this situation is presented by Constanze Stelzenmüller in die Zeit (in German), pointing to what is already taking place (emphasis mine; own translation):
But there is a model [for the situation in Iraq] - although it can still be improved: at present it is practised in Afghanistan. Under the label"Operation Enduring Freedom", a US-led coalition fights against Taliban and al-Qaeda at the Afghan border (German KSK combat troops also participate, by the way). At the same time, a multinational troop called Isaf, led by NATO [...], provides stability in Kabul. [...] This is what a reasonable division of labor could look like in Iraq as well: specialized combat troops would fight Baathists, Saddam loyalists and infiltrated terrorists; meanwhile, a multinational troop would provide security and peace in the population. Exactly here, the Europeans have much experience to offer after ten years of peacekeeping on the Balkans [...]
This would be an interesting solution in my eyes - why not continue a successful collaboration? It is in both US and Europe's/Russians interest to bring stability and democracy to Iraq. The fight behind the curtains is who will have how much to say in Iraq, because Iraq is only the beginning. It is a fight taking place on the backs of courageous US soldiers and their allies - and on the backs of the Iraqis. In a way, the future relationships between the US and Europe will decide in the Middle East.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003
Is Microsoft getting nervous already?

Last May, the city of Munich has decided to migrate its entire computer network to Linux, even Steven Ballmer interrupting his skiing holidays couldn't prevent that. Well, one might say, that's only 14.000 computers, which is peanuts if we think in Microsoft categories (though its a symbolic action, and some other cities here have already followed Munich's example). But now, a real big thing is taking shape at the horizon: Japan, China and South Korea seriously consider creating their own Windows replacement, probably based on Linux technology as well, even though Japan's Trade and Industry Minister Takeo Hiranuma, according to Yahoo News, said:
Open-source software represented by Linux is solid in terms of their core software, but their peripheral software for such functions as word processing, spreadsheet and printing are not.
Well, I must say I have experimented with OpenOffice for some time now, it appears to be OK for everyday Office activities (I haven't yet tried to create complicated calculations or create macros). I agree with Mr Hiranuma that still some development is needed (but then, we're actually facing OpenOffice 1.1, I've never encountered any program that was so mature at version 1.1, especially not a Microsoft product).
If an alternative of this scope was realized, this would not be peanuts, but several hundred million users. And Asia, especially China has large growth rates (excluding Japan for now in terms of growth rates, not in terms of computer systems). The interesting thing is why those states consider a change, Yahoo News quotes Mr Hiranuma (emphasis mine):
It is important to provide (electronics) users' with options -- some people may want to use Windows as it is convenient while others may want an open-source software due to concern over security and costs.
So, apart from the price, the recent computer viruses are taking their toll; it seems some people are really disturbed by the security holes in Windows. As for me, I'm content with regularly (automatically) updating my XP sytem, plus my Virus scanner, and I've closed all unnecessary ports. I've not yet had any problems with a Virus or anything else, though I must say I've already curiously looked over the shoulder of some Linux fans, and I liked what I saw...

UPDATE: To all those who hear "voices" now when visiting this site - no, it's not due to inhaling paint thinner, having slept badly or being overworked. I've implemented a "welcome bee", saying "welcome to the bee-hive"; you can hear this bee by clicking on the "Welcome"-header in the sidebar as well. If this busy, ever-friendly welcome bee bothers you, I'll remove the automatic welcome (of course, you can also turn down the volume as well).

Monday, September 01, 2003
Confessions - a rant

I recently remembered my first entry over at Little Green Footballs, which strikes me as the best weblog, and I admit I had to grin at what I read. A lot of thinking and reading has changed my position, but I'd like to give an as short as possible report on how and why I changed my opinion concerning the case for war in Iraq.

My first suspicions about German politicians were awakened long before I changed my opinion, by Slo-Mo (very slow speaker) politician Rudolf Scharping, who made a horrible statement, according to AJC (emphasis mine):
If further proof were needed that the climate had turned nasty, it was provided by Rudolf Scharping, Schröder's former defense minister, who reportedly stated, at a meeting in Berlin on August 27, 2002, that President Bush was being encouraged to go to war against Iraq by a "powerful-perhaps overly powerful-Jewish lobby" in the United States. In Scharping's formulation, reminiscent of older, far-right claims about excessive Jewish power, anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism come together as common bedfellows.
This statement rumbled through my brain the whole day, because of its impertinence. But, as already discussed, the left is dangerously blind on the eye of anti-Semitism, though Scharping's comment could have been uttered in the 1930's.
Further, in the days prior to Bundestagswahl (elections), I was disgusted by the comments of Schröder's party fellows Däubler-Gmelin, who compared Bush to Hitler, and Ludwig Stiegler, who compared Bush to an Imperialist Roman Emperor (I even wrote an e-mail to the White House to express my horror at those "comparisons"). Even though I was disgusted by those words - because I've always been a great fan and friend of the US - I shared the position that a war was not inevitable, but could be avoided if Saddam complied to the now-famous UN resolution 1441. So, I thought, let's look at one of those hawkish weblogs and give them some heat. Little did I know that I would be royally grilled, first because my knowledge was thin, second because I over-simplified matters, and third because I naively idealized the UN's role (I must admit that it took all my patience to not counter-insult some who provided me with nasty slurs).
This experience really made me think hard. Was the German position - to which I unknowingly clung - really wrong? Hadn't we, the Germans, learned from history that belligerence leads to endless woe (this one really amazed me over at LGF - a German was verbally assaulted for not going to war...)? Why should Germany participate in a war without a threat to be seen on the horizon?
I read, and learned a lot concerning this issue. Not only did I look up facts, but I also reflected on the different mindsets between America and Europe. I'll try to give a short summary of what I think were key points that let me hold a moderate pacifist opinion in the past (in no particular order):
- One-sidedness of German media
- Understimation of 9-11's impact on American psyche
- Idealization of the UN
- Thin knowledge concerning the issue
- An US administration utilizing "straight talk"
- Perception of US foreign policy as "egoistic".
I'll try to go through these points. Concerning one-sidedness of German media, I already wrote about this issue before; there was no paper, TV channel or other medium here that backed the US openly; the friendliest thing was mild criticism.
As to underestimation of 9-11's impact on American psyche, I must say this factor was and is largely neglected as well. From the many American blogs/papers/e-mails I've read, I conclude most Americans experience 9-11 as one of the most important turning points in their history; not only on a political but also on an emotional level (many feel threatened by terrorism). Plus, there is an not often paraphrased emotion of hurt pride and being disenchanted, because the USA was seen before as one of the most secure places in the world. This view was buried under the dust of the world trade center, and it is a painful memory. In the first weeks after 9-11, all European countries showed great support for the US and made sincere statements, like Peter Struck said on 9-11: "today, we are all Americans". This support was shown in Afghanistan too, but then collapsed - Afghanistan appears to have been judged in Europe as a "just war", while the war on Iraq was perceived as an "unjust" war. Why? The average European might say, "well, Afghanistan was home of the Taliban, a brutal regime that hosted terrorists, and Osama bin Laden - they must pay for their horrible deeds. But Iraq is different - no connections to al Qaeda, a dictator, OK, but one who is weak and and least provides a stabel government". What a cynical statement and attitude! Europeans tend to fade out the world out there, many here just don't care about foreign policy and condemn everything that "disturbs" the current world order. Little do they know that asymmetrical warfare has been going on for years.
As to the idealization of the UN, I'll just point to an excellent post by Stormin Norman that helps clarify things.
My thin knowledge concerning the issue needed to be worked on too. I visited lots of weblogs to get information that is systematically faded out in German/European media. I wanted to read the opinions of those who supported the war in Iraq, and I largely had to rely on US media, like National Review or the aforementioned weblogs. This helped me to recognize what situation we are in, and how to best cope with it. Islamism and radical Islam are the greatest thrat of our times, if one says this phrase in Germany, there are not few who immediately fall prey to pre-installed German PC mode, stating "racist! you overgeneralize!" etc. Let them rant, I draw - just like the brilliant scholar on the matter, Daniel Pipes - a distinct line between Islam and Islamism. Remember I am discussing things from a German perspective, in Israel, realities are a bit different. Back to Germany, it appears as if the realization of this threat - not only on the level of the government, which has already taken some action, but also on the level of the population - must be achieved first. And the more information one gathers, the clearer become the parallels between Nazism (which the left is so proud of fighting) and islamism (which the left strangely ignores). And it becomes clearer that it is useless to negotiate with Islamists because they are fundamentalists who care about treaties only as long as they deem them useful. They are irrational - something the Kreml never was, depsite all the pompous ideological circus. The USA have shown that there is only one way how to deal with irrational fundamentalists whose goal is to destroy all who don't fit their distorted ideology.
The US administration utilizing "straight talk"-point is typical European. Europeans have criticised the US forever, and the US - being the biggest guy around - suffered this teasing, like a parent suffers the teasing of a child. But when the child becomes too annoying, the parent says "now it's enough!" (like these Hitler-comparisons, which are so brainless and ahistorical that it pains me even now). I am aware that there has always been some anti-European attitude in the US too. But the larger parts of criticism and insults seems to stem from a powerless Europe doomed to watch history in the making by others, a role that especially France has difficulties with; the British have deeper and stronger bonds than any other European country with the US, though Germany used to be called the "most America-friendly nation in Europe" by Newsweek in the past (print edition).
The final point - perception of US foreign policy as "egoistic" - is equally strange. All those arguments about "oil", "Bush's revenge" etc. are so superficial and ridiculous. Despite the debunked forgery of Saddam Hussein trying to actively acquire Uran, there is certainly more, undisclosed evidence that he really wanted WMDs. It would be completely foolish though to make all intelligence information public, not only because it is (in certain situations) unlawful but because it would greatly aid the other side. The reason for war was that Saddam Hussein was did not fulfill UN resolution 1441, he wouldn't disarm and played cat and mouse. This, of course, gave him time. Disarming Saddam was not only increasing security for the US (Saddam would certainly have loved to sell WMDs to anybody harming the US or Israel), but also for Europe (who, actually, is in the vicinity of Iraq?). What was not at all mentioned up to now is, of course, the Iraqi people, which according to those in favour of appeasement should have suffered some more.

I hope I haven't lost the plot somewhere up there! But perhaps this rant helps some to understand the position of a staunch European supporter of the US, who reached his current opinion through thoroughly analyzing facts.

P.S.: I won't blog much in the next week, there are even other things beside blogging that need to be done...

Sunday, August 31, 2003
More socialism watch

Today, the IG Metall, Germany's second-largest and influential trade union, elected a traditional hardliner, Jürgen Peters, as its new chairman, though he received the worst result in 40 years (66 percent) because he was largely responsible for the desastrous strike defeat in East Germany. Peters, according to Michael Fichter (all bold type by me),
wanted to strengthen his recognition and position via a successful strike, but was thwarted by the supporters of Huber [a moderate] [...] who blocked the needed extension of the strike to western Germany.
Concerning Peters' bad result, the BBC notes:
The size of the opposition to him reflects the divisions within IG Metall, spawned largely by Germany's economic plight, which has raised the necessity of long-postponed reform.
And my clue™-sense is tickling again too, if we consider what Deutsche Welle says:
[...] recent surveys show that most German citizens are sceptical towards the union's policies and find them too outdated and counterproductive.
One day before his election, Peters blathered some more; according to Deutsche Welle, he was...
[...] saying they [Schröder's reforms] would "further strangle the economy" and would not lead to any more jobs. "It is not ending unfairness, it is creating new justices," Peters said. The reforms include cuts in unemployment benefits and making it easier for companies to fire workers.
Well, if one gets a job here, one is practically a civil servant; Germany has one of the most rigid employment markets world-wide. There are many medium-sized enterprises who would love to hire new workers right now, but they don't because they cannot get rid of them in bad order situations. At the same time, collective bargaining - one, if not the remaining core competency of trade unions in Germany - totally neglects the financial situations of relevant enterprises, which leads to a bleeding-out of financially chipped enterprises (because they have to pay the same raises as financially stronger enterprises). Exceptions to this rule - and bargaining on the level of the enterprise concerned - are rare and difficult to achieve.

The irony is that it might be exactly Peters the hardliner who is incapable of blocking the reforms that he so urgently wants to prevent, utilizing socialistic reflexes. Stephen Silvia points out:
[...] the election of Jürgen Peters may actually increase the odds that the Chancellor's reform package will pass with only minor modifications. Why? Both Peters and the president of the German trade union confederation (DGB), Michael Sommer, are traditionalists. They demand preservation of the status quo, and offer no viable alternative vision for reducing unemployment in Germany. The traditionalist labor wing within the Chancellor's Social Democratic Party is also significant, but without a credible set of alternative proposals for improving the performance of the German labor market, it is difficult to see how they can out argue the reform proponents behind the Chancellor. As a result, the conservative "Hände weg!" position of German labor may produce political fireworks that may be of symbolic value to some union leaders, but it is unlikely to derail the reforms themselves. By choosing confrontation over cooperation, labor has less influence over the content of the reforms because it is no longer at the drafting table.
I hope Silvia is right, but I guess Peters will revive the ancient Klassenkampf-schemes and other socialistic routines to keep his organization "alive" - and to compensate for the loss of credibility. Either way, whether the IG Metall decides to block "reforms" here or not, there probably will be some development - and it appears the days of moloch-unions stuck in the seventies are numbered.

UPDATE: I've noted comments are limited to 400 characters now (after 1.000 in the first two trial weeks). Thanks to all who stomached this constraint - I'm already looking for a solution, so backrants can reach the due length.

ANOTHER UPDATE: For those interested, Tobias Schwarz has an interesting post concerning Peters and IG Metall.