(By Ray D.)
Before Christmas, Davids Medienkritik published an article on a Stern commentary entitled "America is Destroying the West" by Florian Guessgen. Guessgen responded to our article with a second piece of his own that actually addressed a few of our arguments. Ray then promised a prompt response which was subsequently delayed by Christmas and New Year's related travel and family gatherings. But now the holidays are past and our response is here.
Guessgen's Predictable Smear Attempt
Not surprisingly, we at Medienkritik have already been attacked and called names on numerous occasions by members of the mainstream German media. SPIEGEL ONLINE labeled us the "conservative click guerilla" and the former America correspondent for the Tagesspiegel, Malte Lehming, associated us with right-wing "Krawallos" or "ruffians."
Florian Guessgen recently joined the club in his response, labeling Davids Medienkritik "decidedly conservative" and perhaps "neo-conservative." He further pointed out that our site is (gasp) pro-American, pro-Israeli and pro-capitalist. Unfortunately, for the average Stern reader, those are all quite negative characteristics, which is why Mr. Guessgen brings it up. And that, in itself, says quite a lot about Mr. Guessgen, his publication, and his target audience.
Guessgen's Big Rowback
In our first critique of the article, "America is Destroying the West", Davids Medienkritik pointed out several weaknesses with the arguments put forth by the author. To his credit, Mr. Guessgen actually made several rowbacks in his second piece, entitled "Is America Destroying the West?", including a major one on the death penalty in the United States. Furthermore, his tone was decidedly more reserved, humble and introspective the moment he realized that Davids Medienkritik had exposed his writings to a broad, English-speaking audience. Here is a little sampling of that:
"With this argument Ray D. actually weakens my critique of the government of George W. Bush. He makes clear that the death penalty is not to blame on any single president or even one party, but instead obviously reflects the broad, consistent political will in the USA."
Guessgen goes on to mention that "55 percent of Germans questioned (in 1998) would favor the introduction of the death penalty in certain instances." Despite that fact, however, Guessgen continues to insist that the death penalty contradicts what he calls the "European canon of values" and therefore represents an "ethical rift" between Europe and the USA. Here again, Guessgen presumes to speak for all Europeans, not imagining that anyone within a thousand miles might disagree with his interpretation of "European values." He also maintains, rather unconvincingly, that he was not in the midst of a tirade of moral indignation directed at the Bush administration in his first piece, but instead simply attempting to define what he sees as an increasing divide between the US and Europe.
Guessgen also continues to defend his argument that the "US government is systematically attempting to circumvent international human rights." As evidence, he refers to CIA renditions and the incarceration of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. What Mr. Guessgen fails to acknowledge is that there is an intense and ongoing debate in the United States, and within the government itself, on that very issue. He fails to consider, even for a moment, that international agreements drafted well before the Second World War, including the Geneva Conventions, may no longer appropriately address the problems associated with the capture and detention of terrorists and other combatants who have no affiliation with a national army and themselves feel no obligation to international regulations or laws of warfare. Mr. Guessgen would be well advised to consider the opinion of Jeffrey Gedmin, who writes:
"Critics argue that the United States cannot have carte blanche to do whatever it wants in Guantanamo. The Bush administration says, Read the Geneva Convention—it does not apply to Al Qaeda prisoners. Both are right. Why does it take so long to get to the inevitable: the development of international law to meet the needs of the current era. We have done this before. That's how we got the Geneva Conventions. Now we need laws that apply to combatants who do not wear a uniform, who hide among civilians and who deliberately target unarmed innocents. These are not the criminals our domestic judicial systems or the international law have been equipped to deal with."
But instead, like so many other leftists, Guessgen wields the issue of Guantanamo as a convenient baseball bat with which to beat his political enemies. There is no real attempt made to reconcile the issue on his part, simply moral indignation. There is no real attempt made to acknowledge America's numerous contributions to international law and human rights, simply a vindictive, one-sided accounting of America's sins.
Additionally, Mr. Guessgen exhibits a blind, irrational faith in the United Nations as the singular source of international law and justice without so much as considering its many flaws, weaknesses and failings. Not once does he discuss the failure of the United Nations to hold Saddam Hussein fully accountable on its many weapons resolutions. Not once does he discuss the genocide that took place in Rwanda in the mid 1990s because of the inaction of the United Nations and key member states. Not once does he discuss the genocide taking place today in Sudan and the United Nations unwillingness to intervene. Not once does he discuss the Srebernica massacre in Bosnia that onlooking UN peacekeepers allowed to happen because they were too weak to act until the United States and NATO finally showed up. Not once does he bring up the massive oil-for-food corruption scandal that recently rocked the UN. Sadly, for people like Mr. Guessgen, international law has devolved into little more than a hollow ideal to be paraded around on the moral high ground by holier-than-thou media and political elites unwilling and unable to solve the world's real problems with anything more than high-handed condescension and a slavish dedication to the letter of a law that no one enforces and few take seriously.
That leads us to another issue: In his first article, Guessgen constantly refers to "George W. Bush's Amerika". In both articles, he also frequently substitutes the "US government" or "state" for the Bush administration. In so doing, he overlooks the fact that the Bush administration represents but one of three branches of the US federal government. Of course this gross oversimplification helps the author make a more dramatic, emotionally pleasing point to his readers, but it also belies his ignorance of the American system and its many checks and balances.
On Iraq, Guessgen rejects any reference to human rights, stating that the justification for war was based on Saddam's possession of weapons of mass destruction. To be honest, most of the world, including German and French intelligence, believed Saddam had WMD back in 2003. If he didn't, why wouldn't he simply cooperate with UN weapons inspectors and avoid the prospect of war and his own downfall? That question continues to baffle. And that brings us to a highly important technicality. The Iraq War was actually triggered by Saddam Hussein's refusal to fully comply with over a dozen United Nations Security Council resolutions on WMD over the course of twelve years, not by Mr. Hussein's alleged possession of WMD. Mr. Guessgen, himself a self-proclaimed advocate of international law, fails to recognize that the United States went to war to uphold international law as expressed in numerous documents (including UN Resolution 1441) and was repeatedly rebuffed by other member nations including France, Russia, China and Germany who refused to hold Saddam accountable with anything more than a flimsy, ineffective regime of inspections.
The Main Problem: Guessgen's Tone
But the issues discussed above, as important as they are, do not represent the main problem with Guessgen's work. We could all debate endlessly about going to war in Iraq, Guantanamo, torture, the death penalty and other hot-button issues. Intelligent people can and do continue to come to different conclusions on all of these issues. It is certainly also the case that Americans and Europeans will never completely agree on all issues (or even most issues) all of the time. This is nothing new, unusual or troubling.
What is troubling is the morally indignant, self-righteous tone assumed by so many German journalists when writing on the United States. Guessgen's first article is a prime example. The headline says it all: "America is Destroying the West." Mr. Guessgen's attempted rowback in his second article hardly undoes the damage of the first.
This sort of biased, America-bashing journalism, so common in the German media because it sells so well, is cynical sensationalism at its worst. (Just look at these covers and the sidebar of this website if you need any more evidence.) Guessgen goes on to fallaciously blame the Tookie William's execution on "George W. Bush's Amerika". And here we must ask ourselves: What exactly is "George W. Bush's Amerika" other than a convenient "Feindbild" for Stern readers? What exactly is the repeated "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" reference other than a perverted attempt to frame the United States as a land seething with hatred, paranoia and bloodlust? What is the comparison of the United States to the Russian mafia other than ridiculous slander? What is the characterization of the USA as the land of "baseball bat democracy" other than a one-sided denial of obvious fact? What is the pandering suggestion that Germans partake in greater exchange in an attempt to teach the American friends the so-called "European canon of values" other than thinly-veiled moral condescension? What is the proposition that the transatlantic bridge is crumbling and it's all America's fault other than a thoughtless, self-righteous tirade on Mr. Guessgen's part?
Medienkritik Readers Respond to Guessgen
To conclude, we would like to point out that our readers made many a comment on the Guessgen articles and a number were both passionate and eloquent. We felt that two, in particular, should be included in our response:
David Gillies writes:
"Güßgen says you're pro-America, pro-Israel and pro-capitalist. For shame! With credentials like those you're quite obviously beyond the pale.
Actually, I'm fairly serious here. That those attitudes should be seen a pejorative is, to my mind, extraordinary. It's axiomatic among so many on the Left (and their witless hangers-on) that it is wrong to lend one's support to the sole oasis of democracy and human rights in a desert of barbarism, or that America is apodictically malevolent or that the ills of the Third World stem from the market and not from the mixture of warmed-over Marxism and feudal hegemony with which it is afflicted. Such a confident non-examination of one's Weltanschaung (sorry) could only come from the mind of a bigot.
There's also, as I note here, the Left's typical double standards at play, especially when it comes to its accommodation with the forces of Islamofascism. To characterise the US as being in the Hobbesian state of 'all against all'—nothing could be further from the truth—and ignore the fact that life in the Third World is indeed 'solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short' is such a fantastical inversion of the facts as to invite gape-mouthed incredulity."
"Funny what happens when you shine the light of day on hate peddling rats like Guessgen, isn’t it? What a rowback! The same guy who had just bashed America with all the usual half-baked, self-righteous moral certainties that characterize today’s German mass media is suddenly contrite, conciliatory, reaching out his hand to his dear American “friends.” It should come as no surprise that someone so palpably out of touch would try to trot out the old “objective criticism” alibi as his main defense, never mind that it has been thoroughly and repeatedly demolished for the last decade. What a travesty that this little collaborator and stooge in the German media's creation of “Feindbild Amerika” dares to speak of friendship.
Of course, as Doug pointed out, hatemonger Guessgen starts with the usual smear: "Mir eröffnen die Reaktionen die Möglichkeit, mich mit dezidiert konservativen - vielleicht sogar neo-konservativen - Argumenten auseinanderzusetzen." Oh my God! Even Neo-conservatives! We’re dealing with the devil incarnate here. As EABinGA noted, SPIEGEL tried the same...
...lame gambit on an earlier occasion, attempting to fob off the pathetic and transparent lie that Medienkritik was connected with the evil “Freepers.” Yours truly opposed the war from the start, opposes the death penalty, and recently came out strongly on this blog against the Bush Administration’s rationalization of torture. Never mind, if I oppose Mr. Guessgen, that self-appointed windbag who claims to be the human incarnation of “liberal principles” and “Western values,” I must, necessarily be a “conservative.”
The rest of Guessgen’s long-winded rationalization of hate peddling is just more of the hackneyed MO we’ve all become familiar with by now: the usual rush for the moral high ground, the usual self-righteous preening, and the usual threadbare pretense that the debate is about “values,” combined with the usual refusal to address his opponents actual arguments. His comments on the death penalty are typical. The crux of Ray D.’s argument touching on the death penalty is, of course, Guessgen’s double standard, not a defense of the death penalty itself. For example, he writes, “If he (Guessgen) were genuinely concerned with human rights abuses and international law, he would be better served writing about his own government's business dealings with Sudan. He would be better served chronicling the Chinese government's mass executions or investigating Gerhard Schroeder's questionable service to Gazprom. He might even take a moment to question the German media's relative indifference to the thousands of killings and kidnappings perpetrated by Russian troops in Chechnya over the past several years while Germany and Russia were doing multi-billion dollar business deals for everything from trains to planes to automobiles to gas pipelines.” Guessgen pretends not to notice. Instead, with all the usual phony pathos, he tries the diversion of equating Ray D.’s entire rebuttal to a mere defense of the death penalty, which it decidedly is not.
It is interesting that, in the process, Guessgen lets slip a little piece of information that is seldom mentioned in the German MSM’s sermonizing about the death penalty, to wit, that, at least until recently, there was more popular support for the death penalty in Europe than in the US. Outstanding leftist American blogger Josh Marshall recently noted that, “So what does it all mean? I think it means that the end of capital punishment in Europe has much less to do with public opinion than we think. And it has more to do with the structure of European politics, particularly—I would speculate—the stronger role of parties, and thus elites, in the European form of parliamentary democracy.” One wonders whether such rule by elites is one of the “liberal principles” Mr. Guessgen is defending.
Of course, as noted above, the difference in tone between the two articles is as night and day. In the first article we have the usual hysterical, sensationalist bashing of America by the typical German media hate peddler who thinks he is only preaching to the usual sheep. “Amerika zerstört den Westen,” “Mörder werden gnadenlos hingerichtet,” “Methoden wie die russische Mafia,” are typical of many similar examples of the hyperbolic, bald-faced lies Guessgen feeds his readers. But when this typical German media rat is caught blinking in the spotlight, his tone suddenly becomes positively sedate. We get the usual, hackneyed, “objective criticism” cant, such as, “Statt braven Partnerschaft-Gesäusels ist es besser, klar auf die Gefährdung des transatlantischen Bündnisses hinzuweisen, die Gefahr der Zerstörung dieser Allianz.” In other words, we are to believe that the only alternative to “braven Partnerschaft-Gesäusels” is hysterical America bashing.
Allow me to suggest, Mr. Guessgen, that positive criticism of a friend does not take the form of self-righteous preaching, moralistic posturing, an obvious double standard that applies only to your “friend,” the systematic propagation of lying propaganda in the form of half truths that dwell only on the negative, the denial to your “friend” of any means of refuting or debating your “criticism” except in a few brave little blogs, or a striking unwillingness to criticize in your own country the faults that you are so quick to condemn in others. Such preaching most definitely does not contribute to the support of the “liberal principles” or “Western values,” that you have taken it upon yourself to define for the rest of us. On the contrary, it plays into the hands of and is gleefully exploited by the avowed enemies of those values in the US and elsewhere, and provides moral backing to the terrorists who would attack us.
In Guessgen’s first article we find this outrageous piece of cheek: “Kritik muss geäußert werden, aber gleichzeitig müssen die Europäer, allen voran Deutschland, weiter auf Zusammenarbeit dringen. Es ist ohnehin einer der vornehmsten Loyalitätsbeweise, auch einem zeitweise feindselig gestimmten Freund die Treue zu halten.” Incredible! For the last decade we have witnessed the systematic attempts of the German mass media to construct a “Feindbild Amerika.” Guessgen and his like have eagerly peddled hate to a seemingly insatiable German public, obsessed with the evils of America. During all this time few Americans have even noticed what was going on across the Atlantic, and yet we are to believe that it is the Americans who are “feindselig.”
Guessgen piously suggests more exchange programs to enlighten the poor, benighted Americans. A word of advice, Mr. Guessgen. Spare us your hoards of earnest sheep filled with missionary zeal to enlighten us with their “liberal values.” Thanks to your unsparing efforts over the last decade, the German people are profoundly ignorant concerning the US and its people. Compounding their ignorance, many of them believe with absolute certainty all the disinformation you’ve been feeding them. I strongly recommend that any of them wishing to preach to me first learn English and familiarize themselves with the American points of view on both the left and right regarding such critical subjects as the Iraq war, Kyoto and the environment, the death penalty, the torture controversy, and the American form of government. On all of these subjects and many more the “information” provided by the German language media has consisted almost entirely of simplistic, half-baked, moralistic sermonizing. Virtually no attempt has been made to give America a voice, or to give the German people any concept of the nature of the intellectual debate on these topics in the US. Do you really want to “reach out your hands to us,” Mr. Guessgen? I suggest you start by doing your job. Instead of propagandizing the German people, inform them for a change."
Well put. David Gillies puts his finger directly on the double-standard and Helian is harsh but on the money. Mr. Guessgen need look no further than the sidebar of this website to see what sort of hate and innuendo his employer (Stern) is spewing towards America and Americans. If he is really and truly interested in a fair and honest debate, he should stop writing for a magazine that profits by selling this sort of trash to its anti-American readership and start thinking for himself.