(By Ray D. - originally published December 19, 2005)
Stern magazine has finally discovered why life is so rotten in Germany these days. The Western world is breaking apart and its all America's fault. This time it's a commentary in Stern magazine with a dramatic title: "America is destroying the West." Like so many Stern pieces, this article has all the tell-tale elements of the perverted view of America that has come to dominate and cloud the minds of many in the German media establishment. The article's introductory lines read:
"Commentary: America is Destroying the West
By Florian Guessgen
First the execution of Stanley Tookie Williams, then the debate over the abduction of Khaled al-Masri. This week shrilly brought to our attention how deep the rift is between the USA and Europe. The West is threatening to break apart.
Two times in the last week we experienced up close what rights the America of George W. Bush lays claim to for itself when it is trying to achieve its objectives.
Because this state wants to deter potential murderers, murderers are executed in many of its states. Merciless(ly). Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. In its selection of methods the state has made itself like the criminal."
As we mentioned earlier on this blog, the furor over the Tookie Williams execution allowed many in the German media an opportunity to gush moral outrage over one of their favorite pet issues: The death penalty. Mr. Guessgen makes no attempt to hide his intent, citing Tookie's execution as evidence of the supposedly "merciless" nature of the "America of George W. Bush."
But perhaps Mr. Guessgen doesn't realize that Williams' first trial on four counts of first degree murder and two counts of robbery began in 1980. The President at the time was Jimmy Carter. Williams' case, like so many death penalty cases in America since 1976, went through a rigorous and extremely expensive appeals process that lasted nearly two and a half decades. The vast majority of Williams' appeals at the state and federal level were heard and rejected long before George W. Bush was ever elected President. (See "LA County District Attorney's Response to Stanley William's Petition for Executive Clemency" For a moral evaluation of Tookie Williams, check here.)
Due to the particularly violent nature of his crimes (killing his victims at point blank range with shotgun blasts), his role in founding one of America's most violent street gangs and his assaults on others while in prison, Williams' became one of a tiny fraction of murder convicts actually put to death in the United States. Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, around one-thousand convicted criminals have been executed. That is less than one execution per state per year. Furthermore, the state in which Tookie Williams was executed, California, is a "blue" state that voted overwhelmingly against George W. Bush in both 2000 and 2004.
But of course when someone gets executed in California, it is suddenly George W. Bush's "merciless" America that's to blame for many in the German media. No need to think, no need to understand the context, no need to differentiate. It's all very simple, just the way Stern's indoctrinated, spoon-fed readers like it: America is destroying the West and it is all Bush's fault.
Put another way, Mr. Guessgen isn't interested in a thoughtful debate on the death penalty or the Bush administration, he's interested in lashing-out at a nation and a leader that deeply threaten his political worldview. If he 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. But instead, Guessgen continues his commentary by comparing the United States to the "dark rogues" of the Russian mafia and writes:
"Methods like the Russian Mafia
Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. The same principle is also used by the USA in the worldwide hunt for criminals. Because George W. Bush and the CIA are hunting terrorists - mass murderers, they allow themselves the right to kidnap and torture - without consideration for principles of justice or international rights. The ends justify the means. There that German al-Masri is just kidnapped for a short time from the Balkans, dragged to Afghanistan, shut-in, interrogated, probably also tortured. The USA, the home of the "West" works with the same methods of the dark rogues of the Russian mafia."
Davids Medienkritik has no interest in debating the obvious: There clearly have been cases of torture, abuse and mistaken identity in the war on terror. We would openly concede that, at times, the Bush administration has dealt poorly and indecisively with these issues. But Mr. Guessgen's assertion that the United States and its leadership have no "consideration for principles of justice and international rights" is simply absurd and symptomatic of an ideological disconnect from reality.
To claim what he claims, Mr. Guessgen must have completely missed the intense and ongoing debate in the United States on civil rights, torture and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that has permeated all levels of American media and politics since 2001. He must have completely missed the Senate's overwhelming 90-9 passage of John McCain's anti-torture bill and President Bush's recent decision to finally support the measure. He must have also completely missed recent statements by Condoleezza Rice on torture during her recent Europe visit. Mr. Guessgen's overwhelmingly one-sided statements further serve to confirm his disinterest in an honest, balanced and unbiased analysis of what is really happening in the United States today.
Guessgen: American Democratic Principles in a "Deep Freeze"
A second major theme of Guessgen's commentary is that the "George W. Bush's America" is a nation systematically violating democratic principles. Not surprisingly, Guessgen makes absolutely no mention of the emergence of democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan when he writes:
"Liberal Principles in a Deep Freeze
The America of George W. Bush (falsely) imagines itself to be in a state of war, both domestically and abroad. The feeling of threat therefore justifies all means - the liberal (democratic) principles, so it seems, have been put in a deep freeze for an indefinite period of time. The West, equally a mythical place and normative credo, threatens to break apart in this war waged in a total manner. Only now is it becoming clear that the German-American quarrel over the Iraq War was, independent of Chancellor Schroeder, a symptom of a fundamental conflict that could shape the transatlantic relationship for decades: The American state is acting in a systematically anti-liberal manner."
By "liberal" Mr. Guessgen means democratic in a manner consistent with individual rights. One has to wonder how he could claim the American state is acting systematically against democratic principles when it has secured democratic rights for over 50 million people formerly governed by horrific dictatorships? Few people would deny that the United States has made numerous mistakes in its efforts to defeat oppressive regimes and terrorist organizations in Afghanistan and Iraq, but where would the peoples of those nations be today had the world followed the "moral" leadership of the German left and simply stood by and done nothing? Where would the people of those nations have been in ten years or twenty or thirty? Where would their children be?
Obviously, Mr. Guessgen never considers such questions. Instead he simply characterizes recent American actions as "baseball bat democracy." He writes:
"Democracy not as a torch but instead as a Baseball bat
Presently the USA assumes a world, like Thomas Hobbes, that is dog eat dog. At the least the President views the state as a protective community that has been permanently empowered by its citizens to protect them with all means. The state a la Bush is a Hobbesian “Leviathan,” an all-powerful being whose mission cannot be infringed upon by secondary discussions of values. That Bush resembles the dark Lord Voldemort more than the white magician Dumbledore in this, that is calculated. The global mission of the Bush warriors, that consists of bringing the world democracy and the USA security is unavoidably taking on irrational fundamentalist characteristics in all of this. In the hands of George W. Bush democracy is not a torch, but instead a baseball bat.”
Baseball bat democracy? It would seem that Mr. Guessgen is unaware of the Bush administration's recent commitment of $15 billion to combat AIDS in Africa. It would seem that he missed America's extensive rescue and humanitarian efforts and enormous financial contributions on behalf of tsunami victims in East Asia earlier this year. It would seem he overlooked massive US airlifts of aid and monetary donations to victims of the recent earthquake in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It would seem he slept through recent democratic transformations in Ukraine, Lebanon, Kosovo and Bosnia that were vigorously supported by the US government both financially and logistically. It would seem he never heard of ongoing, multilateral US diplomatic efforts to peacefully resolve conflicts with both North Korea and Iran over their nuclear programs.
But here we must ask the question: How could someone not blinded by ideology have possibly missed all of these things?
Americans According to Guessgen: Traumatized and Burning for Revenge
Guessgen concludes his article by suggesting that Germans take the moral high road and continue to "confidently extend a hand" to the American friends. He actually suggests Germans visit the US more through exchange programs to gain a better understanding of how "traumatized" Americans supposedly are. His final paragraph reads:
"Perhaps direct contact with the USA will help Europeans to also understand, how much the attacks of September 11, 2001 have changed the psyche of this land. America seems caught in a traumatic state, such as perhaps only relatives of murder victims experience. Pain and sadness are mixed with feelings of vulnerability. And to that is added a burning desire for vengeance, an anger against those who destroyed ones own life as it was earlier. Eye for an eye. Tooth for a tooth. America is currently making itself into the violent executor of this feeling. The Europeans must understand it, but they can not accept it."
It is striking how Mr. Guessgen paints all Americans and all Europeans with such a broad brush throughout his article. In blaming America for the supposedly widening transatlantic rift, Mr. Guessgen himself exemplifies many of the simplistic, black-and-white views of America that pollute the German media landscape. Like so many other elites in French and German media and politics, he seems to feel it his good right to speak on behalf of all Europeans without considering for even a moment that anyone within a thousand kilometers might possibly disagree with him. This overbearing arrogance so common in German and French high society is one major reason that several eastern European members of the EU remain so wary of the Franco-German partnership. It is this condescending arrogance of the left-wing German moral elite that must be understood...but not accepted.
"Stern" cover 51/05:
New Stern series:
The history of the CIA
How America's Power of
Darkness Manipulates the