Online debate topic: Kanzlerin Angela Merkel. We request your opinion on the following questions:
Has Angela Merkel improved German-American relations?
Has the German media become less anti-American since she took office?
Is Merkel right for Germany?
The comments section is open. Tell us what you really think...
UPDATE: A must read exchange:
Gabi writes: "I think, Merkel has improved the German-American relationship but the
media has not changed at all. There are only less reasons to write
about the US in a negative way because Merkel and the CDU/CSU are not
that simple minded as Schröder and the SPD and Green party. I don't
think that anybody has changed his mind about the US (and Israel). The
anti-American attitude is so deep inside so many people, it will take
years of education to change this. Merkel is good for Germany. I am
proud to have her as a chancellor. A well informed and educated person!"
Ray responds: "So other than blogging, what can we do collectively to change the
anti-American attitudes that we document here? We ALL need to give that
some serious thought. David and I have worked very hard for three years
to bring about change, but we need help, we are just two guys
overwhelmed by other responsibilities including family and work. At a
certain point, we start to repeat ourselves because we see the same
stupidity again and again. What else can we (you) do to bring about
Others have responded by starting new blogs. Seeing the German
blogosphere grow has been the most rewarding part of the process. But
what else can we do? How can we organize and work as an effective
force? Who are our allies in this process?"
Let's give this some serious thought and talk it over. Then let's think about action and organization. Other people need to step up and take the initiative. This is a truly worthwhile cause and we need your support in this work because we just can't do this alone. (emphasis ours)
Good morning, Madame Chancellor. Here you are, Germany's Angela Merkel, on your first trip to Washington, D.C., preparing for your meeting with President Bush. As you look out of your Blair House window over Lafayette Square toward the White House, consider the historicity of the era: the beginning of Mr. Bush's sixth year leading his country, and the beginning of your first year leading your country in the so-called war on terror. Or is that the war on Guantanamo Bay? I get them confused. That's because in just about every account of your American trip -- biggish news in Europe -- it is prominently mentioned that Guantanamo Bay is prominently high on your list of, well, prominent concerns. Trouble spots. Global things you lose sleep over. This is, with due respect, bizarre. Iran is going nuclear, Europe is going Islamic, Russia is going off the reservation, China is a fearsome thing, and your big concern is sending what is called a "clear message" to Mr. Bush about Guantanamo Bay, the tropical jail where the United States keeps jihadis on ice -- and keeps the rest of the world safer as a result. But that's not what you say. "An institution like Guantanamo can and should not exist in the longer term," you told the German news magazine Der Spiegel this week. "Different ways and means must be found for dealing with these prisoners." I have a suggestion: How 'bout if we ship all these guys, unflushed Korans and all, to Germany? Maybe 72 Virgin Air would cut us a deal. Then you -- Germany -- can parole them to Lebanon. (...)
Update: Here is an interview with yet another (more optimistic) view of Merkel from Gary Schmitt, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Congratulations to SPIEGEL for finally interviewing an American conservative! Here's an excerpt:
"SPIEGEL ONLINE: Merkel has maintained a highly conciliatory tone towards Washington, but she has also expressed criticism. During Condoleezza Rice's visit to Berlin in December, Merkel claimed the Secretary of State conceded the erroneous kidnapping of an innocent German national by the CIA as part of its "extraordinary renditions" program had been a "mistake." The State Department later denied Merkel's statement. And this week Merkel indirectly called for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison. Do these developments threaten Germany's fresh start with Washington?
SCHMITT: People have taken notice, but it hasn't been a major matter. Some of those issues are far more important in Europe than they are in the US. Still, in contrast to the previous chancellor, when Merkel makes her comments about Guantanamo or any of these other issues, she's likely to get more of a hearing than Schröder, who would have been viewed as raising the issue to bolster his own political fortunes at home. When her comments were published, people here said, OK, this something people need to talk about and we will do that when she's here."
Looks like there is some ground for optimism on German-American relations. But the jury is still out on how things will develop long-term...
Just a week before her scheduled trip to the United States, SPIEGEL ONLINE published an interview (extracts in English) with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Not surprisingly, the opening foreign policy questions addressed German-American relations. And quite interestingly, Germany's first woman Chancellor clearly went against the grain of SPIEGEL's opening line of questioning. Note the assumptions inherent in the publication's first question:
"SPIEGEL: There has been considerable harmony on the foreign policy front, which is disconcerting to many because that's exactly where the differences were once most salient. The relationship with the United States remains distanced, while that with Russia is amiable. Where do you see differences with the SPD?"
So the journalist's premise is that German-American relations remain "distanced" while German-Russian relations are "amiable." Could we interpret that as bias?
And guess what? Chancellor Merkel clearly does not buy into SPIEGEL's America-hostile viewpoint. She makes that very clear with the following responses:
"SPIEGEL: In the past, your party in particular emphasized the German-American friendship. Now you're just talking about relations. A deliberate downgrade?
Merkel: Oh, please! I can just as well call it "friendship." The German-American friendship! Is that better? We're splitting hairs here. I want to improve the quality and substance of the German-American relationship.
SPIEGEL: Does the word friendship also describe the German-Russian relationship?
Merkel: It's more of a strategic partnership. I believe that we do not share as many values with Russia yet as we do with the United States. On the other hand, we have a strong interest in Russia developing in a reasonable direction."
It would seem that German-American relations are far more "amiable" in the eyes of the German Chancellor than German-Russian relations. That must have come as quite a rude awakening for the staff and editors of SPIEGEL ONLINE.
Merkel Critical on Guantanamo - Calls for Dialog
As the interview proceeds, however, the new German Chancellor also makes it clear that she does have her differences with the Bush administration, particularly on the issue of Guantanamo:
"SPIEGEL: In the interest of threat prevention, can German officials be sent to the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay to interrogate detainees?
Merkel: An institution like Guantanamo in its present form cannot and must not exist in the long term. We must find different ways of dealing with prisoners. As far as I'm concerned there's no question about that.
SPIEGEL: Will you address Guantanamo with President Bush?
Merkel: We will certainly talk about the whole issue of combating terrorism. (...)"
One interesting point here: Despite her criticism of Guantanamo, Ms. Merkel is clearly not interested in exploiting anti-American sentiment for political gain. She points out that the German-American relationship should be based on an open willingness to "always discuss all issues" and work through disagreements. And let's be honest: Germany and the United States have never completely agreed on absolutely every issue. The important question has always been how the two nations have dealt with their differences and dealt with one another. And Ms. Merkel's administration represents a decided shift away from the frequent exploitation of German war fears and anti-American resentments that marked her predecessor's administration and unfortunately continue to mark the German media.
For quite some time now, leading thinkers including Jeffrey Gedmin have been calling for a transatlantic dialog on international law in an age of global terrorism. Gedmin writes:
"It all distracts dangerously from a more serious debate about how we fight the war on terror. 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 for far too long, Europe's elites stood on the sidelines, content to morally condemn the United States while refusing to engage the world's only superpower in a meaningful discussion on the application and adaptation of international law in an age of international terrorism. And make no mistake, bashing the United States has unfortunately proven to be a highly profitable activity, both financially and politically, in many parts of Europe. Gerhard Schroeder's re-election in 2002, Michael Moore's book sales and Der Spiegel's covers certainly prove that.
So it is about time that both nations determined to sit down and civilly discuss the issue in an atmosphere of true partnership and even friendship. The time for exploitation and political posturing is hopefully over. An opportunity for transatlantic healing has arrived. Schroeder is off building a pipeline with Putin and Chirac may also soon be gone. The Bush administration can and should engage in an open and meaningful discussion with the new Merkel administration on how to deal with international terrorism but also on all other issues of relevance and importance to German-American relations. As the new Chancellor herself made clear:
"(...) But it's also important to me, and I'll make this clear during my visit, that our relationship with the United States is not reduced to questions of fighting terrorism and the Iraq war. German-American relations were so good for so many years because they extended deeply into the normal lives of people."
Ms. Merkel has taken an important first step. As we pointed out at the beginning of this posting, she has largely refused to buy into the German media's negative assumptions about German-American relations. Next week's visit to the White House should be an interesting one. Stay tuned...
Update: Excerpt from the Daily Press Briefing (Jan. 9, 2006) at the State Department with spokesman Sean McCormack:
QUESTION: The German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in an interview published this weekend that Guantanamo prison shouldn't exist and --
MR. MCCORMACK: I'm not sure that's exactly what she said, but look --
QUESTION: Should not continue to exist like that in the long term, she says.
MR. MCCORMACK: I think everybody hopes we get to a point where we don't need facilities like this, but that is -- we are not at that point. Guantanamo serves a purpose and it's there for a reason. It keeps people who are very dangerous away from civilized society. Make no mistake about it; if these people were released, they would be right back in the fight. We've seen instances of that before. There is a legal process that is in place to review their -- the circumstances of their detainment. There is a -- the ability of the International Red Cross to have a 24-hour-a-day presence there. But Guantanamo Bay serves a purpose.
So Angie says: “And zee Demokratie and zee Freedom and also zee Human Rights are important for all zee countries of zee Europa and if you ever need Hilfe for zeese things to establish in zee United States pleeze just call us up und vee help you gladly…My Russian is much better, by the way.”
So Condi says: “Lookie here, bitch. We been praticin’ democracy fo y’all come down out da G#!*”d#%$? forest! And y’all worried bout a coupla G#!*”d#%$? airplanes? Me, too. I gotta m’!”*?f+%$”! airplane to catch right now, too. To Romania. Know what I'm sayin? Word up.”
BERLIN/WASHINGTON - German Chancellor Angela Merkel will question U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice over allegations the CIA used airports in Germany for secret flights transporting terror suspects, officials said Monday.
Well, looks like the German government at the time was informed about the CIA activities.
Even worse, titans of moral outrage over American policies such as former Chancellor Schroeder and his Foreign Secretary Fischer (as well as the current Foreign Secretary Steinmeier) were possibly involved in such CIA anti-terror activities for years, as German sources report today (Monday, Dec. 5). The cooperation between the CIA and German authorities apparently worked smoothly:
She (secretary of state Rice) added that "some governments choose to cooperate with the U.S." in intelligence and law enforcement matters and that cooperation is a "two-way street."
The U.S., she said, has shared intelligence that has "stopped terrorist attacks and saved innocent lives, in Europe as well as in the U.S. and other countries." (Source)
I guess German politics and the German media now will have to take their moral outrage to other venues...
"In his heyday as leader of Germany, Gerhard Schröder was always ready to demonstrate indignation at how George W. Bush waged his war on terror. He loved to portray himself as the man who kept Germany out of Iraq. On his watch, Germany would have no part in the methods with which America waged its global campaign against al-Qaida. He liked to underline that stance by saying accusations against Washington should be held accountable for its actions.
Schröder's time is over now. But questions about Germany's involvement in the methods of CIA agents operating in Europe are catching up with him as well as with the other political pensioners -- former foreign minister Joschka Fischer and especially former interior minister Otto Schily. Research by the Washington Post, SPIEGEL and other media show that neither the previous government nor the new administration under Angela Merkel should have been surprised about the reports in recent weeks about secret prisoner transports, secret prisons and CIA kidnappings.
It is also becoming ever clearer that the Schröder government was informed in detail and at an early stage about the policy of so-called "extraordinary renditions" and "black sites" across Europe. Cabinet ministers in Berlin clearly didn't just know the dirty details about Bush's unrestricted war on terror by reading the newspapers.
In some cases German intelligence officers even tried to profit from the controversial methods by questioning prisoners who were being held without any legal foundation. Schröder's stance on Iraq was popular and won him votes. But behind its anti-American veil, his government was quietly complicit and was occasionally rewarded for its silence."
Buckle your seatbelts folks. This could just be the tip of the iceberg...
Check our posting on the citation cartell of U.S. and German liberal media. We call it "consensus outrage".
(You may want to cast your vote in this competition for the "Best European Blog" (Non UK)).
At a news conference today, Angela Merkel (CDU/CSU) confirmed that she will be Germany's next Chancellor and Germany's first ever woman Chancellor. The decision was cemented in a deal reached between Merkel's Christian Democrats and Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats on the future makeup of Germany's government. Initial reports on Gerhard Schroeder are conflicting, but this much is clear: Gerhard Schroeder has now been officially voted-out of office as Germany's Chancellor and his seven year administration will soon be at an end.
The result will be a "Grand Coalition" between Germany's two largest parties with details to be hammered out in negotiations over the next several weeks. A formal coalition contract detailing future government policy and personnel is scheduled to be signed and sealed by mid-November, but the media is already reporting on how the top positions will be distributed...
"Grand Coalition": Social Democrats to Receive Eight Ministries Including Foreign Ministry
Although the Christian Democrats and their partners from Bavaria (CDU/CSU) have asserted control in Germany and pushed Gerhard Schroeder aside, it did not come cheaply. The CDU/CSU's poor election results left the party with a small one point lead over the Social Democrats and put them in a weaker bargaining position than anyone might have expected. The result? A "Grand Coalition" in which the SPD will likely receive eight ministerial positions (out of a total of fourteen) including the Foreign Ministry, far more than anyone would have predicted pre-election.
The CDU/CSU will receive the remaining six ministries along with the Chancellery and Minister of the Chancellery. That translates into the following: The SPD will have the same number of seats at Merkel's cabinet table (eight) as the CDU/CSU. In parliament the CDU/CSU will have nearly the same number of seats as the SPD: 226 to 222 respectively. Needless to say we predicted this: Gridlock anyone?
Foreign Minister Struck In? Schroeder Out?
The current Defense Minister, Peter Struck (SPD) is slated to be the next Foreign Minister according to SPIEGEL ONLINE, but the ARD is reporting that he has denied it. (This is the same Struck who seems to have a rockyrelationship with Donald Rumsfeld. Some of the German media reported last June that Rumsfeld cancelled a meeting with Struck because he assumed he was a lame duck.)
Right now there is an enormous amount of speculation going on as the news develops. Please bear with us as events progress and the dust settles. Some German media are reporting that German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has stated that it is his intent to withdraw from politics. So far we have not seen an absolute confirmation of this but it seems likely. Formal coalition talks are to begin in the coming weeks and everything should be worked-out by mid-November. We will continue to monitor the conflicting reports and bring you the latest. Stay tuned...
The by-election in Dresden 1 (one of the two Dresden constituencies) Oct 2 has added one more seat to the conservative CDU/CSU ("Union") in the Bundestag (226 instead of 225 seats), giving the Union a 4 seats majority against chancellor Schroeder's SPD (222 seats).
Neiter of the two parties will be able to govern the country alone, though. The most likely coalition - as of today - is a "grand coalition" between Union and SPD. Schroeder probably won't stay as chancellor; Merkel (or some other Union candidate) will succeed him. Stay tuned for more news on Germany's government crisis...
The Dresden result sheds light on the wonders of Germany's byzantine election law.
1. While the CDU candidate won the Dresden 1 constituency (first vote), the SPD had the majority of the party votes (second votes). Had the CDU collected considerably more party votes (second votes) than the SPD (in Dresden I), and still won the constituency (first vote), the SPD would have gained one seat in the Bundestag. I'm not kidding you: had the CDU result (second votes) in the Dresden 1 election been considerable better (and correspondingly the SPD result worse), the SPD - and not the CDU - would have gained one additional seat in the Bundestag! It made sense for SPD sympathizers in Dresden 1 to vote for CDU (second vote) in order to secure an additional MP for the SPD. (Source)
2. The Dresden 1 election result changes the intra-party distribution of seats between German states. Quote from the official statement of the German Election Office: "As regards the intra-party distribution of seats won through the second votes, one CDU mandate will be shifted from the Land list of Nordrhein-Westfalen (Northrhine-Westphalia) to the Land list of Saarland..." Hmm... even though Dresden I is part of the state of Saxonia, the distribution of Union seats between the states of Northrhine-Westphalia and Saarland has changed as a consequence of the Dresden 1 vote.
Remember the arrogant posture of the German media vis-à-vis the American election system in the past two elections? The U.S. election system was accused of being complicated and not transparent.
Looking in bewilderment at the no-sense result of Germany's September 2005 election and the side effects of the Dresden 1 by-election, on comparison, the American election system is of a crystal clear design, while the Germans seem to have imported their election system (and much of their whole political system) from the world of Rube Goldberg:
There was only so much the CDU could do. The party was stuck between a rock and a hard place. When Gerhard Schroeder decided to make peace-at-all-costs a campaign issue for the second election in a row, he knew he was putting his political opponents under enormous pressure. To understand why, one need only rewind to the last national election. In 2002, Schroeder pulled off a come-from-behind victory by mercilessly playing on the pacifist fears of the German people on Iraq. And the tactic worked brilliantly, particularly in eastern Germany, where Schroeder made enormous gains at the expense of the Communist PDS party.
Now its election time again. And the "peace Chancellor" is hoping the same emphasis on foreign policy will carry his party back to power. This time it's Iran. After President George W. Bush commented this past week that he would not rule out military force as a last option in confronting Iran over its nuclear program, Schroeder quickly seized the opportunity by declaring that he was for "taking military options from the table," a position enormously popular with German voters. That left Angela Merkel's CDU (Christian Democrats) with a difficult choice: Either reject Schroeder's position on principle and incur massive electoral losses (as they did in 2002) at a time when the party is stumbling and struggling to hold its majority, or cave on the issue and assume a pacifist position to neutralize Schroeder's ability to exploit it.
It now appears that the CDU has adopted Schroeder's position, thereby abandoning its earlier ideals and diminishing its commitment to a strong transatlantic partnership. But at the same time, it is a position forced on them by the shameless, populist exploitation of the issue by Schroeder. Above all, it is a position forced on the CDU by the majority of the German electorate which has long been staunchly pacifist and would severely punish the party were it to decide differently. Considering Germany's history over the past century, the nation's knee-jerk pacifism is hardly surprising. But it also makes it difficult for Germany to play a leading, responsible role in world affairs and leaves the country looking like a geopolitical lightweight. The mullahs in Iran would certainly be delighted if all the world's nations adopted such a dangerously naive "negotiations only" approach to its nuclear program.
So what does this all mean? It means that whoever wins the election and whatever constellation emerges in the next German government, it will be extremely difficult for Germany's next set of leaders to stand firmly beside the United States when future international conflicts arise. Now that both major parties have adopted a diplomacy-only approach to Iran, it will be difficult to find common ground with the United States should the Iranians decide to push the matter. And the new German position of peace-at-all-costs certainly emboldens Persia's Mullahs to do just that.
Let the character assassination begin!A conservative politician has a big lead in the polls and a national election is just around the corner. Now is the time for the media to pull out the long knives and ride to the rescue of their ailing left-wing lapdogs. And, make no mistake, they are doing so with an alacrity that has stood the test of time.
In recent days, CDU Chancellor candidate Angela Merkel has taken more than her fair share of low blows in the press. It was to be expected knowing the German media, but disheartening nonetheless. The first "scandal" of note, which received enormous front-page play in publications like SPIEGEL, revolved around Ms. Merkel's armpit. The media worked themselves into a frenzy over a picture that had been touched-up by Bavarian Broadcasting (Bayerischen Rundfunk) to remove an embarrassing spot of sweat on Ms. Merkel's dress.
The German Media: Angela's Armpit More Important than Millions Unemployed
SPIEGEL ONLINE had the images of Ms. Merkel posted at the top of its website for extended periods, giving some the eerie feeling that the site had transformed into a deodorant commercial.
But let's not kid ourselves: Angela's armpit is real election news in Germany! Forget the nation's double-digit unemployment, imploding GDP growth and massive debt, what could be more important to Germany's future than the perspiration of its prospective Chancellor?
The next so-called scandal involved Ms. Merkel mixing-up the terms "gross" and "net" (Brutto/Netto) while discussing German wages on two separate occasions. Again, a major scandal erupted on the front pages of German newspapers that lasted for days and still hasn't completely subsided. Since then, many in the media have reached the conclusion that Merkel has an image problem while Gerhard Schroeder is the master "Medienkanzler". But is there really something to the notion that Schroeder is a media guru?
"Unlike the gross-net (wages) slip-up of Angela Merkel, which has been discussed by all of Germany in the past days, two incorrect statements from Gerhard Schroeder in the past week were all but ignored by the media: First off, Schroeder misled the public in an interview with the "Passauer Neuen Presse" on August 3 with the statement that unemployment is lower today than in 1998 - which de facto does not correspond to the truth -, and then Schroeder claimed, in the ARD summer interview on August 7 that Germany has the lowest youth unemployment in Europe. The fact is however, that Germany is in seventh place in youth unemployment in the EU. What do the media do? Merkel's gross-net mistake is kept cooking for days while Schroeder's mistruths are not discussed in one single report. By now it is clear to me why Schroeder is called the "Medienkanzler"..."
And here is a German-language letter-to-the-editor from Mr. Herre that was printed in "Die Welt" on the same topic. He couldn't have said it any better! It is easy to be a media guru when most of the media act like the loyal vassals and poodles that they truly are.
The Free-Democrats Also a Favorite Target
Although they receive far fewer votes than the CDU, the FDP or Free-Democrats are also a favorite target of attacks and slander from Germany's left-wing media. This is because the FDP is the one party in Germany that truly stands for less government, lower taxes, cuts to the welfare state and less influential unions. In other words, the FDP wants to replace Germany's bloated, stagnating Socialist state with a system more like the one in the United States or Great Britain. Few things could be more upsetting to Germany's left, which has worked very hard to make the term "amerikanische Verhaeltnisse" or "conditions as in America" synonymous with horrible social decay and brutal Darwinian capitalism.
All those who think the election is over had better take a second look. At the moment, the election is wide open. The CDU (42%) and FDP (6%) have a combined 48% of the vote. But the left-wing parties, the SPD (29%), the Greens (8%) and the New Left (11%) have the same percentage. If the CDU and FDP cannot gain a majority of the seats in parliament, a "grand coalition" will almost certainly be formed between the CDU and SPD. This is due in large part to the fact that major leaders in the SPD and Greens would not accept a coalition with the New Left, a party formed from the marriage of the Communist PDS of eastern Germany and the far left WASG of western Germany. At the moment, with the media fixated on Merkel's armpit and largely oblivious to Schroeder's long list of failings and shortcomings, the likelihood of a "grand coalition" seems quite high. And we don't expect much to change on that front as the media will certainly continue to pound away at Merkel's image. After all, it is election time and a conservative is in the lead...at least for now...
Endnote: The irony in all this is that German media were overwhelmingly forgiving when it came to reporting on this stained dress...