Big surprise: According to SPIEGEL ONLINE, members of the US military are once again humiliated fools - just as they have been in every conflict since the American Revolution.
Whoops! Looks like the Navy Seals just took out the pirates and rescued the captain. So what will SPIEGEL's reaction be now? Let us make a prediction... here are a few suggested headlines we have to offer the SPIEGEL ONLINE editors...
Bloodthirsty US Marines Kill Somalis Without UN Permission
Americans Kill 3 Civilians - Break Off Peace Negotiations
Somali Freedom Fighters Murdered in Standoff
Here's the bottom line: Whether the US military acts or not - they will always be demoralized, trigger-happy fools in the eyes of biased German media like SPIEGEL ONLINE. The true fools are the millions of readers who believe the news they get from German media on the United States to be reliable.
UPDATE: The actual reaction from SPIEGEL ONLINE: The order for the spectacular commando operation came directly from the heroic Barack Obama - the nicest President since JFK because he loves windmills and doesn't get angry when Germany refuses to send more troops into a combat zone. Still no apologies for the trigger-happy, blood-thirsty fools in the US military...
Perception and reality are not always clear in the media world. That is particularly true when supposedly trustworthy media sources misreport (or simply distort) the most basic facts. Case in point - Tagesspiegel's recent coverage of statements made by President Barack Obama on Afghanistan in a recent New York Times interview. Here's what Obama said to the Times:
"Q. Mr. President, we need to turn it to foreign policy. I know we have a review going on right now about Afghanistan policy, but right now can you tell us, are we winning in Afghanistan?
A. No. I think that we are – we are doing an extraordinary job, or let me say it this way: Our troops are doing an extraordinary job in a very difficult situation. But you’ve seen conditions deteriorate over the last couple of years. The Taliban is bolder than it was. I think the – in the southern regions of the country, you’re seeing them attack in ways that we have not seen previously. The national government still has not gained the confidence of the Afghan people. And so it's going to be critical for us to not only, get through these national elections to stabilize the security situation, but we’ve got to recast our policy so that our military, diplomatic and development goals are all aligned to ensure that al Qaeda and extremists that would do us harm don’t have the kinds of safe havens that allow them to operate."
Obama is not willing to tell the New York Times that the United States is winning in Afghanistan. While it is debatable whether Obama is saying the United States is losing or not - he is clearly not saying the war cannot be won or is hopeless.
Tagesspiegel: Obama Says the War Can't Be Won
Here is how the above was interpreted in a Sunday article on Tagesspiegel online:
"War in Afghanistan Hopeless: Obama Willing to Talk to Moderate Taliban
Barack Obama indicated a willingness to have talks with the Taliban in an interview. The reason: The USA could not win the war in Afghanistan. Afghanistan's President Hamid Karsai welcomed the announcement.
WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama displayed openness to negotiations with moderate Taliban in Afghanistan and admitted that the USA would not win the war there. Obama told the "New York Times" Sunday edition that the situation in Afghanistan has further deteriorated in the past years. Afghan President Hamid Karsai welcomed the announcement of possible negotiations."
Obviously, Obama's statement has been warped into something he did not say. He clearly never said the war could or would not be won - but simply refused to say the U.S. was winning the conflict.
The piece concludes by declaring the war in Afghanistan "hopeless." This conclusion is supported by what the paper calls "expert opinion." In this case, the opinion is that of a single individual - British officer Sebastian Morley - who clearly supports Tagesspiegel's anti-war editorial line. No other "experts" are presented to challenge Morley's opinion or offer another, less pessimistic view that Afghanistan is anything but completely doomed. (And yes - more optimistic opinions exist in abundance.)
Clearly, the departure of President Bush has not cured German media of its shoddy, biased and often inaccurate reporting on the United States. The Tagesspiegel's coverage sounds more like opinionated propaganda than news. The German public deserves better...
UPDATE: The lead front-page article in the paper edition of "Die Welt" for March 9 is essentially a carbon copy of the Tagesspiegel piece. The headline offered the same false claim that Obama had said the war in Afghanistan could not be won. (Are we missing something - did Obama ever unequivocally say that the conflict in Afghanistan could not be won???) Why would Obama send an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan and call on allies to contribute to the effort if he believed the cause to be futile and already lost? The Welt/Tagesspiegel headlines defy basic logic and can only be characterized as journalistic malpractice...
"I must admit that I was astonished when I recently read in the
newspaper that a German parliamentary delegation was visiting Iraqi
Kurdistan and that the head of the delegation, Herta Däubler-Gmelin,
had made critical remarks about the situation of human rights in the
region. I was equally astonished that our Kurdish politicians accepted
this criticism without protest. (...)
But Ms. Däubler-Gmelin evidently did not think for a second of the
liberation of Iraq from this dictatorship. And after 2003, it was
people like her – and so many others in Europe – that showed no concern
for the changes and developments underway in Iraq. We did not have the
impression that the terror unleashed by Al-Qaeda upon the people of
Iraq gave them any sleepless nights either. On the contrary, for years
they seemed to welcome the suffering of the Iraqis as proof that the
overthrow of Saddam Hussein had been a mistake.
Despite all this we say to such people: Welcome to the new, democratic Iraq!"
The United States and Israel ranked below North Korea, China and Russia by Germans Polled
Poll results from a 2007-2008 BBC World Service Poll reveal that a higher percentage of Germans surveyed viewed the United States (72%) and Israel (64%) as having a negative influence on the world than North Korea (62%), China (59%) and Russia (56%). The United States finished not too far ahead of Iran (85%) and Pakistan (77%).
Interestingly enough, Germany had the highest favorable ratings overall among the countries polled. Given the troubling results of this survey and the irrationally anti-American and anti-Israeli attitudes prevalent in German media and society, however, some may want to rethink their views of how positive an influence Germany really is.
No doubt here that the highly biased, one-sided and constant railing of much of the German media against the United States and Israel plays a major part in these results. This is why our subject matter is important - as an educated public, well-informed by a media community dedicated to balance and even-handedness (as opposed to the hateful populism), would not likely hold such views.
To its credit, the Financial Times published an article by Philip Stephens entitled "The Obama challenge: is Europe just a spectator?" that cuts to the heart of several key issues that will shape future transatlantic relations. Excerpt:
"Behind this lies the deeper ambivalence about Washington’s role. Most Europeans want the US to continue to exercise global leadership. The alternatives, after all, are unappealing. The contradiction lies in the caveats: Washington must not challenge European sensibilities or ask too much of its allies.
Thus while Mr Obama’s decision to withdraw from Iraq wins universal applause, his determination to reinforce Nato’s effort in Afghanistan is cause for foreboding. One of the refrains I have heard often in recent weeks is that the new president cannot expect Europe to send more troops to Afghanistan until there is a credible political strategy. That seems an eminently sensible condition. More than six years after the toppling of the Taliban, Afghanistan remains a mess. But how will, say, Germany and Italy respond if Mr Obama picks up the ball and produces just such a strategic plan?"
A must read that addresses many of the debates to come.
UPDATE: I conducted this interview with Brent Scowcroft on the future of US-EU relations and foreign policy in general for a graduate paper I completed last year. It appears he may play some significant foreign policy role in the administration and am therefore re-posting this at the top of our site. The interview took place on March 19, 2007 and is 40 minutes long.
Today I attended a seminar at the Goethe Institute in Washington DC on Germany and the challenges of terrorism. In attendance was Stefan Aust, until recently the editor-in-chief of Der Spiegel. During the questions-and-answer period, I introduced myself and asked him whether he thought it would be fair to say that Der Spiegel and other German media had sometimes veered from legitimate criticism and questioning of the United States over the past few years into anti-American populism designed to profit from some need of the readership. Not surprisingly, he replied with a "no" and went on to say that he felt that his publication's coverage of the run-up to the Iraq War was fair and included voices from both sides - even those who supported the war!
It is interesting here to remember Jeff Gedmin's encounter with a Spiegel reporter a few years back. A look at our archives and the covers below may also lead some to question Herr Aust's conclusion.
Nope. No anti-American populism in sight...
Endnote: The Goethe Institute organizers did mention that recordings from the seminar would be on NPR. I just hope they don't play the question asked by a woman before me - which was an embarrassing monologue that went on with no real point for nearly 10 minutes.
The latest Der Spiegel cover seems to offer a glimpse of what's to come...
"The Capital Crime: Anatomy of a World Crisis that has Really Just Begun"
With Obama, Spiegel and others will no longer be focusing attacks on the American executive (at least in the short-term) as was standard practice under Bush. Instead, as we have previously speculated, they will likely turn to attacking broader aspects of American society (the economic downturn is the current dominant theme) for all that is wrong in the United States and the world. Think World Scapegoat USA. Think pet peeves. Having to respect Obama just makes accomplishing what readers require a bit more demanding. Just slapping Bush and a desecrated US flag on the cover will no longer cut mustard after January 20...
With the election imminent, it now appears that an Obama presidency is more likely than unlikely. That being the case, we would like to offer a few predictions as to how many in German media and society will react. We actually believe that these reactions will all play out to one degree or another:
The American "friends" have reformed themselves and deserve another chance. We in the German media elite can now (temporarily at least) welcome the United States back into the fold of civilized nations despite the nearly unforgivable actions of the past eight years. We love the fact that the United States has elected its first minority head of state (though we would never dream of doing so ourselves). After we gloat a little more about the demise of Bush and engage in a round of "told you so" on how right we were to oppose his every move - we will push for Obama to sign Kyoto, close Guantanamo, abolish the death penalty and quickly exit Iraq. Obama must consult with us and go through the United Nations before taking any military action. This would vindicate our worldview and assuage our anger at America's many transgressions over the past eight years. Should Obama not do any or all of the above, we reserve the right to once again treat the United States as the World Scapegoat and depict Obama as the head of a mad-rogue cowboy nation.
Analysis: The initial euphoria of an Obama victory and Republican defeat will lead some to predict a bold new era of happiness in transatlantic relations. These predictions will gradually be worn to a cool realism/cynicism by geopolitical realities which will inevitably manifest themselves through differences over trade, the use of force in Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Middle East, the unwillingness of even the Democrats to go along with Kyoto, etc. Obama may remain quite popular as a personality in the German media. The Republicans - despite their reduced role - will continue to act as foils and receive blame for all that goes wrong. The refrain that what Bush has broken will take time to fix may well grow to become a reflexive defense for some time to come among those who insist on clinging to their own initial euphoria.
Reaction Two - Cynicism
Obama's election is a hopeful sign - but the United States remains a fundamentally "other" nation. We will pay lip-service to the progressive direction that the United States has embarked upon - which increasingly mirrors our own. That - however - does not change the fact that the United States is a fundamentally backward nation that will remain dominated by the primitive instincts of predatory capitalism, oppression of the weak, religious bigotry and a tendency towards uncontrolled violence. Even if Obama is everything that we hope him to be (and he probably isn't) - he will inevitably be constrained by the society in which he exists and by the vile Republicans who oppose him. We will continue to blame the United States for most of the world's ills - albeit with an initially more restrained tone - and wait until Obama confirms our views of the United States by launching any military action or repeatedly compromising on issues that matter to us such as the death penalty, environment, gun laws, etc.
Analysis: Cynicism and pessimism remain core reflexes among much of the German intellectual elite. This sector of the German media has already concluded that it will inevitably be disappointed with Obama and - to spare itself the embarrassment and emotional roller-coaster of Obama euphoria - has concluded that the United States will not fundamentally change course. They will correctly point to the fact that Obama has profited from a confluence of factors such as war-fatigue, economic downturn, Bush-fatigue, etc. and conclude that these circumstances - and not a fundamental change in American societal attitudes - are what led to Obama's victory. This view offers adherents the obvious advantage of being able to play the profitable Hate-America card at any time.
Reaction Three - Let's Feel Better
Obama wins and now the hip people in Germany can finally feel better and get off the anger streak towards the United States - a country that produces lots of stuff we think is cool like iPods, hip-hop, Blackberries and Lionel Ritchie. Obama may not do everything we Hope - but we are pretty tired of bashing the United States and it's time for Change. Feeling better makes us feel good - so we are going to just do it - even though nothing much is going to change except for our feelings - which are pretty important. Now that Bush is gone - we will need to find a new super-villain to feel bad about - which makes us insecure about making sure we pick the right bad guy...(and maybe Bono can help us out here...) The tone makes the music and all that - so we are kinda friends again with the United States until the Republicans come back. By the way - we still won't give you any more troops for Afghanistan and we expect you to help us save the trees and polar bears. We will write plenty of angry letters to bad people with you if that's what floats your boat...
Analysis: The less serious bubble-gum tabloid media is likely to revel in the ongoing feel-good Obama-mania. On a societal level, these are - to a large extent - the folks who turned out for the Obama speech in Berlin. For Americans living in or visiting Germany, this may translate into fewer close encounters of the Hate-America kind in certain bars, taxis and social gatherings. The trendy types will have to drop Hate-Bush for some other cause-celeb and pick up a new ultra villain to rail against. This in itself may lead to some angst and uncertainty.
Reaction Four - America in Cultural Decline
Obama is hopelessly inexperienced and thoroughly represents the fleeting and superficial nature of American society - which will follow slogans, glitz and glamor in any direction. The election of this non-European is simply a confirmation of America's slow descent into mediocrity. Bush was bad - but Obama will be equally bad if not worse - and may threaten our business and trade interests if he gets too protectionist.
Analysis: Some in the culturally conservative German elite (and perhaps some on the far-far-left) will see the election of Obama as a sign that the United States continues to deteriorate culturally. Though they will not (often) openly express their racial views, they will depict Obama's election as a sign that the United States is slowly becoming a Third World nation increasingly dominated by a combination of non-European (and in their view inherently inferior) influences and superficial bumper-sticker politics. This will not manifest itself in most mainstream German media, but will be hinted at on the fringes.
Reaction Five - What Do You Think?
Now that we have put four potential reactions out there - we would like to know what you - our readers - think. Are these four scenarios on the mark? Are some more accurate than others? Are we missing something? What are your thoughts?
UPDATE: More than one publication has already posted a list of Europe's demands and expectations now that Obama has been declared the winner.
Looking around the blogosphere this week, we couldn't help but notice an interesting discussion taking place in the comments section of the blog "German Joys," a left-leaning blog written by Andrew Hammel, an American living in Germany. One of the comments was particularly striking:
"I lived in West Germany two separate times back in the 1980s and have been back -- to the reunified Germany -- for visits many times since then. Back then I recall that examples of anti-Americanism, both among regular Germans and within the German media, were easily found. As you probably know, since then, anti-Americanism among Germans and the German media has stayed fairly consistent over the years, sometimes waxing a little and sometimes waning. But, for many Germans, hating Americans has always given them a little lift as he or she gets through their day.
For Americans who aren't prepared for it, this fact of life for Germans can be a shock. The virulence, especially among the German media, is astounding. Both Stern and Der Spiegel are taking their usual nasty shots and America: here are the latest covers. Average Americans have generally a positive view of Germany and Germans, so if they are exposed to just how much hatred Germans have for Americans, they are truly puzzled.
You will NEVER find an equivalent cover, for Time or Newsweek, for example, that denigrates Germans. I challenge any German stopping by here to find and link to one here. To me, this hatred for Americans that animates the German media, and many average Germans, is one of the more shameful aspects of their national character, in many ways as shameful as their hatred of Jews. Both of these antipathies derive from the same national pathology that is rarely confronted in German society. It's an unusual German -- and thankfully I know a few of them -- who can blush when confronted with examples of their countrymen's irrational hatred of America."
Our questions to readers:
Does the author go too far in claiming the anti-Americanism found in Germany is a part of the national character?
Is some of this problem part of a larger phenomenon taking place in Europe and other parts of the world? To what degree?
Is some of this ongoing problem peculiar to Germany? To what degree?
Is there anything that can be done to get more Germans to be constructive in discussions of the United States or is this so deeply ingrained in society that it will never really change?
We look forward to your reactions in our comments section.
Reader's Digest published a surprisingly insightful passage on European media in a recent article by Carl M. Cannon entitled "How the World Sees Us". It discusses factors leading to Obama's overwhelming popularity in much of Western Europe:
"Other factors are at play as well. For starters, the media elite, especially in Europe, tends to be liberal, and its news coverage of the U.S. election reflects this slant. The upshot is that the ordinary Dutchman or Englishwoman -- or Indonesian, for that matter -- receives a steady diet of positive Obama coverage. Also, in fairness to the GOP nominee, the Republican party is organized around a set of conservative attitudes and principles that are distinctly American in nature. These range from support for gun rights and low taxes to antipathy to legal abortion and centralized government control."
Some might argue that the above statement tends towards generalization. But the bottom line is that Mr. Cannon hits an important nail squarely on the head and expresses a fundamental truth that explains one aspect of why Europeans see the United States as they do.
It is also useful to look at the flip-side of of one of Mr. Cannon's statements: If Democrats, liberals (and Obama in particular) tend to receive largely positive coverage in the European press - it is also true that Republicans, conservatives and those not a part of the American left are typically treated with disdain and disfavor in European media and rarely given a fair chance to express their views unfiltered.
Though this state of affairs is nothing new under the sun - it is encouraging that some in the wider media in the United States are willing to acknowledge it.
SPIEGEL and Stern: Global Economic Crisis = America's Fault
SPIEGEL ONLINE's decision to launch an English site a few years back has proven a double-edged sword. It can reach a wider audience - but - when it chooses to translate its German articles accurately - it can also be challenged on its hyper-simplified reporting on the United States.
Case in point: When SPIEGEL attempted to exploit the current economic crisis with another decidedly anti-American cover and feature article with all the usual anti-American clichés designed to pander to the magazine's predominantly anti-American German readership, English-language readers spoke out. The headline quickly changed from "America's arrogance" to "Is America Arrogant?" The encouraging side of this is that SPIEGEL ONLINE's English site was willing to publish the critical responses. Perhaps this is the beginning of some real dialog - (or perhaps we are hopeless optimists). Here is a sampling:
"Dear SPIEGEL ONLINE,
I am not surprised by the America bashing in your magazine -- it is the European way. America is only good when you need us, and history has proven that you needed us very frequently. But you are dead wrong to count Americans out and to count capitalism out. Free markets and capitalism are the only road to prosperity.
I was having dinner with a friend last night and he brought his 26-year-old nephew to dinner with him. His nephew had just arrived from France to work here in the USA at a hedge fund. I asked him why come to America now with all this financial turmoil? His answer was that America still offered the best chance for prosperity. "France could never give me the financial opportunities that I can find here in America," he said.
Furthermore, if America is so down-and-out, why is an American education still the best in the world? Why is it that workers from France, Germany and Poland come here for a better future? Why don't they stay in Europe?
--Michael Faustini, New York, USA
Dear SPIEGEL ONLINE,
Rarely have I read such overwrought wishful thinking regarding the US. The US economy is challenged, yes, but I do believe the reports of our death are greatly overstated. We will continue to be the engine that drives most of the world's economy. If this is not the case, then why are world markets begging us to move quickly to fix our problem so that business as usual can continue overseas?
German bitterness over its relegation to a B-Team economy -- take a look at your tax system, loss of technology investment, perverse immigration system, etc. -- should yield the energy to improve, not point fingers. You don't like George Bush? Wait about 31 days and he'll be history. You think our system is based upon avarice and greed? Watch our Congress move against those who tried to over-leverage our markets. The bottom line is this: The current "crisis" is less a debacle than it is an opportunity to do what the US always does, namely step up and fix the problem.
-- Steve Kopper, Washington, DC"
On a final note: Let's hope whoever wins the upcoming election in the United States does not suffer from the illusion that the sort of harmful America-bashing exemplified by the cover above will go away or even significantly abate anytime soon. The price of much of the European media's arrogance towards the United States over the past decade is an audience conditioned to blame the giant world scapegoat America for virtually any and every problem.
Update (from David): In other news (Oct. 6, 2008): European shares in biggest one-day fall ever / Comment: "Fact is, European Banks are even more highly leveraged than US banks,
and many still have political appointees on their Boards (yes folks,
people more venal and incompetent than Wall Street bankers DO exist,
but in the US they generally are kept under control by being confined
to Congress. In Europe they get to play with banks and industry too).
That's why Europe is in trouble."
Update #2: Not a huge surprise, but Stern magazine also published a cover that screams: Your economic hardship is all America's fault!
"Greed and Megalomania: How the Wall Street Bosses Gambled Away Billions and led our Financial System to Ruin"
The symbolism of America as giant scapegoat is pretty obvious here. The only thing missing is a desecration of the Statue of Liberty...