December 08, 2005
US-Poland Security Meeting
Gazeta Wyborcza reports on a meeting between US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsefeld and his Polish counterpart, Radek Sikorski. Poland has a substantial contingent in Iraq - 1,700 men - and has apparently agreed to say on for the medium term, albeit with some reductions and a shift from security operations to training. Sikorski insisted that this was a measure to enhance Poland's security, and not a dig for increases in US aid. Having said that, he then noted that he and Rumsfeld also discussed Poland's expecations of the US, which apparently include help in procuring advanced weapon's technology, communications equipment and smart bombs. Also a Polish priority is American cooperation in the development of the joint Polish-Ukrainian batallion, with the goal of upgrading it to a Polish-Ukrainian-American brigade. This may seem like a distant triviality to American observers, but the Polish goal is actually quite audacious - such a unit would help anchor Ukraine in the Western alliance, and bring US influence right up to the western borders of Russia.
December 06, 2005
The challenges of Condoleeza Rice in Europe
The discussion about the CIA flights and secret prisons is growing as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is beginning an official visit in Europe. Recent allegations about the use of German airports to transport suspected terrorists will particularly hamper her first step in Berlin.
After the designation of Angela Merkel as German Chancellor, this visit was a good opportunity to “repair the damaging rift between the countries over Iraq,” remarks the British newspaper, The Guardian.
“But the trip has been overshadowed by the growing dispute about the CIA's use of rendition,” the transport of suspects to countries where US laws do not apply. “The controversy comes at the worst possible time for Ms. Merkel, who was looking forward to a swift transatlantic rapprochement. Ms. Merkel is seen as an economic liberal, an Atlanticist and an honest broker in the mould of Helmut Kohl, her mentor,” adds the Financial Times. It is then no surprise if the German government is attempting to downplay the issue. But it will be difficult for Ms. Merkel to ignore German public opinion, which has been even more shocked with the first kidnapping of a German national in Iraq last week, reminds the FT.
Moreover, another problem threatens European governments. “If the former government were found to have known that Germany was being used as transit point for captives on their way to being tortured, it might be found to have breached international law,” says the FT.
That could also be the case for the British government. And The Guardian cites a report of the New York University Law School’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, which explains that London could face legal sanctions in the case that it allowed secret CIA flights to stop in Great Britain.
A new rendition
Focusing on the legal defenses of the administration, the reporter repeatedly mentions how Rice continues to frame the debate in terms of rendition, or the transportation of alleged terrorists to clandestine sites where they are suspected of being tortured outside the bounds of any legal system.
One of the most gaping flaws in the use of rendition, according to some legal experts, is the claim that it was "necessary in instances where local governments did not have the capacity to prosecute a terror suspect, or in cases where al-Qaida members were operating in remote areas far from an operational justice system."
But the suspects were generally all obtained in dense urban, and therefore infrastructurally sound environments for legal prosecution. One, of course, can argue whether Karachi, and therefore Pakistan, is a suitable location for the due process of law to be enacted, but either way Rice's logic appears to be loosening in the wake of international criticism over such methods.
Interestingly, this and other sources in the European press appear to be unable to ascertain what Washington's (self-admittedly) unique definition of torture is.
December 04, 2005
Rice to address CIA on Europe trip
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will try to turn the tables on critics of U.S. terrorism policy in Europe this week, arguing that the United States acts legally and does not ship suspected terrorists around the globe to be tortured.
One of leading newspaper in Japan, Asahi, is paying attention to the travel across Europe by Secretary Rice as well, since awaiting Rice on her stops in Germany, Belgium, Romania and other destinations will be questions about alleged human rights violations supposedly engineered by Washington.
Citing human rights abuses in its handling of detainees at Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba and Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq by the US and also the prison camps during the civil war of the former Yugoslavia , Asahi's Sunday editrial says "If these same countries fail to take a stern and critical look at their own actions, the so-called humanitarianism of the United States and Europe will be condemned as two-faced hypocrisy."
Secretary Rice owes the EU a clear explanation of what has taken place, followed by immediate action by Washington to rectify any wrongdoing.
At the same time, the EU should conduct its own independent survey. Until the whole truth about the secret jail claims is told and the citizens of Europe are satisfied with what has been done to rectify the matter, it will be difficult to declare the Continent has truly taken to heart the sad legacy of the Holocaust.
The time has likewise come for the United States and Europe to mend the rift that has widened over the Iraq war and promote greater cross-Atlantic cooperation in rebuilding that shattered nation and on other fronts.
Vague and evasive responses to the current secret jail claims won't serve to move things in that direction.
December 01, 2005
A new episode in the Yellowcake case. Today La Repubblica runs an interview with Alain Chouet, French 007 till 2002. The interview controverts the Italian government reconstruction in four essential points:
1. Rocco Martino, the fake Italian 007, did not work for the DGSE (Direction Générale de la Sécurité extérieure), as the Italian government stated.
2. CIA gets the fake documents about the Niger Yellocake in June 2002. That is, when the Italian magazine Panorama gives the fake documents to the American Embassy in Rome in August 2002, CIA already has the documents.
3. As opposed to what stated by the Italian government, the DGSE did not pass the documents to Washington. On the contrary, Washington passed the documents to the DGSE asking to verify them. The DGSE informs Washington that the documents are false since July 2002.
4. Rocco Martino gets in touch with the DGSE only in the summer of 2002, not before.
If what stated by Alain Chouet is true, as it seems to be so far, La Repubblica gets another scoop about the Yellowcake.
November 29, 2005
Black Sites in Eastern Europe - The EU is not amused
It has been some weeks since the revelation that the US has set up a world-wide network of secret prisons to house terror-related detainees out of the jurisdiction of US courts. Two Eastern European countries have been named as sites - Poland and Romania. Although the governments of both states deny the allegations, the White House has so far refused to confirm or deny the existence of these prisons.
Despite the Polish and Romanian denials and the silence from Washington, the EU is taking these charges very seriously and has begun discussion possible disceplinary measures against any European states housing such prisons. Both the BBC and the Guardian report that EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini, the top judicial official in the EU, announced that penalties may include the suspension of Council voting rights for Poland, an EU member. This action would be justified under EU conventions pledging to defend democracy, the rule of law and human rights. For Romania, aspiring to EU membership, the consequences could be even more severe - the head of the EU Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee has called for reopening the negotiation process, a backwards step for a country that has already signed accession agreements.
The Torture debate viewed from Poland
The Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza runs an article summarizing the recent torture debates in America. It reprises for Polish audiences debates that by now are familiar to most people following US news - the introduction of the McCain ammendment, the question of drawing a line for interrogation techniques, the new vulnerability of the Bush White House on this issue. A few interesting remarks are made that haven't cropped up elsewhere, however. The article notes that this is far from a new issue - the New Yorker and other higher-end news magazines have been sustaining this discussion for over a year, but it took Congress taking up the issue for it to break into the mainstream imagination.
More interesting, however, is a detail that emerges when the piece examines the effectiveness of torture in intelligence gathering. Apparently in 2002, Ibn Sheikh al-Libi, a senior Al-Qaeda operative caputured in Afghanistan, revealed under torture that Al-Qaeda had sent agents into Iraq, although he later reversed these statements. This information became part of the case for the Iraq invasion and was used to brief Colin Powell before his now infamous session at the UN.
November 21, 2005
US Senate criticizes Siberian exile
Poland's Gazeta Wyborcza picks up a Russia news story concerning a US Senate resolution about the imprisonment of the two former oligarchs of now-defunct Yukos, Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev. Having been charged and convicted of tax evasion, they are serving out their sentences in Siberia and on the Yamal Peninsula, above the Arctic Circle. This is in violation of Russian penal law, which indicates that convicts serve their sentence either in the area where they reside or where they were convicted - in the case of the Yukos chiefs, this would be Moscow. The prisons that house Khodorkovsky and Lebedev are among the most notorious in Russia. The US Senate has therefore passed a resolution calling on their transfer out of these remote penal colonies back to the Moscow area.
The Senate resolution, of course, has no authority over the Russia government, and it taken as a symbolic gesture. These resolutions are not altogether uncommon - they are seen by US senators as easy ways of placating domestic constituencies. US newspapers do not take such resolutions particularly seriously, and none have reported on this case. But this story in the flagship Polish paper is suggestive of a number of things. First, Poles care much more about the US Senate taking a hard line on Russia than Americans seem to. Second, Poland still grants the US a measure of moral authority, something unlikely in the rest of Europe. Third, it turns out that Khodorkovsky has a certain level of organization and political support in the US. And finally, perhaps this is a sign that US lawmakers are resigned to their own bad reputation concerning detainees, and rather then defending their own record prefer to point out abuses elsewhere.
Poland and missile defense - interview with a former ambassador
Gazeta Wyborcza publishes an interview with Przemysław Grudziński, security scholar and former Polish ambassador to Washington. There is no news to report - negotiations with the US are ongoing about basing interceptors in Poland - but Grudziński clearly spells out Poland's fairly high hopes for the initiative. He notes that previous Western and US oriented security moves - joining NATO, the purchase of US F-16 fighters, participation in the Iraq war - have yet to pay dividends, but he is optimistic that the logistical, manufacturing and infrastructure requirements of hosting bases will serve to spur economic development in Poland. He also notes that such a move would cement Poland's place among the staunchest US allies. It seems that previous disappointments with the US have only increased Poles' desire to demonstrate thier reliability and loyalty.
A final decision on base locations is expected within a few weeks. Originally, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary were considered as possible host countries, but worsening relations between Prague and Washington have ruled out the Czechs. While Hungary still remains a possibility, the odds-on favorite is Poland.
November 13, 2005
Missile Defense Base in Poland
Gazeta Wyborcza reports that today the new right-wing government of Poland has formally announced its willingness to participate in the American ballistic missile defense program, even to the point of housing anti-missile rockets in Poland. According to the article, secret negotiations have been taking place between Washington and Warsaw for the last six months, suggesting that the former leftist government also supported this policy. It goes on to cite that Pentagon officials will make a decision in the next six months whether to take up Poland's offer of basing interceptor missiles.
"Black Sites" in Eastern Europe
It has been two weeks since the revelation in the Washington Post that the US holds terror-related subjects in secret prisons in Eastern Europe and elsewhere, presumably to keep them out of the jurisdiction of US law. In Poland, one of the Eastern European countries widely suspected to house one such prison, the reaction has been slow and muted. I only found one piece that dealt with the issue, and only in passing in an article on Guantanamo Bay. The article reported the existence of secret prisons in the Middle East and Asia, but questioned whether any were located in Eastern Europe. The piece cites a Polish intelligence officer denying reports of CIA prisons in Poland, but goes on to note that the Czech government has acknowledged receiving a request to set such a prison up. Czech sources insist that that request was denied.
A French lesson to learn
Quite surprisingly in November 11th Italian newspaper La Repubblica the Minister for Inner Affairs, Giuseppe Pisanu, warns against the risk that our city suburbs may experience the same revolt as the French “banlieues”.
Just a few days before, the same Minister had stated that Italy would not run the same risk as France. According to his analysis Italy’s main problems were: terrorism, unauthorized immigration and organized criminality (mafia, camorra, n’drangeta). Pisanu’s latest statement appears to have taken into account the recent analyses of opinion makers and psycho sociologists aimed at answering the following questions: who are the French violent young people? What do they want? How can they be handled?
Who are they? On the 8th of November “Otto e mezzo” at La7Tv has invited, besides some Italian guests, the French sociologist Catherine de Wenders and the social operator Fedela Amara to debate the subject. In spite of their different political orientations the guests all agreed: those French sons, second or third generation of immigrants, have the same look and attitude as those young violent people (Dissidents, Black Bloks and Squatters) who have demonstrated against Bush in Rio del Plata or in Genoa during the G8.
What do they want? On this point opinions diverge. Left leaning analysts insist on the youth’s request for equal rights, equal chances for employment, a better standard of life, and the end of their social marginalization. The conservatives insists on the fact that Paris’ protesting youth (the “casseurs”) like the violent youth all over the world, do not aim at anything in particular but destroying.
To strengthen this opinion Renzo Foa, political editorialist at “Il Giornale” writes on November the 9th that “nihilism” is the most appropriate word to describe the devastating vague of violence investing the French “banlieues.”
What to do? “Il Sole-24 ore”, newspaper of the Italian Industry Association, analyses under the title “Il disagio dell’altra Francia” the failure of French immigration policy. Too much statism, concludes the newspaper, has in fact inhibited those sons of immigrants any wish of integration and social growth.
According to “Il Riformista” newspaper of the Reforming Left, the model to follow would be the American one. Which means: 1) Strict respect of the law, more severe punishments for criminals. 2) Reforming the job market to increase employment. 3) Concrete opportunities for urban minorities for progressing and improving their status provided that they respect the rules of society.
This is not enough according to Giuliano Ferrara, editor of “Il Foglio”. What matters lays in the word “westernization”, i.e. to become member of our western society, the significance of a strong, but not arrogant, identity to be proud of. In other words it would be necessary to show those young people that their existence and work are based on economical and political freedom rather than on State assistance.
November 08, 2005
Poland's Gazeta Wybrocza sends Marcin Gadziński on a tour of Camp Delta, the American detainment center at Guantanamo Bay. Setting out, he admits a certain ambivalence:
What is Guantanamo? I considered this on the flight into Cuba. A sybol of American's contempt for the rule of law? Their use of force against individuals who haven't even been formally accused of anything? Or, as Amnesty International alleges, the "gulag of our time?"
But quite quickly into his trip, he reaches the exact opposite conclusion. Under a headline asking "Guantanamo: Gulag or vacation resort?" he describes seeing prisoners, well hydrated with gatorade, playing soccer (and not evening pausing their game at the call to prayer), snacking on California strawberries and Milky Way bars, and making jokes with their guards. Every effort is made to make their incarceration comfortable - prison cooks look up Afghan and Arab recipes on the internet, guards are prohbited from even touching prisoners' Korans, and during Ramadan meals are served before sunrise or after sunset - even the force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strikes only takes place at night.
Gadziński tries to explain the cause for the camps dismal and widespread reputation. The first pictures that came out - of hooded prisoners kneeling in low cages, surrounded by barbed wire - were of Camp X-Ray, a hastily-constructed temporary facility that has since been replaced with the more spacious and adequate Camp Delta. In talking with camp officials, he brings up prisoner allegations about torture. American soldiers explain that, in the early stages of the camp, with 9/11 still fresh in everyone's mind and a very living fear of fresh attacks, the now-notorious interrogation tactics of stress positions, canine intimidation and sexual humiliation were used against inmates. But these were necessary measures, camp officers insist - a lot of good information came out of those interrogations that ended up saving American lives. Since then, and after the outcry over prisoner abuse at Abu Ghreib, those techniques have been suspended and replaced with less invasive, more effective ones.
Bringing up prisoner protestations of innocence, Gadziński is referred to the "Manchester document," a section of an Al-Quaeda manual that gives advice for those caputred. It's first rule is to provide as little information as possible, it's second to always allege torture, and it's third to always protest your innocence. Spreading stories about prisoners innocence, one general tells him, just plays into the hands of Al-Quaeda.
Gadziński sees little at the camp to upset him about this "vital bastion in the war on terror." He describes a friendly staff, respect for prisoners (all of whom, we are reminded, are dangerous terrorists) and clean, spacious conditions (the article is illustrated with slides of the spartan by spic-and-span cells). It's clear that on the gulag vs. vacation resort question, he's been decisively persuaded to the resort side.
Map of the rios in France
THis is a map of the places where riots have taken place. It was published by Le Monde on November 7th.
November 07, 2005
Two Perspectives on America in the West
Two high-brow American boutique publications - Harper's magazine and the New York Times magazine - have recently published two radically different takes on the ambivalent place of the United States in the Western community of nations.
The New York Times' James Traub starts with the recent awarding of the Nobel Prize in literature to Harold Pinter, a British playwright who "views the United States as a moral monster bent on world domination." The Swedish Academy's decision, Traub argues, is emblematic of the mood in Europe, where "the anti-American left is far more intellectually respectable" even in "the highest reaches of European culture." He names names - John Le Carée, Tariq Ali, Arundhati Roy - and cites the harsh criticism of these "implacable ideologues" to US intervention in Serbia, Iraq and elsewhere as proof of "a virulent strain of anti-Americanism."
He suggests the route cause is the resentment of the European left when confronted by the "socialist debacle" at home and American power and prosperity abroad. His solution? Broadening the war of ideas being waged in the Middle East to now-hostile European territory.
William Pfaff, writing in Harper's, takes an almost opposite approach. Rather then beginning with the fact of European hostility towards the US (prevalent, at least, among the intelligentsia), he starts instead with specific parts of US policy, most significantly the use of torture in the war on terror.
Pfaff notes that there are few significant value differences between America and the other Western nations. One concerns international law - most Western nations view international organizations as legitimate and beneficial, and multilateral agreements, especially on human rights questions, as sacrosanct, while the US tends to view these things instrumentally and suspiciously, preferring to safeguard its sovereignty. Conversely, there seems to be a consensus on the human rights protected - on both sides of the Atlantic, these rights are considered to represent the highest ideals of the West. Under normal circumstances, these differences would not cause severe friction - there is more keeping the West together than pulling it apart. But, Pfaff argues, after Sept. 11 normal circumstances came to an end in the United States.
Instead, he describes a Manichean worldview held by American political leaders, pitting their country against an objectively "evil" terrorist threat. The depravity and seriousness of this threat justified anything in the effort to counter it - disregard for international law, undermining traditional institutions and alliances and, most seriously, the widespread use of torture. Pfaff's accusations are not new - he cites the existence of secret prisons abroad, the practice of extraordinary rendition and, of course, the indefinite detainment of prisoners in Guantanamo and Iraq - but his conclusions, in light of the brazenness of US authorities - are startling.
International illegality, the deliberate repudiation of international law, and torture, gratuitously employed in defiance of the moral intuitions of ordinary people, all show that the Bush Administration has chosen to place itself outside the moral community of modern Western democratic civilization.
If this is being published in Harper's, maybe Traub's war of ideas needs to be taken to the home front as well.
October 23, 2005
An astonishing photo appears in the weekend edition of Le Soir, Belgium’s leading French-language daily newspaper: President Bush is looking, bewildered, up at the rain from under his black umbrella—with a headline reading: ‘Absent Man in the White House’ ('L'Homme absent de la Maison Blanche')
Inside, the paper reports on the accumulating number of top Republicans and former Bush administration officials who have launched scathing criticisms of President Bush’s governing style and reliance on compliant advisers. Foremost among the new critics, it cites a talk and discussion given last week in New York City by retired U.S. colonel, Larry Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002-2005. Wilkerson accused Rumsfeld and Cheney of “subverting the Department of State and American diplomacy with policies that have contributed to the isolation of the United States.” The newspaper cites in in particular his criticism of the conduct of the war in Iraq; alienation of our allies in South Korea and failed U.S. diplomacy with North Korea; and the administration’s long delay—to disastrous effect—in joining forces with the European Union to pressure Iran to shut down its nuclear capabilities. In his presentation at the New America Foundation in New York City, Wilkerson criticized the administration’s lack of “grace” in its conduct of foreign affairs:
"If you're unilaterally declaring Kyoto dead, if you're declaring the Geneva Conventions not operative, if you're doing a host of things that the world doesn't agree with you on and you're doing it blatantly and in their face, without grace, then you've got to pay the consequences."
Le Soir includes a comment from political analyst Jurek Kuczkiewicz, who writes that Wilkerson’s revelations suggest how deeply the Bush “cabal”—Rumsfeld, Cheney and Rice—have “severed reality from their decision-making.” Referring to the powerful effect that Wilkerson’s revelations will likely have on American’s and the world’s understanding of Bush’s diplomatic failings, he writes: “His [Wilkerson’s] discourse is like a bomb…It’s the cry of a citizen, of the United States, but also of the world, who are looking for the truth from a country of such grandeur. His speech was like a bomb. But it was also, many hope, a dream.”
October 17, 2005
Nobel Prize Vs. George W. Bush, Part II
This year, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has probably decided to show its opposition to a certain vision of the world, symbolized by Bush's administration and its allies. After giving the Nobel Prize for Peace to Mohammed El-Baradei, the Prize for Literature was given to Harold Pinter, a British playwright and one of the biggest opponents in the artistic world to George W. Bush and Tony Blair. All of the four major French daily newspapers wrote articles last week about this militant artist.
Alain Dreyfus wrote in Libération, in his article called "Pinter, militant Nobel" :
"[Harold Pinter] speaks unambiguously : According to him, Blair is "an idiot full with illusions" and Bush "a war criminal". In 2003, at the time of the London's demonstrations against the War in Iraq, he read a poem from his " War" collection, called "God bless America" : Your head rolls onto the sand / Your head is a pool in the dirt / Your head is a stain in the dust / Your eyes have gone out and your nose / Sniffs only the pong of the dead / And all the dead air is alive / With the smell of America's God."
Raphaëlle Rérolle et Brigitte Salino wrote in Le Monde an article about the tributes made after Pinter received the award. They quoted Andrew Burgin, the Stop the War Coalition spokesperson, who said :
"The award of this prize is important because it reflects that the forces that speak up for humanity and justice are the real voices that people want to hear -- not the voices of war mongers like Bush and Blair"
Marie-José Sirach wrote in L'Humanité, in her article called "Harold Pinter, a "mad" militant" :
"Harold Pinter is a great defender of the human rights. He rose against the war made by the United States to reverse the Sandinist's government in Nicaragua. Then, against both of the War in Iraq, he used his feather in the newspapers, his words on the radio. Harold Pinter is a man in anger towards the contempt and the arrogance of Messrs Blair and Bush junior, a salutary indignation which gave him the nickname of "the Mad one" in the British press."
Pierre Marcabru wrote in Le Figaro an article called, "Harold Pinter, the playwright of unrest" :
"His engagement is more moral than political and pushes him to show us Bush as the devil having fun with poor fellows."
October 14, 2005
DiCaprio's warning on global warming
The actor wrote a column in Le Monde last wednesday (10/12/2005) called "a dream for New Orleans". Leonardo DiCaprio is a militant of Global Green USA (the American branch of the international green Cross) and the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC). He signed this article together with Matt Petersen, the head of Global Green USA.
"The recent cyclones have just shown that our cities are in first line on climatic changes consequences. The most powerful democracy of the world, the USA, can show the way to the rest of the world by protecting its large cities and by protecting us, its citizens. There are more and more evidences; it is time for America and its leaders to attack global warming."wrote DiCaprio, adding that
"Because of the devastations caused by Rita on refining capacities, the United States are confronted with an oil shortage. President George W Bush encouraged the country [...] to control its consumption. Each one of us has of course a role to play. But this short-term call is not enough : the relaxation of the protection measures of the environment and the resumption of oil drilling will finally just make the situation worsen. There is of course in Washington, on both political sides, people who militate in favour of initiatives against global warming, but decisions are not taken fast enough."
October 12, 2005
Nobel Prize Vs George W. Bush
He was one of the bigest spine in Bush administration's shoe before the Secound Gulf War started. Mohammed El-Baradei is the new Peace Nobel Prize winner. The award was given jointly to Mr El-Baradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which he heads. Although most of the French and European press underlines the critics of the anti-nuclear movements, they all insist on the "snub" given by this award to Bush's administration.
Le Temps, a Swiss newspaper, summarizes pretty well the common point of view, as Samuel Gardaz wrote on the 8th of October :
"It is hard not to interpret the attribution of this Nobel Prize [...] like a shingling snub inflicted to the Bush administration [...] There are two approaches on the question of disarmament which were opposed and continue to be opposed : Mohamed El-Baradei wants to prove that multilateral mechanisms like UNO works. Washington, on its side, wants to have a total room to disarm the regimes which it considers a threat for the world stability, with its manner (the armed force) and according to its own criteria."
The French left wing daily L'Humanité wrote it in a more direct way :
"The United States, which had tried to prevent, a few months ago, the renewal of the mandate of El Baradei at the head of the IAEA, diplomatically congratulated the organization and its head, while adding - not kidding - that it is "a well deserved" price and that "the United States are determined to work with the IAEA to prevent the proliferation of the nuclear weapons" [...] The republican president of the Foreign Affairs of the Senate, Richard Lugar, stressed that this choice made it possible to draw "the attention of the world to the essential importance to keep the weapons and nuclear materials, biological and chemical out of the hands of the terrorists". But this was not exactly the principal motivation of the Nobel committee..."wrote Pierre Barbancey.
Libération, another French daily, traditionaly a moderate left wing newspaper, made an interview of Bruno Tertrais, a security specialist who explained that this award is "a small claw' blow against the United States. The approach of El-Baradei is not the same that the one privileged by the Bush administration."
Here are more reactions about the Nobel Prize and its links with Bush's administration, starting with La Nouvelle République du Centre Ouest, a local newspaper, the only one criticizing this choice:
"Some will see in the choice of the prize winner a lesson for the United States. The price rewards the agency which opposed Bush's administration when they wanted to justify their war in Iraq because. But is it still necessary to insist on the American "error" on the Iraqi file?"wrote Jean-Claude Arbona.
"Mr El-Baradei always supported that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of massive destruction. He was right. It is to say that if US administration had listened to him, it would have understood that the genuine target of a possible intervention should have been Iran, because the risk is real there..."wrote Patrice Chabanet in Le Journal de la Haute-Marne.
"Just like the bretzel which failed to choke him, Bush has surely much trouble to swallow the Nobel Prize's pill, bitter with his taste."wrote Nadjib Touaibia in La Marseillaise.
October 10, 2005
About “the nature of Anti-Americanism”
Anti-Americanism is but a part of the question of “perceptions of the U.S. in the world” that we are trying to tackle here. One of the most common views seems to be that people tend to make a distinction between the Administration, the country, the values, and the people.
A recent essay written by UC-Berkeley Professor Emeritus—Raymond K. Kent--, and published on a liberal Canadian website—Global Research-- takes a provocative position: anti-Americanism is shifting from targeting the Administration to targeting the American people, at least in the Islamic “street.”
In The Nature of Anti-Americanism is Changing, And it is Fifteen Minutes to Midnight, Prof. Kent seeks to address the two following questions:
"(a)Should the U.S. dominate the world, through a combination of Geo-politics, militarism and hard-ball diplomacy focusing, basically, on obedience to its will?
(b)Can it succeed, as the "Indispensable Nation," in shaping and re-shaping other societies and their governments to "make the world safe for Democracy?"
The conclusion, which should become clear in the ensuing pages, is that, so far, the answer to both questions has been " yes." The thesis presented in the text is that our Machiavellians, who promote (without admitting) the pseudo-science of "Geo-politics," and Imperialism of "free trade," "human rights" and spread of Democracy as "rule by the people,"(demos from Greek), are actually self-defeating and suicidal, for the nation as a whole, with or without "Home Security." The immortal words of Lee Hamilton, after the 9/11 Report, "we (just) did not get it," apply equally to both questions posed. Articulated by "the street" in countries with Islam as the state religion, a silent and sullen hate is mutating in the most dangerous sense. Instead of being directed primarily at one or another U.S. Administration or individual occupants of the White House, as used to be the case not long ago, its emerging target today is the American People."
This is not necessarily what appears in some of the surveys mentioned in this blog—see this entry about Europe and the German Marshall Fund—or that one about Latin America and the Chilean social-science institute FLACSO, but it certainly deserves a good debate.
What do you think?
October 07, 2005
Living in 2001
From The Spiegel online:
Bush’s speech of yesterday gives the Spiegel an opportunity to talk about his political inability. With the threat of bombing in New York subway, it seemed to be a perfect moment to talk about terrorism, "but his talk was not about the nation's current challenges. He delivered a reprise of his Sept. 11 rhetoric that suggested an avoidance of today's reality that seemed downright frightening […] Yesterday, it seemed like the President was still trying to live in 2001”. It was an ideal moment for Bush to demonstrate that he was really in control of his administration: “For instance, he could have addressed the crisis facing the overstretched military due to the endless demands made by Iraq on both the Army and the beleaguered National Guard”, but he didn’t. He just used again the same rhetoric of 9/11: “The president's inability to grow beyond his big moment in 2001 is unnerving. But the fact that his handlers continue to encourage him to milk 9/11 is infuriating”.
September 29, 2005
More on the Transatlantic trends 2005
After a first look on the "Transatlantic trends 2005" made by the German Marshall Fund on opinions on USA in Europe and on international matters, one could find here more information. Both European and US citizens were questioned. For a quick view, see the charts.
Some key findings :
- Europeans are more likely than Americans to support democracy promotion (74% to 51%). Both Europeans and Americans strongly prefer “soft power” options to promote democracy, with only 39% of Americans and 32% of Europeans who support sending military forces.
- Republican support for democracy promotion more closely mirrors Europeans’ with 76% favorable, compared to only 43% of Democrats. Whileboth parties support soft power options, nearly twice the percentage of Republicans (57%) than Democrats (29%) support military intervention.
- As the United States and Europe look forward toward engagement with China, there is agreement on both sides that respect for human rights needs to be considered, even if this means limiting economic relations.
- Americans and Europeans show no consensus concerning options for dealing with the possibility that Iran may develop nuclear weapons, although only a small minority in both supports military intervention, 5% of Europeans
and 15% of Americans.
- More Americans than Europeans think they will be personally affected by international terrorism (71% to 53%), while more Europeans see themselves as likely to be personally affected by global warming (73% to 64%).
- Despite major diplomatic efforts to mend transatlantic relations, there has been little change in European public opinion toward the United States. When asked whether relations between the United States and Europe have improved, gotten worse, or stayed the same, in light of President Bush’s recent efforts to improve relations with Europe, 52% of Europeans felt relations have stayed the same. Americans agreed, with 50% saying relations have stayed the same. Among those who saw change, more Germans and Slovaks felt relations have improved, while more British, Italians, Dutch, and Spaniards felt relations have gotten worse.
- When asked whether relations should become closer, remain the same, or become more independent in security and diplomatic affairs, the majority of Americans (54%) felt that relations should become closer, whereas a similar percentage of Europeans (55%) felt the EU should take a more independent approach from the United States. Both sides saw a small increase of 5 percentage points from 2004 in the number of respondents who want to take a more independent approach, from 20% to 25% in the United States and from 50% to 55% in Europe. Within Europe, the largest percentages of respondents who felt relations should become closer were in Poland (48%), Spain (43%), and Slovakia (35%), whereas the largest percentages who felt relations should take a more independent approach were in France (69%), Italy (66%), and the Netherlands (62%).
- As in 2004, Turkish respondents remain the most strongly critical of President Bush’s leadership, with 63% disapproving very much of President Bush’s international policies. At the same time, Turkish support for NATO continues to be positive and essentially unchanged from past years, with 52% of respondents agreeing that NATO
is “still essential to our country’s security.”
September 27, 2005
A New York Times views of French sentiments
In today’s New York Times Television Review of the fall season, Alessandra Stanley writes:
"ABC is stretching credibility to the outer limits with its new White House drama. The vice president of the United States is on an official visit to France, and Parisian school children actually sing "America the Beautiful"?
We think not."
In her opinion, it results far more farfetched than a feminist independent woman on a Republican ticket!
Alessandra should have more confidence in the good work of her diplomats in Paris to have school kids behaving properly (or ask them what they did when Condy Rice visited France at the beginning of the year).
The interesting question here is how mutual perceptions feed each other.
Can we seriously study how people in the rest of the world see the U.S. if we don’t pay attention to how Americans see, paint or describe others?
I think not.
[Photo found on the Paris US Embassy website]
September 25, 2005
The US image is not getting any better in Europe
French newspapers missed, at the beginning of the month, a poll (In French here) published by the German Marshall Fund (you will find an English version here) on the transatlantic relationships. La libre Belgique, a newspaper from Belgium, wrote about it a short resume called "The US image is not getting any better".
1000 citizens from France, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Portugal, Slovakia, United Kingdom and Turkey have been questioned about their image of US political decisions.
"This investigation evaluates the impact of Bush's diplomatic offensive on Europe" starts the daily.
"The investigation reveals that in spite of the diplomatic efforts of the Bush administration since its re-election to improve the transatlantic relations, the European public opinion towards the United States remains unchanged. On a graduated thermometer from 1 to 100 which measures the intensity of the feelings of the people questioned, the perception of the United States by Europeans remains around 50 degrees. The feelings of the British towards the United States passed from 62 to 57 degrees, the feelings of the Italians from 61 to 57 degrees [...] Europeans continue to make the distinction between their negative feelings towards president Bush on one hand, and their more moderate evaluation of the American leadership in the international businesses, on the other hand. If Europeans are 72% to disapprove the international politics of the American administration, they are only 59% to dispute the leadership of the United States on a worldwide scale. In Europe, a significant percentage of Pole (48%), Spaniards (43%), Slovaks (35%) estimate that the relations between the UE and the United States should be reinforced. While the French (69%), Italians (66%) and Netherlanders (62%) think that the UE should adopt a more independent approach on security and diplomacy."
This poll also questioned American people, in order to compare their answers with the European points of view.
September 22, 2005
Global warming: a British perspective
“Global warming is the most severe threat we face…more serious than terrorism” declared Sir David King a year or so ago. Sir David is the Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government and his declaration caused some sensation in Downing Street, in London, and in other parts of the world as one can easily imagine.
“I am happy to repeat that statement” said Sir David in Berkeley where he was invited by the Journalism School, on September 16th, to give a talk on the subject.
Katrina was the subject of some of the first questions asked by Michael Pollan and Sandy Tolan who hosted the event.
For Sir David, “Katrina is a potential tipping point of our attitudes towards natural disasters.” One has to be careful though: “It is not directly related to global warming but it is an example of disasters that might come. We do know that the intensity of hurricanes depends on ocean temperature. There is a little bit of a warning here.”
Asked about American media tendency to say that human impact on global warming is not clear, Sir David answered: “I’m amazed at the power of paid lobbyists in this country.”
Some mistakes are made, he admitted, and scientists ought to challenge each other, but “The science of climate change is mature. We know there is global warming. We know what causes it. What we don’t know is the impact it is going to have country by country.”
“There is room to say we need more science,” added Sir David. But we must anticipate that coastal cities will come under increasing risks. They will be higher in the developing world.” World wide more than a 100 million people are threatened.
The British government is taking the issue seriously. Five years ago it allocated 200 millions pounds to protect its coastal population. The budget has already risen to half a billion.
Richer countries have to give the proper example, act as leaders. “I would very much like to see the US take this leadership role,” he added.
Some people in the U.S. argue that controlling carbon dioxide emissions would slow growth. The British case seems to prove the opposite: “The UK could decrease its emissions in 12% while seeing its GDP grow 38%. It can be done,” said Sir King.
One of the issues addressed by Sir David during his talk is the difficulty to grab the attention of politicians on such issues as global warming. It’s much easier with terrorism of course. And still, Prime Ministers and heads of industries have families “they have genetic worries about their children.” Is the specie at risk? “Our DNA will survive, maybe in a different form,” said Sir David with a strange kind of a smile.
[Picture found on Greenpeace.org.uk]
September 20, 2005
"On Guilty Knees"
Special thanks to Prof. Hammer Ferenc for bringing this to my attention:
A columnist for the Croatian daily Slobodna Dalmacija chooses to draw an interesting parallel between the issues of Katrina's devastation and its effects on the social fabric of the United States--and the issues relevant to an European audience.
"Katrina revealed what the real image of the USA is-- derision of the poor and its 2/3 African American population who did not vote for President George Bush...They are being perceived as state's excess baggage on which nobody's private interest can be made profitable."
He goes on to criticize the Bush Administration for its ideological principles in governing, rather than dwelling on what he perceives to be the requisite leadership "local leaders omitted," by using the oft-cited statistic of a 17% rise in poverty under his tenure. His argument is equal parts racial tract and class thesis.
But the insight comes in his last paragraph in which he launches a host of questions: "How much do Europeans really care for the Roma? Are the buildings in Paris filled with immigrants burning down just because they are worn out? Is everybody in Croatia running to the help of those aforementioned Roma, who live in settlements that have been without water, electricity, and sewage systems for roughly a decade?"
“No society is immune”
Most of the stories published about Katrina and its aftermath in the foreign media are very critical of the U.S., and in particular of President Bush and his Administration.
Some notable stories, though take a much more careful approach.
Early on, The Irish Examiner told its readers:
“The first thing worth remembering is that, in the chaos and the looting, we are seeing not just America in crisis, but the drama of humanity everywhere.
A special case can be made that New Orleans, at the best of times, is a sad and lawless place. [...]
No society is immune. Once disaster strikes, two things happen. The survival instinct gets the better of some people and they do all sorts of things to make it through alive.”
Conservative essayist Guy Sorman ran a more analytical piece in the French Le Figaro.
“Bad news for the anti-Americans: the United States are not the Atlantis and they will not be more engulfed by hurricane Katrina that they have been wiped out by the 9/11 attacks.”
The reason, he says can be found in its history and in today’s vibrant civil society and market forces.
According to Sorman, local and State authorities are as responsible as the Federal Government for the failures in Katrina’s aftermath.
Republicans, he writes, have already chosen a “minimal State”. But, with Francis Fukuyama they think that “a free society requires a strong state.”
Is this the whiff of a contradiction?
Not at all. Sorman calls for a “Security State” that leaves social, cultural and educational issues to charitable foundations, local institutions and the market. He then concludes:
“The hurricane strengthens this neoconservative vision of the State: at the center heightened security, while everything else goes to civil society and to market.”
This is one example of how perceptions of what goes on and what is said in the U.S. can be part of the political and ideological debate in Europe… and elsewhere.
September 19, 2005
Murdoch on Blair on the BBC on Katrina
Invited to participate in Bill Clinton’s Global Initiative Forum, Rupert Murdoch has said in a speech that Tony Blair had told him in a private conversation BBC’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina was "full of hate of America and gloating about our troubles".
Mr Blair’s office has not commented on the issue. The BBC says it has received no complain. According to a story on the BBC’s website Bill Clinton:
“said he had seen the report Mr Blair was referring to, and there was "nothing factually inaccurate" in it.
But he said it was designed "almost exclusively" to criticise the Bush administration's response to the crisis.”
The Guardian comments:
“Certainly the BBC highlighted the federal government's tardy response to the hurricane. But a claim of institutionalised loathing from the chairman and chief executive of News Corporation, which owns countless newspapers and broadcasters around the world, among them the BBC's direct rival Sky News - how on earth do you prove that?”
“Who runs your world?” is a BBC's season examining the nature of power in the world today. The first of a series of five articles by Robin Lustig analyses democracy in California.
It focuses on Orange County, one of the richest place on the planet, and takes as example the city of Santa Ana. A third of its residents entered the US illegally, most of them across the border of Mexico. So they have no papers, no official identity and no right to vote. They are politically invisible. Yet their presence is crucial for Santa Ana. Because they are the gardeners, the nannies, the cleaners, the cooks, the waiters.
So the question asked is: “When President Bush talks of spreading democracy and freedom across the world, is Californian-style democracy what he has in mind?”.
September 17, 2005
The New Republic: Dutch Lessons
The New Republic (requires subscription) contrasts New Orleans with the Netherlands, a country similarly vulnerable to catastrophic flooding, with much it set on “saucer-like flood plains just like… New Orleans.” But while the US approach to flood prevention was mainly to build higher levees, the Dutch have come up with more innovative strategies:
[T]hey developed an unprecedented multi-billion-dollar concrete-and-steel dam and seawall project, which was praised in scientific journals as an engineering miracle when it was completed. In 1995, after abnormally severe river flooding necessitated a massive, unwieldy evacuation, Dutch officials didn't just reinforce existing dikes; they again set out to rethink their whole approach to flood protection. Hydraulic engineers hatched a scheme to breach levees on purpose during critical flood conditions, releasing pressure from high waters into areas where flooding would be less disastrous, like fields lying fallow. This required a major psychological switch for the Dutch, who'd had 700 years to get used to the idea that building up, not intentionally opening, levees is how to protect yourself from water.
CBS and CNN likewise praise the Netherlands’ efforts, especially the willingness of the Dutch to undertake such a spectacular financial commitment ($8 billion in an economy a fraction the size) and noting that their preparations resulted in a flood risk 40 times smaller than that of New Orleans. The New York Times (requires subscription) elaborates on the cost of upkeep and the commitment to maintenance:
The Netherlands maintains large teams of inspectors and maintenance crews that safeguard the sprawling complex, which is known as Delta Works. The annual maintenance bill is about $500 million. ''It's not cheap,'' Mr. de Haan [a senior engineer with the Dutch ministry responsible for flood control] said. ''But it's not so much in relation to the gross national product. So it's a kind of insurance.''
But differences were not limited to preparation – the New York Times noted that, during the catastrophic 1953 flood that the Dutch refer to simply as “the Disaster,” a ship captain sunk his vessel to seal a breach in a levy, a reaction far different than firing on helicopters trying to do the same thing.
Trying to explain the difference between Dutch planning and New Orleans anarchy, the New Republic’s Eve Fairbanks suggests that culture may play a role. Capturing the New Orleans mentality, she quotes New Orleans’ Times-Picayune columnist Betty Guillard: “If they know they'll be drowning soon," she said, "they'll just have a party.”
The World of Egoism
While President Bush continues to receive a flurry of responses after the delivery of his Gulf revitalization plan on Thursday night, the closing of the United Nations summit has Sueddeutsche Zeitung wondering about America's desire to reform a different kind of institution.
"The aversion to a multilateral policy, committee work, and alliance building so typical to the Bush Administration is reflected here," writes the Bavarian paper. Sueddeautsche specifically notes that John Bolton's tenure as ambassador to the body has already been marked by resistance to arms control and nonproliferation, and that such a course does not look to be ended anytime soon.
Instead, the US continues its steady drumbeat to the tune of terrorism, when "[t]he United Nations is union of 191 states, which pursue 191 political interests," not all of them thusly related.
The piece ends with a fairly downcast future of the world body and international government organizations in general by noting that it will take several years to revive agreements on a new security council, the definition of terrorism, a functioning human rights committee, and the principles of disarmament.
"Kofi Annan started as an eagle and now his feathers have been plucked."
September 16, 2005
"When one sees a rich man falling in the street, one help him to stand up !"
Ted Stanger, a US writer described as the "most Francophile" American citizen appeared on French public television yesterday, September 15, to tell how he was shocked by the French reactions after Katrina. Here is his point of view:
"Of course, I am shocked by the mistakes of Bush's administration. But what is wrong for me is the reserves made by many French people to help the USA because it's a rich country [...] This is a political reaction. One shouldn't confuse politics and solidarity. If France had had a great reaction like for the Tsunami in Indonesia, it could have been a great and subtle message to Bush's government. It could have been an opportunity to say: we are not revanchists about Iraq [...] When one sees a rich man falling in the street, one help him to stand up ! [...] The poor people suffered twice : because of the hurricane first, and then because of the reactions in France. Isn't it French people who decided the site where New-Orleans was build ?"
If you take a look on the video (go directly to the last minutes of it...), you will see that the French anchorwoman disagreed. I did.
*Ted Stanger wrote three books: "Sacrés Français", "Sacrés Américains" and "Sacrés Français, le roman".
September 13, 2005
Timothy Garton Ash, in The Guardian, introduces the impressive word “decivilisation” for describing Katrina’s biggest lesson. The real lesson we should learn from it “is not about the incompetence of the Bush administration, the scandalous neglect of poor black people in America, or our unpreparedness for major natural disasters - though all of those apply. Katrina's big lesson is that the crust of civilisation on which we tread is always wafer thin”. If for any reason you remove the elementary staples of civilised life, you immediately go back to a war of all against all.
“Katrina tells us about the ever-present possibility of decivilisation”. Now we know what always lies below, it says. We’re going to face many man-made hurricanes, natural and political, from climate changes to terrorism. So the question is: “How civilised will we remain?”.
The K factor
El Pais, the most important Spanish newspaper, is continuing covering the tragedy of Katrina in an extensive manner, with several editorials and comments everyday. In the last week, it has especially focused on three big issues: economic consequences for the EU, the perception of the US as a model and comparisons on preparedness strategies.
On Friday September 9th , an editorial stressed the potential economical outcomes of Katrina in the EU pointing out oil issues. Katrina effects, it said, will exacerbate the oil race and project European economy onto a period of great uncertainty.
On Sunday September 11th, Luisa Etxenike published an article under the title “Los ojos abiertos". It emphasized the big social fracture disclosed by the hurricane. There is nothing to be surprised about, it said, poor people died like this because they always have been living like this. American system is unfair, even though mostly perceived as a model. We should develop a much more analytical perspective.
On the same day, Isabel Ferrer published an article under the title “The water lesson in Holland” taking Dutch strategies for preventing water diseases as a model. The Dutch struggle against water diseases totally amounts to 3.500 kilometres of canals and levees. Dutch people have been struggling against water since 500 a.C, when they used to build their houses upon piles of sand. Today the “Proyecto Delta” is one of the most innovative system against the force of the water.
September 12, 2005
A comparison with Japan
According to the French Le Monde's correspondent in Japan, the comparison between “Typhoon Number 14” and Katrina is striking. He draws part of his observation from two titles which appeared on the first page of some Japanese dailies on September 7th. “Katrina: likely 10,000 dead” said one while the other read “Typhoon in Japan: 9 dead.” Although the winds were slightly less frightening in Japan, both hurricanes were of comparable strength.
If 1995 Kobe earthquake was a disaster that overwhelmed the government, the French newspaper points to the orderly response.
“Communities self organized the distribution of food and sanitary tasks, while supermarkets asked their clients to respect a voluntary rationing. No looting, robbery or violence was to be deplored in the ruined city. Even the underworld, with the greatest Japanese crime syndicate, Yamaguchi Gumi, officially an “association”, whose headquarters is in Kobe, organized help to prove its civic sense."
9/11 anniversary brings about criticism for Bush
The fourth commemoration of the Sept. 11th, 2001 attacks was covered in the European media much as it was in the U.S. – inevitably linked to the recent tragedy in New Orleans.
Next to the straight coverage, many newspapers ran editorials comparing and contrasting Katrina and 9/11, not in a flattering way for Bush. Others skirted the Katrina angle and ran stories assessing what progress has been made over four years in the fight against terrorism.
In French newspaper Libération, an opinion piece titled “The Anti-9/11” argues that while Sept. 11th gave Bush the opportunity to display his leadership and gave him the political muscle to wage preventive wars, Katrina has had the exact opposite effect, discrediting him and making the pursuit of “foreign interventions” more difficult. “The political debate has suddenly been re-centered on interior problems, perhaps durably,” concludes the piece.
British historian Simon Schama ran a scathing piece in The Guardian, simply titling it “Sorry Mr President, Katrina is not 9/11”.
After comparing at length the very different responses to the two disasters, he makes a prediction. “Historians ought not to be in the prophecy business but I'll venture this one: Katrina will be seen as a watershed in the public and political life of the US, because it has put back into play the profound question of American government,” says Schama. He then criticizes the Bush administration for cutting the budgets needed to maintain flood defenses and turning FEMA into “a hiring opportunity for political hacks and cronies” which “disappeared into the lumbering behemoth of Homeland Security.”
Back in France, Le Monde ran a story titled “Since 9/11, the terrorism menace has become permanent” while Le Figaro ran the title “Despite the war against terrorism led by Washington, Al-Quaida’s power of mobilization remains intact”.
Both pieces hint that four years after having declared a war against terrorism, the Bush administration may not have much to show for it, with the Le Monde piece’s opening sentence reading: “Osama Bin Laden is still free.”
September 11, 2005
Baghdad, New Orleans
[If you complain again, I'll send you to New Orleans!]
Published in the Italian Il Manifesto
September 09, 2005
What’s at stake
Katrina, and the way it has been handled is having a profound impact on perceptions of the U.S. in the world. George Bush critics and extreme leftists are certainly having a good time (in political terms). What an opportunity this represents to say “I told you so.” But it goes much beyond that. People are genuinely flabbergasted.
Let’s take an example. El País, the most important Spanish newspaper, has covered the tragedy in an extensive manner with several pages everyday.
On Sunday September 4th, its reporters could interview two Spanish families who had escaped, and tell their story. One of them, Clara Diez said “I could never imagine that in the richest country in the world there could be so much disorganization. Nothing worked.”
An editorial published on the same day under the title "Political hurricane" went further, and addressed elements that can be found in articles of very different countries. It represents a sort of very condensed summary of some of the most common reactions.
U.S. power – After reminding that not long ago the Pentagon prepared itself to handle two simultaneous wars, El País states that “With this catastrophe serious doubts surface about its capacity to handle two important crisis--Iraq and the Mississippi delta--that require the mobilization of military personnel, and all the attention of the federal administration.”
The U.S. as a model – The U.S. has promoted its economic and social model for years, but one of the central functions of the state is to provide security to its citizens. It is written in the American Constitution. In New Orleans “the Federal State did not fulfill a primary constitutional obligation. But, on top of this, the human tragedy of the days after highlighted an intolerable social fracture in which race and class were key.”
The question - The editorial ends on a question that, again, many people are—genuinely or not—asking around the world: “at stake is the authority and prestige of the world hyperpower. It can’t warrant its own citizens’ security and it wants to organize the security of the world?”
September 08, 2005
History and Katrina: “A rupture comparable to Sept. 11”?
Over a week after hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, the French are still reeling from the shock of seeing the United States in the throes of such a catastrophe. The initial reactions have been much akin to that which was being heard in the U.S. and around the world, calling the disaster revelatory of America’s weaknesses (namely, racial/economic divides and President Bush’s apparent lack of leadership). Now the French media are starting to look at the potential long-term, political effects of Katrina.
One aspect of the disaster that has been of interest to the French, and which has been brought up in a number of articles – including a full article devoted to the subject in Liberation titled “At war against America” – is how America’s own media is responding to the disaster.
The article describes how, though “usually conformist and respectful of power, American TV stations became war machines against Bush and his administration,” with star reporters venting their anger over the situation, live to the American viewers.
American TV news is usually widely criticized in the French media for being out of touch with reality, so it is significant to hear a French journalist, and from a left-wing newspaper, for once praise it: “Substituting itself to the absent authorities, the American television stations have performed a work of public service. Of information and of contestation. Back to playing the role of fourth power in the face of the President and of the political class.”
Others in France are pointing out the rousing effect of Katrina, beyond the media, on its public. In a chat session analyzing the disaster for the online edition of Le Monde, Denis Lacorne, director of the CERI (Centre d’études et de recherches internationales), said: “The real change in the United States is that finally all Americans, including numerous republicans, have gotten out of the soft patriotism brought on by Sept. 11 and have recovered – a bit late – a critical mind in the face of a president who was favored by fate but who, today, will have to face a misfortune that was unpredictable but which revealed the failings of the experts.”
Lacorne also brought up the question of whether or not Katrina might spur a move away from neo-liberalism and a return to “big government” of the FDR-era, in which large-scale projects that might prevent such disasters could be undertaken.
The French, living in what they call a “providence state,” indeed are often vocal critics of privatization such as has been pushed by the Bush administration, and which is on the agenda (if much more tentatively) of some in the French right wing.
Though the French newspapers are too cautious to come outright and call Katrina the downfall of Bush and his brand of leadership, they nevertheless are raising the issue. Some point out his record-low popularity ratings, others the growing disagreement over his handling of the war in Iraq.
An editorial in Le Monde asks if spending in Iraq is not going to seem ludicrous to Americans in the face of such problems on their home soil. In the coming months, American politics will be marked by the answer given to this question, according to this newspaper. It concludes that “Katrina could mark in history a rupture comparable to Sept. 11.”
September 07, 2005
“But, what country is this? Is it far? We must intervene.”
Published in the French Le Monde on Thursday, September 8th.
Katrina is unfortunately opening America's eyes
After Katrina's disaster, all the major French medias, like their US colleagues, insist on the mistakes of Bush's administration, and, even more, on the blindness of America regarding poverty and inequalities.
The first daily to attack is, as usual, the left wing newspaper L'Humanité, in two long articles called "Behind Katrina lies racism" and "The neo-conservatism in the hurricane's eye". In the first one, Jean Chatain chooses a terrifying quote from Dallas police Chief David Kunkle about the black refugees coming from Louisiana:
"We are preparing for the worst, but we will take care of Dallas inhabitants security at once". And Mr Chatain to add: "this point of view can be compared to those of racists cops from deep south in Erskine Caldwell's old books".
In the second article, Jacques Coubard condemned the inefficiency of the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency - Agency of the US government tasked with Disaster Mitigation, Preparedness, Response & Recovery planning) and especially the Under secretary and head of the FEMA, Michael Brown:
"Before being chosed as the head of the federal organization responsible for the emergency helps, this lawyer was judges supervisor in horse races in Colorado. He did not have any qualification to be elected to such an important role, but he is a close relation of George Bush, and he was one of his advisers during the last campaign. He replaced Tom Connelly, a specialist that Louisiana has just called for help to manage the "ultra disaster". This choice of a “neocon” turns now as a fatal consequence of a personal choice of George Bush [...] The nomination of Brown illustrates the contempt of the government for this agency [the FEMA]. News-Orleans victims were "killed by the contempt" of these political choices, which turned the public services and the social security into a private system."The daily Libération is also very critical towards George W. Bush when Gerard Dupuy writes in an op-ed piece called "Collateral damages":
"American prestige is already one of the major victims [of Katrina]. And there is not a doubt that the first person in charge is George Bush, which did everything to confirm its more severe caricatures: Empty head and dry heart."But all US society is guilty for Gerard Dupuy:
"The victims were twice "wrong" to be at the same time poor and black. The American society however promotes the altruistic behaviours: to care is a cardinal virtue of the American spirit and charity actions are flourishing there. But they have been shorted-circuit by the extent of the disaster and the public institutions were not able to face it, partly because they were not prepared for it. Their deplorable service in New-Orleans is already presented like the implicit consequence of an ideology often praised by Bush: the privatization of solidarity itself. Bush and his close advisors did not realize the disaster and its consequences because a blind spot blocked their eyes."
"These images will remain in the collective memory, like those of the repression of the black demonstrations for the civic rights in 1963. They will remain like a symbol of the Bush presidency. They will force America to look at the poverty in another manner"adds Mark Naison, a New York university teacher in an interview called "Poverty doesn't exist for George Bush".
September 06, 2005
We still can’t believe it
Astonishment is probably the best definition of what most Spaniards felt watching the images of chaos, despair and disaster after the hurricane "Katrina" hit the US' southeast coast last week.
As probably most Europeans and also many, many US citizens, the Spaniards were astounded by the devastation provoked by Katrina, the chaos, disorganization and pillaging of the first days and, after the shock, they just couldn't understand the long, long time it took the Federal Government to react, as some Spaniards who were in New Orleans denounced (see this story, or that one) once they finally got back home.
The numbers -of many thousands- of dead people due to the hurricane remind Europe of figures only used before in natural disasters in Third World or developing countries, like the December 26th tsunami or the devastating earthquake in Bam, Iran, last year, but not in a country that praises itself as the most powerful on Earth.
Although the Spanish and U.S. governments have obviously grown apart since the Socialist Party took power and retired its troops from Iraq a year ago, Madrid offered immediately its condolences to the Bush administration, as well as its aid, which was finally accepted this week by Washington.
US ambassador in Madrid, Eduardo Aguirre, presented on Monday the Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos a "long list" of what is needed and that has immediately been attended by the Spanish authorities.
Aguirre, who told the media that he and his family grew up in New Orleans, also thanked the quick condolences Spain's President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero sent after de disaster, which could mark the start of a series of gestures towards a normalization of the US-Spanish relationship after the "coldness" of the past months.
All in all, the Spanish Interior Minister, José Antonio Alonso, couldn't resist the temptation and declared that his country would have had a better response towards such a catastrophe, in a way voicing the opinion of many who still cannot believe what has happened in "the" First World country "par excellence".
On the other hand, others think that the moment has not come to compare or to make strong accusations. There will be enough time for that. The most important thing now is sending help and showing solidarity. Which most Spaniards have done.
September 05, 2005
Who is responsible for Katrina?
One week after the so called American tsunami, left Italian media are still “riding” this catastrophe in order not only to attack President Bush, but also to express their usual, worse, awkward anti-Americanism.
On Sunday, September 4th, “L’Unità” , organ of the Left coalition leaded by Romano Prodi has a comment by Maria Novella Oppo titled “Iceberg President” in which the way President Bush has visited New Orleans is highly criticized “as if he were on the set of a catastrophist TV series”. The human approach of this President, writes the commentator, is very similar to an iceberg.
On the same first page L’Unità, while reporting an article appeared on The New York Times, underlines that even the Republicans are strongly criticizing President Bush’s behavior.
Il Manifesto, organ of the radical left, while interviewing Jeremy Rifkin on September 3rd, points out that the catastrophe was foreseen and Bush has hidden the truth.
“La Repubblica”, which is supposed to be a liberal newspaper but actually supports the Italian Left, with its today’s article signed by its founder Eugenio Scalfari notes that America was able liberate Berlin from the Soviets in 48 hours. The same America was also able to transport a huge army for the first Gulf war and it was able to do the same for the war in Iraq. But this same America is not able to bury the dead in New Orleans six days after the catastrophe. Imperialism is not compatible with Democracy, concludes the commentator.
In the past days “La Repubblica”, with its articles signed by the correspondent from the States, Vittorio Zucconi, has considered Bush’s denial to sign the Kyoto Agreement for the Environment as well as American people’s consumerism both highly responsible for New Orleans disaster.
To give an idea of the present strong political exploitation of the catastrophe, is worth remembering today’s provocative article of “Libero”, a center-right newspaper: “Would you like to be governed by those who are fans of the hurricane?” Actually some extreme left wings seem to welcome the hurricane Katrina as the most appropriate weapon against American and its president.
July 23, 2005
French politicians cry out against a potential American takeover of Danone
It all started with a rumor : is PepsiCo planning a hostile takeover of French dairy giant Danone? Fueled by silence from PepsiCo and a flurry of fiery comments from French politicians, this rumor has snowballed into top news over the past days. The question has quickly turned to one of national identity.
The perspective of France losing one of its emblematic companies opens the door for debate on whether or not the state should do anything in the face of globalization - and perhaps more importantly, in this case, whether it can.
French leaders have leapt to Danone’s defense, citing the impact its loss would have on French jobs and production in other sectors dependent on Danone’s large demand.
Nicolas Sarkozy, Interior Minister and chief of the right-wing UMP party, is quoted in Le Monde as saying that “the public powers [i.e. the state] will have to do everything they can” to block a hostile takeover.
On the left, ex-finance minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn predicted that the French “would react very strongly to what they’ll consider as a direct attack on their identity” and wrote to PepsiCo shareholders warning them of the reactions a takeover could ignite. Laurent Fabius asked president Jacques Chirac to “act urgently so that [Danone] can stay european- and French-based”.
Chirac himself, off on a visit to Madagascar, says he is “vigilant” and “mobilised” against such a course of events.
A few others, however, have been vocal expressing their discontent with politicians interference in the matter. Renaud Dutreil, of the ministry of small and medium-sized businesses, has stated that it is not the role of the state to “involve itself in the affairs of private companies” but that its role should rather be to protect small businesses from the practices of certain bigger ones - which, of course, include Danone. The company, which has in the past delocalised some of its activities, is indeed no newcomer when it comes to the workings of the global market. But now that it may fall its victim, what can France do to keep Danone from American takeover? According to an editorial in Le Monde, not much. But intimidating words on the part of the government aren’t completely fruitless : they’ve proved helpful in past cases, such as bringing together the companies Sanofi and Aventis in the face of a buyout from Swiss company Novartis in 2004, or discouraging Siemens from taking over Alstom in 2003.
Meanwhile, Danone’s stock is soaring. According to one analyst, Gérard Augustin-Normand, president of the Richelieu Finance, the whole rumor could well have been orchestrated by both Danone and state officials as a preemptive strike against any future takeover attempts on Danone or other major French companies. The lack of formal denial from PepsiCo, he claims, could be explained by purely legal reasons, since a statement declaring they aren’t interested in Danone would mean they would not be able to touch the company for 18 months. In an interview for French station TF1, he says that everything in the affair seems “too well orchestrated,” and that Danone and PepsiCo are also poignant symbols : one a pillar of the French economy, the other representative of “everything the French hate” : junk food and American capitalism ...
July 15, 2005
How Italy reacts to the terrorist threat
As the first shock for “carnage” (this term was first used by the Sun) is leaving space to reflections, it becomes clear that the relation between the war in Iraq and London bombing is a very frail one. It is true that at the G8, soon after the tragedy, Berlusconi declared “it’s our turn now” and one may therefore think that he referred to his friendship with Bush. Actually in another circumstance Berlusconi mentioned the three B (Bush, Blair, and Berlusconi) as a trilogy under attack.
Still, on the 12th of July, while presenting special safety measures for Parliament’s approval, Italy’s Minister for Inner Affairs, like commentators of the main newspapers (right, left, and center) preferred to state that the one against terrorism is a war and, as any war, it must be prevented and fought with appropriate measures and weapons. He does not intend, however, to inaugurate emergency measures (for instance like France closing its frontiers) which could limit citizen’s personal liberties.
On the same day Corriere della Sera (La Repubblica remains cautious too) maintained the low-profile policy inaugurated by its editor the day after the London bombing.
In fact on the 8th of July with his moderate, far viewing editorial Paolo Mieli preferred to analyze the social, political, economical weakness of the European Union instead of indulging himself on other analysis of whatever nature. In this path comments by Pierluigi Battista e Gianni Riotta on the 12th of July definitely silenced all those who like to see a conspiracy or a secret design (mostly by CIA or some other American Secret Service) behind all terrorist attacks.
Even the radical left by words of its leader, Fausto Bertinotti interviewed by Corriere della Sera on the July 12th seems to have abandoned the idea that this terrorism is a direct response to the war in Iraq. He insists that the war in Iraq may be one of the many causes (poverty, injustice, oppression) which feed terrorism, but he accepts that repressive measures must be taken.
Generally speaking Government and Opposition seem to have come to a more reasonable understanding. Nothing in common with some previous reactions when Bush (and his friends Blair and Berlusconi), Guantanamo and Abu Graib, the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, were considered responsible for the terrorist attacks and kamikaze bombing.
To have an idea of the former analysis one may visit the following sites:
Da Londra a Baghdad, Il Manifesto
Le bombe di Blair, Il Manifesto
July 12, 2005
From Madrid: so close to London
Our own pain is too present yet not to shudder in front of the London terrorist attacks. Many Spaniards revived with horror last Thursday the 2004, March 11th Madrid blasts which caused almost 200 deaths and over 1.500 injured. Even days after the London bombings, most Madrilenians rode tubes and buses with uneasiness, closely looking for "suspicious" passengers or abandoned bags.
Indeed analysts have pointed out the many similarities between both terrorists acts, like the target -the public transportation system-, the "modus operandi" and, most important, the country's support to the Iraq war. As many in Spain noted after the bombings, now the countries of the "trio from the Azores", the three leaders that signed the Iraqi invasion act in the Portuguese island of Azores in March 2003, have been targeted.
Spanish terrorist expert Fernando Reinares also notes in an analysis for the Elcano Institute for Strategic Studies this week that Iraq is indeed the framework in which both attacks should be analyzed.
These past days have also shown many differences. While the Madrid attacks took most Spaniards unguarded, Britain was almost sure that it would be "next". Only the “when” and “how” were uncertain. And the London attacks didn't try to influence a change of government, as Blair has just been reelected. As many journalists have pointed out the British premier had - at the time - the public support for the invasion of Iraq, and he didn't try to hide the "Islamic link" or retain information related to the attacks, as the former Spanish president José María Aznar did.
Last but not least, while British opposition leader Michael Howard praised Blair's response to the crisis, in Spain the terrorist attacks led to a confrontation between the Socialist and the Conservative parties that hasn't finished yet.
All in all, at least it seems that Britain won't give the harsh response that the US gave after 9/11 (remember Patriot Act): Tony Blair has already assured that the government doesn't wish a "police state" with fewer individual freedoms. And though it is one of the most "eurosceptic” countries of the European Union, London is not expected to take individual defensive measures -or unilateral attacks- in response to the terrorist acts.
July 07, 2005
The bombing in London has schocked the world. For ongoing coverage of what it feels like in London right now, in real time, check out the blog of The Guardian newspaper in the UK. Clic here.
June 28, 2005
GMO Ban Holds in Europe
Responding to ongoing controversy over genetically modified food in Europe, the EU’s Council of Ministers voted to uphold a ban on engineered corn and rapeseed that has been maintained since 1997. Five countries—Austria, France, Germany, Greece and Luxembourg—had banned the varieties between 1997 and 2000, and were under pressure by the European Commission to lift their bans. But the Council of Ministers voted 22-3 to uphold the ban on June 24. The move made front page news across Europe.
In Belgium, the main national daily Le Soir headlined on page 1: “GMO’s are now growing on unstable ground.” The vote carries powerful weight—as it upholds the ability of individual member states to impose national bans on gmo’s based on “public health and safety” considerations, which the Commission had wanted to restrict when it comes to gmo’s.
The vote, according to the French daily Liberation, was a “complete disavowal of the opinion of the EU’s Agency on Food Safety (AESA), which had declared in July 2004 that gmo’s presented “no risk for health or the environment.” The Council of Ministers disagreed—representing a major victory for environmental groups in Europe, which have long been lobbying against the dissemination of gmo’s in Europe.
The vote represented a major blow to U.S. efforts to obtain EU clearance for the sale of gmo seeds. The world’s major producer is Monsanto, based in St. Louis. But it was Monsanto’s actions that helped build the heavy majority against further gmo introductions across the continent, as Liberation reported.
Last month, as we posted on this site as we reported on this site, a study conducted by Monsanto scientists in Germany was leaked to the press—and suggested that a new corn seed it hoped to introduce could have toxic effects on test animals. Monsanto’s unwillingness to share the information with the public fueled skepticism as to its transparency with the public. By the time a German court forced Monsanto to reveal the results, the tide—already highly skeptical—had turned. Monsanto’s bid to introduce three other corn varieties, and an effort by the German company Bayer to put a corn and rapeseed variety on the market, was skewered.
The issue is continuing to cause discord--as these and other European bans are now subject to ongoing challenge by the United States and other nations in the Worled Trade Organization.
June 20, 2005
GMO Storm Coming...
News just out of Europe suggest serious obstacles ahead in the longstanding U.S. effort to pave the way for acceptance of genetically modified crops. The Independent in the UK reports that a study conducted by Monsanto itsself--the company dominates the international market in gmo's---suggests that rats fed a diet heavy in geneticaqlly engineered corn variety developed alterations in their organs--including smaller kidneys--and changes in the composition of their blood.
This report promises to have an impact that will continue to ripple across the continent and the world. Already, the U.S. government as staked a lot of political capital on fighting the European's more cautious approach to gmos. While in the US, they're officially considered no different than any other crop, in Europe they're approved on a seed by seed basis....and this latest finding leaked to the Independent builds on fears that we haven't yet known about gmo's may be dangerous.
It can't help with U.S. efforts to negotiate with the Europeans on a host of trade-releated issues, as the US already has a WTO challenge in the works to a previous generation of EU challenges to gmo's. And its become a foreign policy issue of major significance as countries around the world reject American corn exports for fear of contaminating their own food supply.
June 16, 2005
Jackson’s trial as an American microcosm?
News of Michael Jackson acquital were everywhere in European and Latin American media, but surprsingly few comentaries were made. French and Spanish media, in particular, ran stories on U.S. public opinion for which he remains guilty. They picked up the fact that the boy whose accusations were the grounds of the trial does not understand the verdict and is now depressed. Many published stories on declarations according to which the actor would not sleep with boys any more. A way for skeptical Europeans to underline the fact that he actually did exactly that.
The Guardian (U.K.) published an interesting comment by writer John Harris under the title: Drowned in a pervasive moral murk.
“Even if you wanted to affect an interest in the case as some crystallisation of wider social currents, there wasn't much to hang on to. According to Joan Smith in the New Statesman, Jackson is now "a symbol of the way in which a nation founded on a dream is retreating into the realm of fantasy" - which is elegantly put, but not exactly enlightening. "American society has been sliced open, not just to the bone but to entrails swollen with half-digested, rotting waste," wrote Barbara Amiel in the Sunday Telegraph (considering Jackson's possible guilt, she went on: "Child molestation of any sort is to be deplored, but ... in the absence of penetration, what actual harm has he done?" - that should get Lord Black's dinner guests in an entertaining lather).
The theory of the Jackson trial as an American microcosm, however, seems like a non-starter. Whether the freakish world into which it peered says anything about Main Street USA seems doubtful. Certainly, there are no potent racial narratives à la OJ Simpson; at most, events have simply underlined the truism that dysfunction gets passed down the generations, and that money serves to inflate it.”
June 07, 2005
One “non” two crises
The French “non” looks very much like good news for the Francophobes. And in a sense it is.
Chirac, who made so much noise in his opposition to Bush’s war in Iraq, has been discredited. He looks dumb for losing an election that he called, and his legitimacy is now questionable. His choice of the Napoleonic Dominique de Villepin as prime minister certainly puts his most vocal mouthpiece during the war as second in command. But one doubts that Villepin’s oratorical talent will be more successful at suppressing French anger (with which he is so little connected), than it was in containing Washington.
France’s credibility in Europe will suffer. New alliances will be drawn. And if one considers that Tony Blair will act as EU President for six months starting on July 1st, the stage seems ready for a strengthening of pro-Americans and a weakening of those who made the case for a more independent Europe.
A comment posted on the conservative blog Little Green Footballs sums it up: “So, I guess the whole counterweight idea is off, eh Chirac? /gloating laughter.”
At a deeper level, the “non” is a victory of a certain form of nationalism that Europeans had made some progress in eradicating, but which Americans still cherish (see Toni Negri’s interview in Libération).
There is more: Schröder, another opponent of the war, seems to be close to the exit door. Berlusconi will do anything to conserve his post. The Euro has taken serious blows. After the Dutch “nee” the constitution in its present state looks dead.
Europe is weakened and in crisis. Conservative Americans might rejoice. But they should not rejoice for too long. Here are three reasons why.
First, contrary to the notion that a pro-European “yes” would automatically have been anti-American the “non” should be seen as a strong rebuttal of globalization with an American face. Mark Anderson says it clearly in the June 2nd issue of his Strategic News Service newsletter (subscription required): “The French seem to equate their new proposed constitution not only with Globalization, but, therefore, with the U.S. A vote Non is a vote against the U.S., which, as any good Francophile knows, is almost always a sure bet.”
Second, as Federico Rampini has commented, “A weaker Europe is no good news for the US” for the very good reason that Europe is its closest ally. Only a very shortsighted view of the world could lead anyone to think differently.
The third reason for not popping open the Champagne is that there is not one crisis but two.The second one could be so bad that stability, this sacred value of traditional foreign policy, could be at stake. Even those who despise it should pay attention.
France does not seem to be able to adjust to the changing world. This is true both in Thatcherian and in progressive terms. Structural reforms are not implemented, and the famous “social model” is not working anymore. Competitiveness is low. Innovation is stalled. Higher education is in crisis. Social segregation is on the rise. Identity is confused. Fear of openness to the world is high and racism has played a role among some of last month’s “non” voters.
Elites appear to be paralyzed. Unable to reform the country in a meaningful way, Chirac should have quit to leave room for change. Instead, he has appointed a new Prime Minister who has never faced electors and who only has a little over a year to do anything. And he won’t because everybody knows that structural reforms when they work require time to show their benefits. Doing anything now would mean risking the 2007 presidential election.
On the other side, the Socialist Party is highly divided and seems to be “on the verge of a nervous breakdown,” according to Arnaud Montebourg, one of its leaders. Nobody will laugh and this drama has no Almódovar to direct it.
Most commentaries agree in seeing the “non” as a rejection of the elites by the people. But the vote goes much further than a rebuff merely of Chirac and his government. Party bosses and militants, most media, a significant number of union leaders, most highly educated people, were in favor of a “oui”. Nevertheless, the “non” won overall, with impressive margins in rural areas, among those affected by unemployment, and among factory workers and employees.
Social unrest is a possibility.
It is already there in one of its political forms if one is to believe Nicolas Baverez, a French lawyer and commentator, author of a book titled "The Fall of France." He is quoted in the New York Times as seeing in the vote "an insurrection, a democratic intifada." that reflects the "despair and fears of the French."
We should not forget that France has shown over centuries that it does not know well how to adjust peacefully--as 1789 and 1958, when de Gaulle returned over the decolonization of Algeria--have shown. But adjust it must.
The incapacity of governing classes to govern when the people are fed up and angry is a classic formula for upheaval. To be sure, it is doubtful that a population that favors security, a 35hour work week and 2 months vacation per year would opt for revolution. And no movement nor leaders are advocating overthrowing the state.
The most likely outcome seems to be some degree of chaos, authoritarian rule or both… and it could be contagious.
Is this really good news?
June 02, 2005
French “no” impacts Europe-U.S.A. relationship
In Tuesday’s Italian newspapers the main news related to France rejecting of the European Constitution seems to concern the European euro. In fact, according to the economic newspaper Il Sole-24, in the change with the dollar our currency has sunk yesterday to 1,25, whereas in the past it always maintained itself between 1.35/ 1.40.
If it will remain so in the future, this gap might seriously impact European economy, in particular import-export balance if we consider that in the first hours the European Stock Exchange suffered from a consistent loss.
The economist Giuseppe Turani, however, optimistically writes in La Repubblica that in the next few months there will not be any serious financial earthquake. On the contrary it is expected that some bad news from the States concerning the real estate market and the hedge funds may start arriving towards the end of June. What might again enhance the European currency.
As to Italy’s political reactions to French “no”, almost all leftist newspapers, particularly those of extreme left like “Il Manifesto” and “Liberazione” consider the this vote as “ the victory of mass democracy against the excess of market liberalization and globalization”.
To this purpose it is also worth remembering that, on the occasion of last Bush’s visit in Europe and his speech criticizing the Soviet occupation followed by the Yalta Treaty, Armando Cossutta, president of the extreme left party Comunisti Italiani, interviewed by Giuliano Ferrara for La7tv daily broadcast “ottoemezzo”, declared that a strong EU should unite with Russia to fight against American imperialism.
For opposite reasons also right and centre-right newspapers like Libero are satisfied by this vote: the “no” expresses the rejection of the European common currency, the Euro, as well as the rejection of Romano Prodi (leader of the Left coalition) who strongly sustained it. Moreover the French vote, turning itself in favour of Tony Blair’s policy, is by consequence in favour of the United States.
In particular Il Tempo , while confronting the advantages that this vote gives to the U.S. and the dis-advantages for Russia, writes: the French “no” may weaken Putin’s partnership with his friend Chirac.
Hands Across the Ocean
Supposedly, the gap between the United States and Europe has never been bigger. But for anyone who’s spent any time talking to anti-immigrant activists in the U.S. these days, the parallels with the attitudes of the French and Dutch “no” voters are striking.
Low-wage competition, cultural subversion, Third-World criminality…the fears resound in an echo chamber that stretches from Utrecht to Raleigh, from Denver to Nancy.
It would be as big a mistake to exaggerate the resemblances as it is to ignore them. Jean-Marie Le Pen’s closest U.S. equivalent, Patrick Buchanan, is a marginal figure and will remain one. And the North Africans of Holland and France are pushed to the edge of those societies in a way that America’s Latinos, even the illegal ones, are not.
And yet…when a politician as shrewd and determined as Hillary Clinton makes clear that she has zero sympathy for illegal immigrants, when George W. Bush all but abandons his plans for comprehensive immigration reform ( “I'll continue working on it. You don't have my pledge that Congress will act, because I'm not a member of the legislative branch,” he said at a meeting with Mexico’s Vicente Fox last March), and when the anti-immigrant “real ID” bill sails through Congress, it’s fair to conclude that the politicians are getting nervous.
The idea that the rich favor illegal immigration because it provides cheap labor, including nannies and gardeners is heard frequently in the U.S. these days. It is just true enough that the argument can’t be dismissed out of hand – much like the view that the French political class is out of touch with ordinary people.
Stem Cells, Bush disappoints Italian rightist intellectuals
Italian rightist intellectuals, politicians and thinkers are disappointed with Bush’s recent appearance on the media with a group of children born from frozen embryos.
The right-leaning newspaper Il Foglio published an article written by Jeff Israely , a journalist for Time Europe, thus strongly supporting his view of the matter.
"The U.s. President - states the journalist - is against research on embryonic stem cells, like the Italian supporters of law n.40, but this time their moral stand is much higher because they condemn embryo freezing as well. Being Bush convinced the embryo is a life, how can he allow it being frozen without any guarantees of a safe and certain implantation in a woman’s womb?"
This comment reflects the atmosphere that is dominating Italy at the moment, two weeks before the referendum which could modify or radically change the law which regulates medically-assisted procreation. The country is split between the deeply religious, pro-life voters or non –voters (they are calling on people not to go to the polls and so fail the quorum) and the ones who are in favour of research on embryonic stem cells and of in vitro fertilization with egg or sperm donation.
In recent years rightist intellectuals have always turned to George Bush, their ‘natural ally’, for moral, religious and also practical behaviours, but this time, in the scramble for votes, they can’t help supporting the attack on what they consider to be a contradictory position.
Dutch ´Nee (No)´ on European Constitution
´If it ain´t Dutch, it ain´t much´ the Dutch seem to have thought yesterday. With a turnout of no less than 62, 8 %, an astonishing 61,6 % voted against the Dutch Government's proposal for ratification of the Treaty establishing a European Constitution.
Fear of a loss of national identity ranked high among the reasons no-voters gave for rejecting the Constitution. A majority of the Dutch do not want a ´United States of Europe´. The unpopularity of the United States of America in The Netherlands at the moment may have contributed to the negative image of such a form of state for the European countries.
The relationship between Europe and the US was dragged into the debate on the Constitution by both the yes and the no camp.
Yes voters said that the Constitution would mean that Europe, which under the Constitution would get it´s own Minister of Foreign Affairs, could more effectively oppose the US in the field of world politics. Other yes voters said that the Constitution underlined the importance of cooperation between the US and Europe through for example NATO, since the Constitution mentions that a European common security policy should never replace NATO cooperation. The no voters alleged that a common European foreign policy as proposed by the Constitution would be impossible in practice, since the United Kingdom and several new Member States of the EU tend to follow the US in foreign policy matters, whereas ´old Europe´ does not, as the Iraq war showed. They also argued that a rejection of the EU Constitution would actually be beneficial for EU-US relations.
But most of all, the Dutch no vote was a reminder to Dutch political leaders, who were all in favour of the Constitution, that they need to listen more to the people they try to lead. Or as someone put it: Keep in touch with the Dutch.
May 30, 2005
The French ‘no’ and the European foreign politics on the Us
French voted ‘no’ on Europe’s constitutional treaty.
55% of French voters said theirs no on a kind of Europe made by bureaucracy and economic power. This is the opinion of Barbara Spinelli, a columnist for La Stampa, Gian Giacomo Migone, the president of Foreign’s Commission of the Italian Senate (1994-2001) in an article published by Unità, and Andre Glucksmann, a philosopher who has written today on Corriere della Sera. It’s very interesting that all the interventions analyse the vote in relation to America and Bush’s foreign politics.
After a long reconnaissance about the Europe’s origin, the French’s role, and a possible future of the Union, Spinelli concludes her column saying that the European duty is not to answer the America’s challenge of democracy’s exportation, but to create a Union strong enough to have policies that follow the interests of a great world Power.
‘France, if Bush supports no’, that’s the title of Migone’s article published by the Unità. He remembers that France was the only bulwark against the war in Iraq, in opposition to the Usa and to the other major European countries. He also said that it is “physiological that the US is againts the rise of a United Europe able to be a political agent who can equilibrate and, in case, contrast Washington’s foreign politics”.
Also Andre Glucksmann’s article draws attention to the Union's foreign politics, and to the French’s role, and he asserts that the main target of French diplomacy is to create a “European power” able to face the American super power: “But this isn’t the Europeans' UE dream, it is the French’s Europe dream”.
May 29, 2005
A weaker Europe no good news for the US
If the French vote "no" tonight on Europe's constitutional treaty, some in the United States might feel relieved: a weakened Europe will pose no threat to American supremacy in the world. They would be wrong, according to François Heisbourg, director of the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris. In a column published by the International Herald Tribune, Heisbourg writes that
a navel-gazing, disengaged Europe is not going to be of much help in a world in which the United States has few other friends of similar economic and political weight.
May 27, 2005
Can a French “no” to the EU be a “yes” to the US?
To approve or not to aprove? What a question.
To be European, perchance to be anti-American?
French are asked to vote on the EU Constitution this coming Sunday, and polls indicate a likely victory of the “no.” It comes after, among others, a Spanish “yes” that WorldAndUS has already commented.
Many reasons are given: opposition to Chirac and his Prime Minister, fear of Turkey’s possible membership, push of the nationalist extreme right (and of the old nationalist left), lack of social policy in the Carta Magna, anti-globalization sentiments, personal calculation by Laurent Fabius, the main advocate of the “no” inside the Socialist Party which has officially opted for the “yes,” etc.
The central argument for those who oppose the Constitution in the left is that it is too market-driven, that it neglects social issues.
Less obvious, the relation to the United States remains at stake.
“Has anti-Americanism become the Europeanism of the fools?” asks Philippe Corcuff, a professor of political science, in a column published by Le Monde on May 20th. To this question his answer is unmistakably “yes.”
Corcuff prefers « an American dream, a certain American dream. Not American imperialism, not the American elites’ arrogance, not the aseptic culture sold worldwide! The American dream such as it appears in the films that have fed our imaginaries.” Not the reality, just the dream.
He wants to weaken one of some pro-European arguments: the need, the will to stand as a “different” voice in today’s world.
The nature of this difference is subject to significant nuances. In today’s editorial Jean-Marie Colombani, Le Monde’s director, laments that after a “no” from France “Europe would certainly cease to be a ‘provocation’ to George Bush’s America.” An allusion to an exchange the US President had with Tony Blair in the summer of 2001 in which he took his British guest desire to see Europe succeed as a “provocation.”
The demographer and anthropologist Emmanuel Todd takes a broader approach in an interview published on March 27 in which he explains his intention to vote “yes”:
“[…] because I am aware of the geopolitical context, and of the need for a good European entente in a period in which the United States are adrift. France only has 60 million inhabitants and will loose some of its power in this 450 million Europeans set. But 60 million people are insufficient in front of the United States, India, and China. And I consider that there is a way to remain faithful to one’s nation while accepting not to believe that it is the center of the world.”
What do you think?
May 25, 2005
Calipari's death still moves Italian media
Again the war in Iraq is leading Italian newspapers to talk about the Us. At this moment, the war seems to be the principal subject regarding the relationship between Italy and the Us. And once again it is the killing of the secret agent Nicola Calipari that awoke the media attention.
In today’s visit in Iraq the Italian foreign minister Gianfranco Fini inaugurated a monument to the memory of Nicola Calipari; and in his speech he pointed out the different results acheived by the Italian and American committees of inquiry.
Italian newspapers have paid a lot of attention to Fini’s visit, but everyone has underlined a different aspect of the matter. Someone has dedicated more attention to the political issues related to the withdrawal of Italian troops from Iraq, while others have taken Calipari’s gate as a hint to polemize with the American behavior.
The first position is represented by Corriere della Sera that doesn’t mention Calipari’s death in the title and puts this subject at the bottom of the article, while the main theme is “the presence of Italian troops wich will depend only on the request of Iraqis authorities and on the Coalition’s decisions” said Gianfranco Fini.
The latter, instead, is led by La Repubblica and La Stampa, wich dedicate more attention to the words Fini said about Calipari. The journal founded by Scalfari quotes Fini: “Our facts report doesn’t coincide with the American one, but this doesn’t imply any crisis between Italy and the Us; out cooperation will fairly go on”. The Turinois one remarks that: “Our vice prime minister stopped just for a while in front of Calipari’s monument where it’s written ‘Nicola Calipari, golden medal to military honor'”.
The communist newspaper l’Unità is the toughest: in the article there is just an adjective that sounds like a heavy condemnation for the States: “Our foreign minister inaugurated a monument to the memory of Sismi agent Nicola Calipari, slaughtered on march 4th by Americans soldiers near Baghdad airport”.
All this proves that two months after Calipari’s death, the affair is still perceived as a hot issue by politicians and public opinion, thus media can’t stop talking about it.
Bush and the history blanks
It was undoubtedly an intense moment when President George Bush visited the graves of US soldiers in the Dutch village of Margraten, to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the second World War.
In his speech, Bush honored all those who sacrificed their lives for the value of freedom, of peace. The president said :"On this peaceful May morning, we commemorate a great victory for liberty". Bush was talking in the cemetery of Margaten, where more than 8000 Americans who lost their lives under the German assaults, are buried. "The thousands of white marble crosses and stars of David underscore the terrible price we paid for that victory," he added. But Laidi Parjou, columnist at Moroccan daily Le Matin, says: "maybe there are no Muslims burried in Margaten, but that doesn't mean that adepts of the religion of Muhammad were just spectators during that horrible war. Muslims, too, paid the price of a war that was not theirs".
In fact, hundreds of North Africans; Algerians, Tunisians and Moroccans, fought in the French army, often in the frontlines. They were deported from their countries to help the allies in battles in Africa and Europe. Other Muslims were brought from India by British forces. Laidi Parjou also reminds that no Muslim country stood by the Nazi regime's side. Even Turkey, that had close ties to Germany, was neutral. The Moroccan columnist concludes by saying that if Muslims are omitted in certain parts of history, their graves in different European cemeteries are still there to remind that they, too, fought to free Europe.
Read the original editorial: Bush ou le droit de mémoire
May 19, 2005
A British MP who does not bow before the US Senate
Comments in the foreign media abound like this one found in the Deccan Herald (“An institution that has completed 50 glorious years of chronicling the joys and sorrows of the people of Karnataka, India and the world.”):
The US Senate hearings are dignified affairs and those called, appear before it with great reverence. It can affect the careers of politicians and administration officials. Even a foreign head of state such as Afghanistan’s Hameed Karzai, sat below the level of his US interrogators and answered questions politely.
Mr Galloway is made of sterner stuff, having survived the rough and tumble of British politics. At the end of the hearing, his accusers didn’t know what hit them. The piece of political theatre witnessed in a dignified chamber of Capitol Hill proved that there is one thing that the British still do well.
May 11, 2005
Bush ambivalant on what it takes to be a leader
Bush came, he saw and thank goodness he went away again. On his grand tour of Europe Bush also stopped by the Netherlands on the 7th and 8th of May, in order to attend a memorial service for American casualties in World War II.
Apart from enormous traffic chaos and several anti-Bush demonstrations, the visit went by without any major disturbances. But a visit by a foreign dignitary, especially an American President, is always a dream come true for pollsters. And so it was that we learnt that one third of Dutch people were against Bush´s visit to The Netherlands.
30 % of the population thought it was within the limits of propriety to demonstrate against Bush during the WWII commemoration service. Some people had even started legal proceedings to stop the visit, but the judge ruled that nothing could be done.
Polls evidently mean little to President Bush though. Before coming to the Netherlands Bush was interviewed by Dutch television. Confronted with the fact that many Dutch people oppose his international policies, he remarked that
"(This) doesn't frustrate me. I make decisions on what I think is right. That's what leaders do. The other day in a press conference I was asked about polls here in America. I said, a leader who tries to lead based upon polls is like a dog chasing his tail. That's not how you lead. No, I feel comfortable with the decisions I've made."
But only minutes later, when asked whether he disapproved of the Dutch liberal policies concerning euthanasia, gay marriage and abortion, Bush seemed to come back on his theory of leadership:
"Holland is a free country. It's a country where the people get to decide the policy. The government just reflects the will of the people. That's what democracies are all about. And that's what -- that's why we should continue to work for common interest to support government of the people, not government that dictates to people. And so if that's what the people of Holland want, that's what the government should reflect."
Now which is it Mr. President? Should a leader lead, or should a leader follow?
May 10, 2005
Bush's views on Yalta are shared by East Europeans
During the official celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the victory against Nazism, Bush condemned the Yalta agreement that divided Europe into two spheres of influence. For many Eastern Europeans the end of Nazi occupation was not the beginning of an era of freedom but the beginning of another occupation by the Soviet Union. Barbara Spinelli, the authoritative editorialist of the Italian daily newspaper La Stampa, writes a front page column where she explains, among other issues, why Eastern Europeans share George Bush's views. "Often times - writes Ms Spinelli - the Eastern European nations are considered as being pro-American, and therefore (Western European countries believe that) it is impossible to build a powerful Union with them. But their being pro-American does not always mean that they are anti-European. Most of all they deeply distrust Russia, because Russia's historical memory is disconnected from reality. Russia has not begun an authentic critical reappraisal of the Soviet myths".
May 06, 2005
How to mystify history
On April 25, Italy observed Liberation Day. All Italian cities and villages, a great majority of them flying red (Communist) flags, to celebrated the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II and Italy’s liberation from Nazism and Fascism. More than ever it was a celebration of the rhetoric of the WWII Italian resistance movement. But more important, it was yet another mystification of history in the name of open anti-Americanism, for the following reasons:
* When in northern Italy the so-called “resistants” decided to fight against German occupation and Mussolini, the war was already effectively at an end, thanks to American and allied troops (from England, France, and Poland). By that time, the Allies had already conquered three-quarters of the country, from the south moving northward, and the front, the so-called “Linea Gotica,” was already established in the north near Bologna.
* What is today considered the liberation of Italy is therefore actually only the liberation of northern cities like Turin, Milan, Genoa, and Venice. This liberation of the north is celebrated as the liberation of the whole of Italy.
* In celebrating on April 25 the victory over Mussolini and Hitler, today’s Left does not mention that among the “resistants” there were also, besides the Communists, other parties such as Republicans, Christian Democrats, and Socialists, as well as priests, workers, and civilians. The all looked forward to the arrival of the Americans—considered to be the real “liberators.”
* Media accounts (with a few exceptions, like the news magazine Libero and journalist Filippo D’Acquarone at TG4), history textbooks, and Liberation Day’s solemn speeches do not mention that if it were not for the Americans and their Allies, we Italians would presently be living under a dictatorship of either Communism or Nazism. In fact, it was the Americans who for more than a year supplied the “resistants” with food and weapons.
May 05, 2005
EU or US? Czech Republic's 1st Year Back in Europe
Jeremy Druker is the executive director and editor-in-chief of Transitions Online (www.tol.cz), an Internet newsmagazine covering Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and the former Soviet Union. He submitted this comment from Prague.
As the Czech Republic celebrates its first anniversary of membership in the European Union this month, the country’s press has been full of reflections on the changes—as well as lack of them—that the last year has actually wrought. One area, however, where little has changed is in the country’s relations with the United States, or in how most Czechs view America.
Foreign policy pundits worried that the country, like other members of the “new” Europe, would be a “monkey in the middle,” caught between its obligations to the European Union and to its long-time friends in the United States-on issues such as Iraq and the International Criminal Court. And yes, politicians may have to dance a bit more gingerly with Washington, as they try to balance U.S. and European interests, but they were already doing that in the years leading up to entry-careful of doing anything to threaten accession and dreamed of West European living standards.
But ordinary Czechs have not suddenly felt closer to Brussels since entering its embrace. They have not discarded their general affinity for the U.S. in favor of closer relations with France, Germany, and the rest of the EU. The population actually tends to take good relations with America for granted. Safely anchored in NATO, hungry for German tourist dollars rather than fearful of Germany, and 15 years removed from the Soviet bloc, the country does not have any immediate threats to warrant an over-dependence on Washington. There may also be an unexpressed feeling, a carryover from the years when Vaclav Havel led the country, that the Czech Republic still has friends in high places in the United States.
In fact, most Czechs only think about the country's relations with the US when a high representative visits Washington-and that doesn't happen often. Most recently it was President Vaclav Klaus, garnering front-page headlines because the White House had pointedly not invited Klaus for a visit after a well-publicized spat with the American ambassador in Prague. (The ambassador at the time apparently had not exactly appreciated Klaus's opposition to the war in Iraq). But a few weeks ago, in early March, Klaus--as egotistical a foreign leader as you will ever come across--abruptly received an invitation while on a private trip to the U.S. And a few days later, he had his photo op with Bush.
Czech newspaper columnists debated the reasons why the cold shoulder had suddenly melted, with some throwing out the far-fetched notion that the White House was trying to make up for an embarrassing error on its website, when a caption on a photo mixed up Klaus with Slovak President Ivan Gasparovic. Other writers reminded their audiences not to personalize U.S.-Czech relations too much.
“The American president in [the person of] Vaclav Klaus received above all the Czech Republic, which is…a close friend and ally of the United States,' ” wrote Daniel Anyz in the daily Mlada fronta DNES (www.mfdnes.cz). His colleague Milan Vodicka went further in another column: “The country, it is true, didn't agree with the war in Iraq, but sent there its soldiers-and also to Afghanistan. It does what it can. It is an ally that made clear that when America needs it, it will be there--even when it grumbles. Czechs are like that.”
Mlada fronta's political leanings are rather in the center or center-right, but left-wing papers likewise value the importance of healing transatlantic relations. In an editorial, Pravo (www.pravo.cz), once the mouthpiece of the Communist Party, placed Klaus's visit in the context of a series of American meetings with European leaders that had "as their task overcoming disputes between allies over the war in Iraq." The paper judged that Bush and Klaus had moved beyond their differences of opinion and could focus on other points on the agenda--“for instance, one theme that the Czech public watches especially closely: easing tourist travel to the U.S. by simplifying the granting of visas."
If polls around the anniversary of accession show declining empathy toward America, those figures will have little to do with the European Union and much to do with the US administration's unilateral approach to problem-solving, the war in Iraq, and overall trepidation about having a single superpower. Some polls in other Central European countries have indicated that more people now want the EU to act more like a superpower counterweight to the American ogre, but that type of data isn't yet available here.
But when pressed, even though they may certainly grumble more than they did a decade ago, most Czechs would probably say almost nothing has changed in the way they view America--European Union or not. The reality of being back in Europe and now a part of the European project does not seem to have had a corollary of transforming feelings toward the U.S.
You've got some people here that love everything American, no matter what, and you've got others who think Americans are a bunch of hypocritical, conceited, wanna-be world rulers, no matter what. In the long-term, here as in the rest of Central Europe, it's the people in the middle that the administration should be worried about.
Berlusconi under pressure for French newspapers
The relashionship between Italy and the US, and especially between Silvio Berlusconi and Georges W. Bush may turn bad. After "the inquiry by US authorities about the fatal shooting of an Italian official in Iraq on March 4 (Mr Nicola Calipari, who was escorting the recently liberated hostage Giuliana Sgrena) has ended without admitting any responsibility or mistake on behalf of the US patrol on duty that night nearby the Baghdad airport", as Federico Rampini wrote in his article "Italy Feels humiliated by the US", Silvio Berlusconi said today that "no will (to shoot)doesn't mean no responscabilities", wrote the French daily Le Figaro.
M. Berlusconi still added that "the friendship between Italy and the US cannot be questionned. I want to clear up a possible misunderstanding: there is no link between the homicide of Calipari and our mission in Iraq."
M. Berlusconi also said that if Italy withdraw its troups from Iraq, it will only be after a consultation with the US government.
The intervention of M. Berlusconi happened after that another report, this one italian, said that the tragedy is the result of "inadequate precautions" and of "instinctives reactions" linked with "the tension of the circumstances and probably a high level of inexperience and stress" for soldiers who were "all reservists", as underline the French daily L'Humanite.
Moreover, a large majority of Italians want to put an end to the Italian presence in Iraq. M. Berlusconi doesn't ignore this pression, and will have now to find a balance between it and his friendship with George W. Bush, which will suffer for sure from this tragedy.
Berlusconi: the US "guilty"
The Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, gave a speech to the Senate on May 5 to address the issue of the relationship between his country and the US, after the death of an Italian official killed by a US patrol in Baghdad. Mr Berlusconi recognised that the Italian and the US version of the shooting are irreconcilably different. According to La Repubblica he said that the US soldiers are "guilty" for that shooting, although he added that the killing of Mr Nicola Calipari could not be viewed as a "crime". Mr Berlusconi also declared that there is no reason to withdraw Italian troops from Iraq, and that the friendship between Italy and the US will endure. Italy's opposition parties, and also some parties of the center-right majority that support Berlusconi's government, have repeatedly asked that the US offer at least their apologies for Mr Calipari's death. The Bush Administration has offered condoleances, but has refused to apologize.
Italy feels humiliated by the US
The inquiry by US authorities about the fatal shooting of an Italian official in Iraq on March 4 (Mr Nicola Calipari, who was escorting the recently liberated hostage Giuliana Sgrena) has ended without admitting any responsibility or mistake on behalf of the US patrol on duty that night nearby the Baghdad airport. Even the moderate-to-conservative daily newspaper Il Corriere della Sera reacts strongly. A front page editorial by the political science scholar Ernesto Galli della Loggia, on May 4, goes under the headline "Questa America non ci piace", i.e. "We do not like this America".
Translated excerpts from Mr Galli della Loggia front page editorial.
"The essential fact is that Nicola Calipari was killed by a US soldier. He had not done any wrong, perhaps he was only guilty(we have to underline this "perhaps") of being on a car that did not stop quickly enough at a checkpoint".
"Washington should know that it is not easy to be America's allies. Because of the power gap the ally can often look like a servant. In order to avoid this, it is necessary that Washington cares about the feelings of the public opinion in the allied country, including the feeling of national dignity. A country that wants to be the world leader should be able to care. During the cold war US presidents like Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson were able to care". www.corriere.it
May 04, 2005
Madrid-Massachusetts: Could the "gay-link" make us closer?
Sir, do you take this man to be your husband? Lady, do you take this woman to be your wife? Male-male and female-female weddings will be a common thing this summer in Spain. It is not likely to improve the relationship between George W. Bush and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, his Spanish counterpart.
The Socialist government has just passed a law that makes Spain the third country in the world to allow gay marriage with the same rights as heterosexuals, after Holland and Belgium. And many couples are now preparing to say: "sí quiero" (yes I do) to their long time non-recognised partners. Taxes, inheritance and even child adoption -which is only allowed in Holland- are some of the rights gay couples have finally accomplished in this country.
Though the bill still has to pass through Senate, where the Conservatives hold the mayority, it's taken for granted that the proposition will become law around this summer, as even if its rejected at the Upper House of the Spanish Parliament it has to return to the Congress again, where it has a secured mayority.
The move comes almost a year after the Supreme Court of Massachusetts allowed gay marriages in that state, the only one in the US that legally recognises homosexual unions. Could this become a link uniting both countries? Hardly, I'm afraid.
George W. Bush has clearly declared his firm opposition to this kind of weddings, and the Spanish decision will likely not improve the -little- sympathy the US president has for his Spanish counterpart José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.
Critics of gay marriage have also flourished in Spain, mostly in the ranks of the Catholic Church. The Church had recently lost a battle where it demanded that homosexual unions not be certified as “marriages” as it believed that only unions from the opposite sex could fully deserve such terminology.
Also, the Vatican, which has just welcomed a new Pope who has already
vowed to continue the same conservative line that defined John Paul II's papacy, hasn't waited long to condemn (once more) the Spanish leftist government for this measure. Colombian cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, president of the Family Council in the Vatican, said that gay-marriage is an "inhuman" law that amounts to the "destruction of the family". The Vatican also urged the Spanish civil servants not to accept carrying out gay marriages, which would infringe the law.
The main Spanish opposition party, the Partido Popular (PP) of former
president José María Aznar, a close friend of Bush, isn't happy, either. Only one of its members of parliament voted affirmatively for the law. And its new leader, Mariano Rajoy, hasn't yet condemned the "disobedience-appeal" of the Church. Some local mayors of his party have already announced that they won't marry gay couples.
Fortunately, though, it's quite possible that more US gay citizens will decide to spend their next holiday in Spain, doing much good to Spanish tourism and, probably, to the better understanding of both
countries, at least between the "liberal" members of them.
April 18, 2005
Ronald McDonald Murdered on McBirthday !
As Frej Jackson wrote in his precedent article, it was the 50th anniversary of McDonald on the 15th of April. In France, it was the 25th anniversary of this symbol of the US culture. To "celebrate" this date, some unknown people stole a plastic statue of Ronald McDonald (the forever-smiling clown, mascot of the brand) during the night and hung him under a bridge of Lille's beltway, in the North of the country. The word "mondialisation" ("globalization") was written upon it in large letters. They also hung a ball and chain to his feet, probably to be sure that this symbol of the "malbouffe" (literally "bad food") would die... but the employees of the fast food found him in the morning and brought him back home. Alive, and still smiling. Ronald is now being analyzed by the police, who are searching for fingerprints...
April 13, 2005
Why doesn't Bush want to be our amigo?
”Never despair” seemed to be the Spanish Government's slogan. And now Madrid has launched a new "offensive" to try to regain George W. Bush's friendship.
Almost a year after José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero announced the pullout of Irak -which started the "ice age" between Spain and the US-Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos has flown back to the US, in another attempt to restore the relationship between both countries.
And the "offensive" doesn't stop here. After Moratinos returns to Spain, four other ministers will soon meet members of the American government. Yet the main symbolic gesture, a "real" meeting between Zapatero and Bush instead of just a short "hola, amigo", still remains unfulfilled. And, according to the Spanish press, we won't see such a meeting for a long while.
But why? Why does Bush hate or despise Zapatero so much? Why has he
forgiven German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder or French president Jacques Chirac and not our president? "El País" newspaper says the main problem is that Bush felt deceived when Zapatero announced the withdrawal of the Spanish troops, because he didn't think it would happen as fast as it did. Moreover, Bush didn't expect Zapatero to call other countries to do the same, a move he felt as disloyalty.
Besides, Zapatero, knowing the popularity of this measure in Spain and
Europe in general, still mentions it every time he can, which seems to hurt American feelings.
Also, Bush didn't like that Spain pushed forward the elimination of some of the EU's sanctions against Cuba -that never really worked- nor the sale of warplanes to Hugo Chavez's Venezuela. Even though the US buys 15 % of its oil to the same Chavez it officially calls a dictator.
Some analysts consider that Zapatero won't set foot in the White House while Bush still holds the presidency. Let alone the Crawford Ranch.
At least someone's very happy about this situation; former Spanish
conservative president José María Aznar, a very close "amigo" of Bush -he has been invited, more than once, to Crawford- likes to remind everybody of their friendship. And he has done it again in a book that will be released later this month. In "Retratos y Perfiles, de Fraga a Bush" (Portraits and Profiles, from Fraga to Bush), Aznar underlines the close friendship he still mantains with his "amigo George", whom he supported even through the Irak war, which, in the end, cost him the presidency. At least he still has a big amigo overseas. Meanwhile, Zapatero is making big friends at this side of the Atlantic, in the still same “old Europe”.
Ideological warfare and Anti-Americanism
The respected and conservative Heritage Foundation just published a very interesting research paper on anti-Americanism (with considerations on why and how the United States should fight it) that includes a worrisome confusion.
At the core of this paper, one finds the idea that: “ideological warfare can be highly successful.” Efforts to counter anti-Americanism during the Cold War were effective. They “took a sabbatical” in the nineties though, and it’s time to get back to them through a set of means that is outlined in the document.
Helle Dale, the author, explains that one should not mix up anti-Americanism as it can be found in France (as well as in Europe “thanks to the BBC”) and the Al Qaeda type. The difference being “lethality.” After all:
[…] dislike of the United States will not cause France to declare war on the United States, or vice versa.
This is a useful contribution that analysts won’t miss.
To deal with serious anti-Americanism, Helle Dale, who is Deputy Director of the Heritage Foundation, proposes a strategy that includes, among other points, holding “foreign governments accountable for their support of anti-American propaganda,” investing money in “free media” and “revitalizing the Voice of America,” as well as seizing “opportunities” like stepping up aid to “tsunami-stricken areas of South Asia.”
All this belongs to what a serious conservative institution is expected to say.
The confusing issue though lies in the definition of the less threatening form of anti-Americanism.
For instance, anti-Americanism in France can indeed be a heavy inconvenience for traveling Americans, who may find themselves on the defensive regarding whether or not they support the Bush Administration's policies.
Delle consciously assimilates critiques to the Bush Administration and anti-Americanism. This is dangerous.
If anti-Americanism does exist in Europe and can lead to unpleasant moments for tourists (see this note). That’s not the whole picture. WorldAndUs has recently published an illuminating testimony of a University of California student in France that expresses critical nuances and contradictions that one should try to understand.
The French will make the distinction that their perceived animosity towards Americans (their so-called anti-Americanism) is directed, for the most part, at the Bush administration. […]
On the whole the French public is kind and respective to Americans living in their country. […] they loathe our president yet love our culture.
Conservatives like to assimilate any critique of George Bush and its policies to anti-Americanism. What might be good tactics internally might prove misleading when they try to understand the rest of the world and build a strategy to confront anti-American sentiments.
Many foreigners may value America without thinking that what is American is necessarily good. They observe a certain distance, they value their differences, and they may formulate criticisms without being anti-American.
This might be true even in the Arab and Muslim worlds.
Criticism of George Bush, the U.S. Government, and even America, does not an anti-American make.
April 08, 2005
The communist newspaper that wants to "help America"
In Italy there is a communist daily paper that wants to help the USA. “Let’s help America" is the title of the leading article published by “Il Manifesto”, founded in the early ‘70s by a group of dissident militants from the Communist Party.
The author of the article is one of the founders, Valentino Parlato. “Il Manifesto” is the newspaper Giuliana Sgrena writes for. Sgrena is the journalist who was kidnapped in Baghdad and whose liberation concluded a month ago with the tragic death of the Italian intelligence agent Nicola Calipari.
"Already some time has passed since elections took place, but Iraq is still in chaos: no government worthy of this name has been put on". In the article Parlato mentions the withdrawal of the Dutch and Ukrainian troops, and he asks why Italy doesn’t make the same decision. According to the journalist, the withdrawal would be "a useful suggestion to the great American ‘ally’".
In Iraq - Parlato writes - the real problem are not the Italians, the Bulgarians, the Ukrainians..., but the Americans. "The American presence in Iraq has a different meaning from the one it had in Italy and also in Germany at the end of Second World War. All the Iraqis, the ‘friends’ also, consider Americans a force of foreign and hostile occupation. And Americans are realising now they are in a trap from which it is more and more difficult to get away ".
In order to stress this idea, Parlato mentions Edward Luttwak - not a pacifist for sure-, who wrote an article entitled " Logic of disengagement " on “Foreign Affairs”. For Luttwak "the American presence risks destabilizing all the adjacent countries and is harmful also for those Iraqis that consider themselves America’s friends”.
Misinformation about war
The daily paper “Il Foglio” - a four-page information newspaper that politically sides with the Right and-governmental positions - dedicates the upper part of the second page to the review of the latest book by Hillman "A Terrible Love of War".
Hillman is defined a left-leaning, ‘non-organic’ intellectual, a pacifist who supported Kerry’s candidacy to presidency of the United States of America, but sensitive to the reasons of others. This is why his theory of war like man’s ancestral instinct, like drive that "belongs to our spirit as archetypal truth of the cosmos", collects the favours of the journal in a moment when the debate on Iraq’s war dominates in Italy.
In fact, political parties are split between forces that incline to the withdrawal of the Italian troops and the ones that support the reasons of participation in the war. Therefore, the book written by a pacifist who supports the inevitability of war enters the arena of political discussion, becoming the object of exploitation for the support of Iraq’s war rather than the subject of a deeper analysis. This way Hillman seems to be supporting Bush’ s policy in Iraq without hesitancy.
April 07, 2005
From Virginia Visani in Milano : The cost of being Bush’s friend
Virginia Visani, a free lance journalist sent us this letter from Milano (Italy) commenting on the regional elections that just took place in Italy:
Last Sunday, the 3rd of April, elections for 13 regional governors took place in Italy.
The result was a “débacle” for the coalition of Berlusconi, La Casa delle Libertà.
They have lost 6 Regions, whereas the coalition of Romano Prodi, leader of the left, is presently ruling on almost every Italian region but Lombardy and Veneto.
According to commentators and columnists this can be caused by people’s disappointment regarding the promises Berlusconi made before being elected and was not able to deliver. But this is not all. Some anti-Bush sentiment might be involved.
The opposition coalition ( whose name is L’Unione) is composed by moderate ex communists who strongly opposed the war in Irak, are against Bush administration--but not against America, they say (they were fans of Kerry last November). The same coalition, however, includes under the names of Rifondazione Comunista and Comunisti Italiani many radical communists, strong opponent of the U.S..
Both these parties receive votes from different groups and mouvements generally known as “protesters” like the “No global” network, anarchists, pro-Palestinian and Islamist movements, violent groups ironically named “mouvements for peace.”
They are the “people of Puerto Alegre,” and their antiamericanism has grown in these last weeks. Among the reasons that might explain this phenomenon that also affects the moderate communists, one should note in particular:
Irak post-war - according to the left, the responsiblity for this “disastrous” event is only and “in toto” American. They fault Berlusconi for having joined and supported Bush’s war.
Giuliana Sgrena - as soon as the Italian journalist landed in Rome after her liberation, the main claim, supported by several media, was against the American patrol who shooted because, it was said, Sgrena had collected some war news and interviews that the U.S. did not want to be known.
Terry Schiavo - against Bush’s engagement for her life, leftists are pro-eutanasia and insist that her no-life should have been interrupted already 15 years ago.
This is why Berlusconi’s friendship with Bush seems to be an important, if not the principal, cause of his defeat.
The only recent occasion in which the leader of La Casa delle Libertà has been unanimously, entusiastically, applauded by the Left, Right and Center wings of the Senate was when he “showed his muscles” against the U.S. and urged for a bi-lateral enquiry in the real responsibilities in the Giuliana Sgrena episode that lead to the death of an Italian officer.
April 06, 2005
New French tactics against American cultural domination
French President Jacques Chirac has vowed to launch a new "counter-offensive" against American cultural domination, enlisting the support of the British, German and Spanish governments in a multi-million euro bid to put the whole of European literature online.
The president was reacting this month to news that the American search-engine provider Google is to offer access to some 15 million books and documents currently housed in five of the most prestigious libraries in the English-speaking world.
The realization that the "Anglo-Saxons" were on the verge of a major breakthrough towards the dream of a universal library seriously rattled the cultural establishment in Paris, raising again the fear that French language and ideas will one day be reduced to a quaint regional peculiarity.
The basic issue, as seen by National Library president Jean-Noel Jeanneney who published an OpEd piece in the daily Le Monde on the subject is “the risk of a crushing American domination in the definition of how future generations conceive the world.” [Published on January 22nd edition, the article is not available for non suscribers. You will find most elements translated and annotated on this page].
Expatica reminds us of the existence of a “complex web of laws and subsidies” to defend its cultural products. An attitude that might remind us of the “Maginot line” of sinister fame for its incapacity to defend France against the Panzers in 1939. Walls are still less effective on the web.
What is new and interesting is the apparent decision to take the offensive and put more French texts and cultural material on the internet. There is a small program at the Bibliothèque de France called Gallica. But, according to this story, its budget is one thousandth of what Google will put to develop its own.
Aware of this the French will intend to involve British, Germans, and Spanish in a European counter-offensive.
Opposing the flows of American cultural products on the web might seem ridiculous to some, but understanding that – when dealing with content at least - it takes flows to combat flows indicates a significant move forward.
"Bush's war", a chatroom against Bush
The French daily L'Humanite, historicaly linked to the French Communist Party, give on this website, www.humanite.presse.fr an interesting chatroom about the war in Iraq, called "La guerre de Bush", "Bush's war".
The readers can take position in deferent debates about the war, of course, but also about the elections and the constitution in Iraq, and every subject linked to the travels of George W. Bush.
It is hard to find someone in this chatroom to defend Mr. Bush. For example, after the liberation of the Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, during which an Italian agent was killed by the GI'S, a reader wrote :
"Bush declares ABSURD the reaction of the Italian public opinion. What would be absurd would be not to include/understand the aggressiveness of Bush against the journalists, and not to include/understand the eagerness of the GI'S to fire on a supposed "communist = terrorist." Giuliana had all the marks of the WITCH TO KILL: She was a witness of the electoral masquerade [in Iraq ]. She was a journalist. She was communist. While shoting on her they killed an heroic Italian soldier, and they also destroyed Berlusconi's illusion concerning an alleged American's humanism."
This chat is an interesting way to take a look at the point of view of left wing voters close to the French Communist Party. Probably not the most famous chatroom, but an official one, monitored by a serious newspaper.
March 24, 2005
Kyrgyzstan: Chinese, and Russian perceptions
Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev, has been expelled by protesters who overtook the presidential palace in Bishkek early March 24. What happens next is anybody’s guess at this point, but perceptions of the US and its intentions will play a siginficant role.
These are some extracts taken from George Friedman’s Intelligence brief published today by Stratfor.com:
What makes all of this particularly interesting is that both Russia and China have a tendency to view any upheaval in regions where they take interest as part of a conspiracy orchestrated by the United States in order to challenge their hegemony.[...]
This might be paranoid thinking. It might be prudent "worst-case scenario" planning. Or it might be a rational appreciation of Washington's intentions. Whichever it is, the simple fact is that both regional powers regard any instability in any country in the area as being generated by the United States and intended to harm them.[...]
The Russians […] see the United States turning its attention from al Qaeda to other issues, and they don't buy the Bush administration's line that its political involvement in the region -- specifically in Ukraine, where Washington helped secure a win by pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko late last year -- is simply about the American love for free elections. They believe the United States sought to install a pro-U.S. government in Kiev in order to bring Ukraine into NATO and undermine Russian national security.[...]
The Chinese don't believe the United States is obsessed with al Qaeda any longer. They believe the Americans are obsessed with China, and they see events in Kyrgyzstan as a security threat.
March 22, 2005
From ex Danish Foreign Minister Uffe Ellemann-Jensen
Mr. Uffe Ellemann-Jensen served as Denmark’s Minister for Foreign Affairs from 1982-1993. He was president of Venstre (the Liberal Party) from 1984-1998, leading Venstre to become the largest Danish party. In this letter he answers two questions posed by worldandus.
1. How can a small country like Denmark influence the policy of a superpower like the United States?
We can do that first of all by demonstrating our qualities as a trustworthy friend and partner – in words as well as in deeds. Our motives have to be cut out crystal clear: We share the values behind our alliance – and we are not looking for ways in which we can act as a “counterweight” to the role of the United States on the global scene. On this point a small European country has probably got a better position than some of the big countries, who seems to find it hard to put their glorious past in a modern context. (It is after all so many years ago that the Danes ruled over England, that we can no longer be suspected of dreaming of a restoration of past positions).
The above mentioned policy has been followed by Denmark since the end of the Cold War: We were active participants in the first Gulf War, i.e. by sending a warship to the Gulf – we sent special forces to Afghanistan – and we are part of the Coalition in Iraq. By doing that, we demonstrate our earnestness as a partner – and that of course earns us a right to be listened to, also when our views might be different from those of the United States.
2. Does it matter whether the US listens to the world’s perceptions of US foreign policy or not?
Yes, of course it matters! Being the only superpower left the US will always be suspected by everybody else for not caring about anything but narrow American interests. And the only way to do away with that suspicion is to listen – and react to what differences of opinion might arise, either by changing positions or explaining (patiently) why positions are not changed.
The US needs partners – even small ones like Denmark – to share the burdens of keeping the moral high ground in international policy. Therefore we also share an interest in securing an international rule of law.
March 21, 2005
Welcome Mr Wolfowitz, says Europe
European leaders have decided not to oppose the nomination of Paul Wolfowitz, the Neoconservative who had a leading role in preparing the war on Iraq, as the new chief of the World Bank. The lack of an opposition among European governments (that control 30% of the World Bank votes as shareholders and could undermine a US candidate if they wanted) seems one of the results of the new "honeymoon" between the second Bush administration and its Atlantic partners. Without further comment La Repubblica the liberal Italian newspaper which is often critical of the US policies, forecasts a smooth welcome to Mr Wolfowitz.
La Repubblica, March 22, 2005: "Green Light for Wolfowitz"
BRUXELLES - The nomination of Paul Wolfowitz as the new president of the World Bank will be discussed by the ministers of Finances in their meeting tonight in Brussels. There seem to be no obstacles to the designation of the Pentagon's Number Two, the ideologue of the war on Iraq, as the chief of the institution which has the mission to support the development of the poorest countries. Yesterday the German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder swept away any doubt on the European support to the US candidate. «We will be surprised by his work», Schroeder said. The president of the European Commission Josè Manuel Durao Barroso sounded a similar note: he invited European member States not to hold prejudices against Mr Wolfowitz.
March 19, 2005
Anti-Wolfowitz voices from Germany
The very serious German TV station Deutsche Welle publishes on the forum of its news section reactions of German citizens after the nomination of Paul Wolfowitz as the World Bank's future president, next May.
The reactions speak for themselves.
"Wolfowitz should be arrested as a war criminal the moment he sets foot outside the US. The purpose of democracy is to avoid violence in determining issues of power. His idea of democratizing the Middle East, like Iraq, is brutal theft of territory and resources by privatization. His idea of lifting billions out of poverty is to steal their sandals and offer them concrete shoes. Putting a genocidal grand thief in charge of the World Bank is what you expect of a nation of hypocrits". -- Peter Vervoorn
"Wolfowitz succeeded in transforming a country with first world income to a starving dying population in order to steal their oil. That is exactly what he will do to the world. This is really the person who through his position will help administer the policies of population reduction in the service of the oil and weapon industries. Welcome to Brave New World". -- Beatrice Boctor
"Imagine you are in charge of national security. The worst breech of national security takes place on your watch. Therefore, you are made secretary of state. Imagine you are on record as hating the UN. Therefore, you are made ambassador to the UN. Imagine you have started an immoral war and made a total mess of it. Therefore, you are put in charge of the World Bank.
This makes perfect sense when you understand that there is only one criterion: loyalty to George Bush. It also helps if you are a complete and utter idiot". -- Mary M. Schmidt
"Wolfie", the cold shower
And suddenly, all the speeches and columns about a new era in transatlantic relations faded into illusions. George Bush's choice to nominate Paul Wolfofitz as the next World Bank president is seen in France as another sign of America's will to control the world's most important organizations. French daily Le Monde titled it's editorial just as The New York Times' "Why Wolfovitz?".
"A few days after his european visit, George Bush takes a new unilateralist decision that reminds of his first presidency and contradicts his speech about dialogue", says Le Monde's editorialist.
Wolfofitz, described as one of the Iraqi war's architects, is designed as one of the thinkers that inspired the crusades of "good against evil" to George Bush and is therefore the wrong profile for the presidency of the World Bank.
"For a large part of the world, Mr. Wolfowitz's nomination appears as a new manifestation of America's arrogance".
Read Le Monde's coverage:
Les deux vies de "Wolfie", le "néo-con" au "cœur qui saigne"
March 17, 2005
Will Wolfowitz follow McNamara’s example?
Paul Wolfowitz nomination by President Bush to head the World Bank, after the designation of conservative John Bolton as US Ambassador to the United Nation is not a good sign for multilateralism according to the French Le Monde.
The Elysee Palace (where the president works and lives) said it would study the nomination “in the light of the Bank’s critical mission in favor of development.” Some observers fear Wolfowitz might be tempted to use his new position more as a tool in his quest for democracy in the Middle East.
Le Monde's correspondent in New York highlights opposition to the nomination coming from the United States but ends its story with a positive note: “some executives at the World Bank hope he [Wolfowitz] will follow Robert McNamara’s example.” After organizing the war in Vietnam McNamara became one of the staunchest promoters of development.
March 09, 2005
Bush’s Trip to Europe Revisited
In this analysis of Bush’s trip to Europe the recognized Danish newspaper Weekendavisen sums up his Reconciliation Tour as “A changed tone, but no change in substance”.
According to the analysis, the purpose of President Bush’s recent trip was to mirror a sincere desire to reestablish the strongly injured transatlantic relationship after the disagreements on Iraq. But Bush did not bring any concrete promises or initiatives that could mark a “real” change in policy from Washington. No change in the American stand on Kyoto, The International Criminal Court, and no support for the European attempts to use diplomatic measures to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
But what was lacking in concrete policy changes, the Europeans to a high degree received in changed rhetoric and symbolism – which should not be underestimated. At this level, a change in rhetoric often indicates an ongoing or approaching alteration of policy. Thus, Bush was the first American president ever to visit both of the European Union’s executive branches – the Council of Ministers and the European Commission in Bruxelles. This is important, taking into consideration that not long ago members of the Bush Administration talked about “the European integration” as against American interests.
On his trip Bush now talked of Europeans as “America’s closest allies”, he supported the establishment of a “strong Europe”, and he even pretended to be “best pals” with the Iraq critics Chirac and Schröder. Furthermore, he refrained from publicly criticizing proposals for NATO reform, aimed at changing NATO from being a military organization to becoming a political forum for transatlantic dialogue – an idea Washington is strongly against.
Despite the changed rhetoric, friendly handshakes, and a sincere desire to improve the relationship, this Reconciliation Tour could not veil that inconsistencies between Europe and the United States still exist.
Bolton's nomination greeted with skepticism in Germany
John Bolton's nomination for the post of American Ambassador to the United Nations was seen as questionable by mainstream German media. The Financial Times of Germany called him a hardliner in their headline and the Tagesspiegel said that European Diplomats must have dropped their breakfast pastries when they heard the news.
Bolton is known for being a staunch neo-conservative, with uncompromising beliefs about Taiwanese independence, Iran's nuclear ambitions and Middle East policy. In its report, the Tagesspiegel wrote:
"Many will see Bolton's nomination as a revision to Bush's conciliatory course of the last week."
Is this an obvious slap in the face to the UN and the US's European allies, or as the New York Times reported it, simply a debatable choice?
March 05, 2005
A serious incident
Upon her arrival in Italy Giuliana Sgrena declared that the US soldiers shot at her car “without motives” (see this note). Her statement was confirmed by an Italian secret agent who survived besides her. They said that the shooting came from a patrol and not from a check-point.
This screen shots of the home page of La Repubblica taken just before 6pm local time on Saturday March 5th, gives a sense of the tension.
According to La Repubblica Sgrena declared:
“The most difficult moment was en I saw the man who saved my life die in my arms.”
The Corriere della Sera gives importance to a declaration from Pier Scolari, Sgrena’s companion according to whom Giuliana’s had been told that “they” would try to kill her. Italian Secret Service answers that such is not the case and that it would have been a very silly way to go. More covert actions could have been implemented, and what happened could endanger the “collaboration of an allied service.”
An article in Today’s New York Times ends with this paragraph:
"This incident will increase popular anti-Americanism," said James Walston, a political scientist at the American University of Rome. “But it won't seriously prejudice the official Italian position of keeping troops in Iraq."
A serious incident
Upon her arrival in Italy Giuliana Sgrena declared that the US soldiers shot at her car “without motives” (see this note). Her statement was confirmed by an Italian secret agent who survived besides her. They said that the shooting came from a patrol and not from a check-point.
This screen shots of the home page of La Repubblica taken just before 6pm local time on Saturday March 5th, gives a sense of the tension.
According to La Repubblica Sgrena declared:
“The most difficult moment was en I saw the man who saved my life die in my arms.”
The Corriere della Sera gives importance to a declaration from Pier Scolari, Sgrena’s companion according to whom Giuliana’s had been told that “they” would try to kill her. Italian Secret Service answers that such is not the case and that it would have been a very silly way to go. More covert actions could have been implemented, and what happened could endanger the “collaboration of an allied service.”
An article in Today’s New York Times ends with this paragraph:
"This incident will increase popular anti-Americanism," said James Walston, a political scientist at the American University of Rome. “But it won't seriously prejudice the official Italian position of keeping troops in Iraq."
March 04, 2005
Elation and bafflement in Italy
The liberation of Italian Journalist Giuliana Sgrena by her Iraqi kidnappers and the accidental killing of secret service agent Nicola Calipari triggered emotions that might influence the perception of the US in that country.
The titles of two of the most important Italian newspapers are revealing.
The middle of the road Corriere della Sera highlights the fact that the US have declared it was “a mistake”.
The more liberal La Repubblica writes that Calipari was killed by “friendly fire from the USA.” (The screenshots were taken slightly before 8 AM local time on Saturday March 5th).
In the following hours, a significant place has been given to Bush’s phone call to Berlusconi, and to the accidental nature of Calipari’s death.
Nevertheless, the whole sequence might have an impact on perceptions of the US in this European country whose government is a close ally of George Bush while the population does not favor the war in Iraq.
Europe – New realities that the U.S. cannot ignore
One of the most delicate issues when trying to track “perceptions of the United States in the World” might be to gauge the impact of facts on feelings. In particular of changing realities.
The war in Iraq or the growing trend towards democracy in the Middle East is obvious elements about which much has been written.
There are deeper shift though that deeply affect perceptions… on both sides. This excellent article by Mark Schapiro titled “New Power for ‘Old Europe’” is a case in point.
It shows that decisions taken at the EU level may have a serious impact on major US companies that can’t do as much as they would like about it. Schapiro studies in particular the case of REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals), a directive that:
[...]represents an upheaval in the basic philosophy of chemical regulation, flipping the American presumption of "innocent until proven guilty" on its head by placing the burden of proof on manufacturers to prove chemicals are safe--what is known as the "precautionary principle."
The chemicals industry and the State Department have done what they could to derail it, but it’s difficult to influence a democratic body of 25 countries and a market of 450 million consumers.
When Henry Kissinger was Secretary of State for President Ford in 1977, he famously asked in frustration, "What telephone number do you dial to reach Europe?" Today, the area code for that number is clear: 32-2, for Brussels […].
And he adds:
Every European diplomat I spoke with was careful to insist that Europe's new generation of environmental directives is not intended to "impose" Europe's will upon the United States. Camilo Barcia Garcia-Villamil, the Spanish consul in San Francisco, who spent fifteen years working with the EU in Brussels, comments: "The European Union now has increased decision-making capacity. And if American companies want to be active in the European market, they must take account of European rules. We are not imposing our standards. We are making foreign companies respect our standards when they are in Europe."
Such an evolution might influence perceptions of the US abroad, and of the American perception of the problem.
That is less complicated than it sounds.
On one hand, the US might appear as less relevant to some, less all-powerful. On the other, Americans resenting the loss of importance might be tempted to conclude that anti-Americanism is growing.
That’s not necessarily the case, and still this is an essential shift that can’t be ignored.
What do you think?
March 03, 2005
Anti-Americanism not a way to unite Europe
The Miami Herald ran an opinion piece by popular syndicated columnist Carlos Alberto Monater asserting that The EU Must Reject Anti-Americanism.
Monater points to the coinciding events of Spain overwhelmingly voting in favor of the EU constitution (which he says hardly anybody read) and Bush's visit to the Old Continent. The paradox, he says:
"But what should horrify any sensible person is the basic reason brandished by Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero to support the European Constitution: To strengthen a major political entity destined to balance and confront the present power of the United States and the potential development of China."
He goes on to say that Spain's Socialists used the reason of the country's strong Anti-Americanism to solicit votes for a united Europe.
It gets complicated, though, as Monater explores old and new perceptions of power dynamics in the world, and the differences of interpretation of Europe and the United States.
His prescription is that old mental perceptions must be renounced for there to be any progress or cooperation.
"It may be easier to stimulate pan-Europeanism if the anti-American component is used in political campaigns, but that type of aggressive nationalism founded on an unfair rejection of others (''others'' who gave their lives by the thousands to rescue Europe from Nazism) merely shows a profound inability to understand the historic moment in which we find ourselves and the enormous possibilities of collective happiness this moment entails."
EU must reject anti-Americanism
BY CARLOS ALBERTO MONTANER
Shortly after the Spanish referendum on the European Constitution, President Bush landed in the Old Continent. Both events were marked by paradoxes worth exploring.
The referendum was intended to procure the approval of the Spanish people for a lengthy document that must be ratified by the 25 nations that form the European Union. The text -- more of an international treaty than a true Constitution -- had been coordinated by former French President Valery Giscard D'Estaing, with the cooperation of about 100 politicians and European parliamentarians.
The result was a kind of operations manual for the EU, with a sizable sidebar about rights and a certain social-democratic aroma very typical of the type of bureaucratized federation of nations that, little by little, is being forged in Brussels.
A Pyrrhic victory
The Spaniards went to the polls with low spirits and a high degree of ignorance (almost no one read the constitution), but more than 80 percent of those who showed up (42 percent of the registered voters) voted in favor, so the great European ''law of laws'' survived its first trial by fire.
That was important, because rejection by only one country would be enough to bring the whole effort crashing down. The triumph of the Yes vote in Spain, although a Pyrrhic victory, was a good beginning for the long process of electoral consultation and parliamentary debate that looms ahead. Naturally, the big question is: What will happen in Britain, where society has traditionally been suspicious of the political machinations in what Britons call ``the continent.''
So far, it appears there is nothing substantial to criticize. But what should horrify any sensible person is the basic reason brandished by Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero to support the European Constitution: To strengthen a major political entity destined to balance and confront the present power of the United States and the potential development of China.
Zapatero's Socialists used anti-Americanism (which is very strong in Spain) to solicit votes for a united Europe. This was said on Spain's official TV channel by none other than the president of the European Parliament, Josep Borrell, a Socialist engineer from Catalonia, a man with moderate leanings who is, however, a victim of an archaic, sectarian and dangerous way of interpreting international relations.
The great opportunity for peace and prosperity now before the world comes precisely from the disappearance of power blocs after the Cold War and from the unstoppable expansion of the values and methods of government established in the West's cultural perimeter, a huge space that includes nations as dissimilar as Japan, Turkey, Israel, India and South Africa, along with Europe, the United States and Canada.
What's needed, therefore, is not to recreate the old tensions between adversarial fragments but to strengthen the cooperation between countries that respect human and civil rights, make decisions by democratic means and organize their economic transactions according to the market and the existence of private property. In other words, the three fundamental features that give shape and sense to what we call ``the West.''
Somehow, the essence of Bush's message when he stepped on European soil was this: The United States, unlike what Borrell thinks, does not perceive Europe as a different or adversarial force. It does not worry about its union and does not lose sleep over the existence of the euro.
Quite the opposite. The United States believes that the growing cohesion of the Old World is an excellent opportunity to conduct business without costly customs barriers and to fortify the Atlantic Alliance, a military force that is very necessary to prevent massacres and genocides such as the ones the Americans and the Europeans managed to halt in Yugoslavia with difficulty -- or, in the future, to suppress the homicidal spasms of ''mad states'' such as Iran, Syria or North Korea.
It may be easier to stimulate pan-Europeanism if the anti-American component is used in political campaigns, but that type of aggressive nationalism founded on an unfair rejection of others (''others'' who gave their lives by the thousands to rescue Europe from Nazism) merely shows a profound inability to understand the historic moment in which we find ourselves and the enormous possibilities of collective happiness this moment entails.
Today, the ''perpetual peace'' foretold by Kant remains possible, but to achieve it, it is necessary to renounce old mental perceptions. That's the only obstacle looming on the horizon.
March 01, 2005
Is everything okay between the US and the EU?
If you believe this summary of the EU-US meetings in Brussels last week, it is. Published in Die Welt, Germany's third-largest, and conservative, non-tabloid newspaper, this article looks at some points of contention between the US and the EU. For something that is not an opinion piece, it expresses a surprisingly strong belief in the unity between the US and the EU on a number of foreign policy issues. This is a word-for-word translation of the article.
Convergence or Differences?
The bridge across the Atlantic is strong again – at least the US and the EU are giving this impression. In Brussels, George Bush and the European Union demonstrated united forces. Washington and the EU members have officially buried their disagreement over Iraq, but there are still differences of opinion on bigger political questions. However, in some points there is a move towards consensus.
The EU wants to lift the weapons embargo on China, which was put into place fifteen years ago as a result of the suppression of the democracy movement there. Germany and France lead this charge, and only Ireland and Sweden still have reservations. The US is against the removal of sanctions on the grounds of human rights issues. From Washington’s standpoint, the end of the arms embargo would endanger the stability of the region, especially the relationship between China and Taiwan. A possible compromise could come through an agreement to determine which goods are allowed to be exported, and which ones not.
Both the EU and the US are denying Iran’s right to develop nuclear weapons. However, beyond this, there are differences of opinion. Great Britain, Germany and France have been trying to practice diplomacy for months, to convince Tehran to give up its uranium enrichment program. The EU asks proof from Iran that their program is for a peaceful use of the energy. So far, the US has shown no readiness to accept the EU’s line of negotiating. Bush said multiple times in Brussels that the military option is not on the table. Bush called the assertion ridiculous that concrete plans for an attack are ready.
The European Union wants to arrange an international Iraq conference together with the US. At the meeting, aid for Iraq should be coordinated. The EU is ready to organize this conference. From this, Brussels wants to open an EU office in Baghdad. Bush has signaled acceptance that Germany didn’t send any soldiers into Iraq.
The US and the EU share the viewpoint that Syria should be called on to reduce its security forces in Lebanon. The EU – led by France – wants to achieve this goal without imposing trade sanctions. Both the US and EU support a jointly sponsored UN resolution to investigate the murder of former Lebanese president Rafik Hariri.
The Middle East
The EU and the US want to undertake a joint effort to achieve peace and stability in the Middle East. The chance for peace has never been this apparent as now, Bush pointed out. EU council President Jean-Claude Juncker said it is clear “that we’re not going to move forward, unless Americans and Europeans pull together.”
On the question of NATO-reform, Americans and Europeans demonstrated extensive unity. Bush praised NATO as the “most successful alliance in the history of the world” and called for an intensive political dialogue between Europe and the US. On the issue, Gerhard Schroeder has expressed agreement for the most part, over the form there “will be discussions.” In the closing discussions, it appeared that the strategic partnership with the EU should be further developed. Schroeder recently made the suggestion of NATO reform and a strengthening of the direct dialogue between the US and the EU. While the European NATO states are for the idea of direct dialogue, the US rejects this request. In the final communiqué reads – “NATO remains the decisive forum for political security consultations between Europe and America.”
“The US and the EU are again bound to each other,” EU Commission president Jose Barroso said. Bush spoke of a “new era of transatlantic relations.” Belgian host Guy Verhofstadt said, a new understanding should arise out of the disputes of the past. And all political observers are of the opinion that the meeting between the US and the EU has ended the transatlantic ice age.
Bush and French President Jacques Chirac renewed their relationship at a communal dinner. A relationship that suffered during the Iraq war. A California wine and French fries were served at dinner as a sign of reconciliation. Chirac wants to visit the US this year. The bilateral relations to Bush’s second antagonist on the question of Iraq, Gerhard Schroeder, will be at the center of discussions during Bush’s visit to Germany.
From Silvia Ayuso - Is the Spanish “yes” to the EU constitution a “no” to the US?
Spaniards have massively (77%) approved the European constitution in a recent vote. This comes after they withdrew their troops from Iraq, and in the midst of much cooler relationships between Madrid and Washington.
Silvia Ayuso, a journalist for DPA in Madrid, and a friend of WORLDANDUS sent us this letter commenting on the deeper meaning of the vote as a potential indicator of evolving feelings towards the US.
With this we open WORLDANDUS to your contributions. You can comment on the entries, and you can send us longuer letters. We will publish the most relevant ones in the core section of the site.
Silvia Ayuso’s letter:
European leaders have praised the Spain’s vote as a "success" and an example for the countries that still have to decide via referendum over the EU's treaty.
But, what lies behind of that overwhelming approval of the text that's going to give the first Constitution not bounded to a concrete nation but to 25 and over 450 million people?
Could it be read as a stance against the US? The answer is far easier... and even selfish: For most Spaniards, this was a mere question of benefits.
The Eurobarometer states that the Spaniards are the most enthusiastic "pro-Europeans”" of the continent. They feel that their lives have improved enormously since the country entered the EU 1986.
In fact, in the past 19 years, Spain has evolved from an almost third world country to play in the "major league".
So even though 90% of the Spaniards admit that they had not read the constitutional text before going to the polls, they were convinced about voting "yes" as the main parties -the governing socialist and the conservative in the opposition- had promoted.
Still, it should not be forgotten that the abstention rate –over 57 %- was very high, though similar to the last European elections in June 2004. The “no” campaign was very strong too, exposing the many lacks in social matters, welfare and equality that it has.
But maybe this was not that important for most Spaniards compared with the feeling of belonging to a bigger community that has given them so much and that, why not, may represent a stronger position towards the unilateralism of the US.
February 25, 2005
Europe and America: a new era?
"Good morning old Europe, this is the new George Bush". The smiling George Bush sitting next to Jacques Chirac and taking pictures with Jean-Claude Juncker came to "sell" his new image: the image of a peacemaker and a peacekeeper. Most of all, George Bush's visit to Brussels was an invitation to European leaders for a reconciliation, to erase argues of the past and work together for "advancing freedom and peace in the world" and especially the Middle-East. George Bush emphazised the necessity for Europeans and Americans to stay united, despite the differences, on the path for peace, putting the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a priority. On Iran, George W. Bush encouraged the European Union to make sure that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons.
However, President Bush was more firm talking about the Syrian presence in Lebanon. Bush asked Syria to end its occupation of Lebanon. A good point for Bush. Indeed, the death in an explosion in Beiruth of former Lebanese Prime minister, Rafik Hariri, a personnal friend to President Jacques Chirac, made France and the U.S agree on the Syrian issue, at least. Definitely a good start for the new French-American relations.
February 24, 2005
Schröder and Bush, out of politeness...
It was just a quick stop, something like a break on the european tour of George W. Bush. Nothing of interest was said, but his meeting with the German chancellor Gerard Schröder, on February 23rd, was maybe the perfect illustration of today's relationships between Europe and the United States: Stay polite, smile, try to be friends (again) and to forget the dissensions.
Gerard Schröder started with a letter in Bild, the bigest German weekly, beginning with a warm "Welcome to Germany" and "I am delighted with this meeting with president Bush and his wife Laura".
Everything was done to try to forget the dissensions about Iraq.
The French daily Liberation wrote about the meeting: "Symbolically, it was successful. Cordial handshakes, review of German and American soldiers, lunch with 109 guests. The chancellor did not spare his efforts for his host."
But also "the meeting will not appear in the history books" (despite a pact to cut coal emissions in China, India and other developing countries), insisting on the simple exchanges of courtesies on annoying subjects.
At the same time, Mainz, where the meeting took place, looked like a fortress. 71 flights were cancelled at Frankfort International, barges were not allowed around the city, mailboxes were dismantled and the manhole covers were sealed. 7000 people went demonstrating on the streets. Their message was just the opposit of that of Mr Schröder: "Not welcome, Mr Bush!"
February 22, 2005
Nordic Reactions to Bush’s ”Listening Tour”
The overall Nordic reaction to Bush’s trip to Europe has been positive, and his trip and words appreciated, but with some degree of skepticism as to whether this new rhetoric will in fact be followed by a genuine shift in policy. In spite of many common ideals and interests there are still critical disagreements between European and American approaches to Iraq, Iran, China, the International Criminal Court, Kyoto, and the fight against terrorism. Regarding the latter, the difference is most outspoken when it comes to the question of human rights, where the Guantanamo incidents have been widely criticized, especially throughout the Nordic countries.
In Bruxelles, President Bush described his European trip as a “Listening Tour”, which many Europeans have been longing for. This sign has been positively welcomed in Denmark, Sweden, and Finland, where Bush’s trip has been front page stuff followed by editorials in most major newspapers. The large Norwegian newspapers have been more reluctant in discussing Bush’s trip at editorial level, however.
In Denmark, the newspapers Berlingske Tidende, Jyllands-Posten, and Information have all perceived Bush’s speeches and trip as a genuine new signal coming out of Washington. Last month’s elections in Iraq and the new tone in the Middle East have been significant developments in creating more positive sentiments toward the US. Bush’s trip has been perceived as a stretched out hand to Europe. But in order to improve the relationship, both parts need to take action, according to today’s editorial of the semi-right-wing Berlingske Tidende. The US has to listen to its allies, but on the other hand Europe should be able to deliver both political and military contributions, and not just let the US take care of Europe’s security, like it was the case in the Balkans and Iraq. Another right-wing newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, in its editorial recommends European countries to welcome Bush’s stretched out hand, or otherwise the US will continue going it alone.
In Sweden, the reactions have been positive too, but also somewhat critical. The newspaper Dagens Nyheter in today’s editorial writes “Maybe we now have an American counterpart willing to listen, and maybe we also have a European Union with something to say” (my translation).
A more critical news article in Dagens Nyheter covers the demonstrations comprised of 3,500 people from Attac, Greenpeace, Pace, Oxfam, and 86 other organizations in front of the US embassy in Bruxelles Monday and Tuesday. These organizations expressed their dissatisfaction with the US policy on the environment, human rights, peace efforts, and development aid.
In Finland, the newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet in today’s editorial claims that Europe’s and the US’ history is a uniting force, but “you can’t escape the fact that the US sees the world in its own particular way – a way that we find selfish” (my translation). The editorial states that what is worrying in the difference of worldview is if the US’ “black-and-white view of the world” will determine the question of Iran. The editorial continues to claim that the American vision of exporting its own version of “freedom and democracy” to make the world more safe, in Europe is perceived as naïve and illusory (my translation). Finally, the editorial expresses disagreement with the US solution to the world’s security problems in waging a simplified and general war on terrorism, when the causes of terrorism are more multifaceted, rooted in poverty, suppression, inequality, and historical and regional factors.
The Economist (Part I): Special Report on Anti-Americanism
This week's print issue of the Economist (Feb. 19-25, 2005) has a three-page analysis of world perceptions of America and Americans, in the aftermath of two recent polls (one conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, previously discussed here; and another from the BBC). The article is premium content, but the site sometimes runs free-access days sponsored by advertisers (as is the case today, Feb. 22). In any case, it's an intelligent, well-written analysis of the current state of anti-Americanism around the globe -- well worth locating in print if you can’t get it online. (Excerpts inside.)
Though anti-Americanism spans the globe, the phenomenon is not everywhere the same. It mutates according to local conditions, and it is seldom straightforward.
No wonder. Most people's feelings about America are complicated. "America," after all, is shorthand for many other terms: the Bush administration, a Republican-dominated Congress, Hollywood, a source of investment, a place to go to study, a land of economic opportunity, a big regional power, the big world power, a particular policy, the memory of something once done by the United States, a set of political values based on freedom, democracy and economic liberalism, and so on. It is easy to be for some of these and against others, and some may wax or wane in importance according to time, circumstance, propaganda or wishful thinking. So it should be no surprise that some people can hold two apparently contradictory views of America at once. The incandescent third-world demonstrator, shrieking "Down with America!" in one breath and "Can you get me a green card?" in the next, has become a commonplace.
The piece begins with France, which it calls "the locus classicus of anti-Americanism." One source of anti-Americanism here, the author writes, is
the rivalry between France and America, based on their remarkably similar self-images; the two countries both think they invented the rights of man, have a unique calling to spread liberty round the world and hold a variety of other attributes that make them utterly and admirably exceptional. Jealousy also plays a part ... French anti-Americanism tends to rise when France has just suffered a setback of some kind, whether a defeat at the hands of the Germans, a drubbing in Algeria or the breakdown of the Fourth Republic.
The author then goes through many of the world's nations, from Angola to Vietnam, examining the state of anti-Americanism and identifying underlying causes in each:
In Iran, for example, anti-Americanism is a tool exploited by the regime "to divert attention from its many failures."
In Indonesia, it’s "largely an armchair affair."
The piece concludes by pointing out that recent polls show anti-Americanism in many cases may have much to do with the reelection of George W. Bush and policies specific to the current administration, then saying:
That is the, perhaps short-term, view of some non-Americans. It is accompanied by another view, increasingly common among pundits, which holds that America is losing its allure as a model society. Whereas much of the rest of the world once looked to the United States as a beacon, it is argued, non-Americans are now turning away. Democrats in Europe and elsewhere who once thought religiosity, a belief in capital punishment and rank hostility to the United Nations were intermittent or diminishing features of the United States now see them as rising and perhaps permanent. Such feelings have been fortified by Mr Bush’s doctrine of preventive war, Guantánamo, opposition to the world criminal court and a host of other international agreements. One way or another, it is said, people are turning off America, not so much to hate it as to look for other examples to follow—even Europe’s. If true, that could be even more insulting to Americans than the rise in the familiar anti-Americanism of yesteryear.
But where is the world’s navel?
In a quite acid op-ed piece, one of the most respected El País’s editorialists pokes fun at the anti-American discourse, so common in Europe, and in Spain these days.
Hermann Tertsch underlines the pleasure that some people take in giving lessons to the Americans. Isn’t Bush a “rufián” (scoundrel?) Aren’t they “esquisitos” (exquisite?)
In the mean time important things are happening elsewhere. Bush is in Europe, but Latin America looks towards China; Tokyo and Washington just signed an important defense pact related to common threats in the Pacific “the probable new geostrategic center of the world.”
“Our villain was clearly wrong when he thought he could reorganize the world all by himself. We keep being wrong when we think we are its navel.”
Un rufián entre exquisitos
Ya está aquí. Ya tenemos entre nosotros al gran rufián del nuevo siglo, George W. Bush, al que en Madrid unos equiparan a Hitler, y en París, otros al camboyano Pol Pot, el gran villano responsable directo de que los terroristas islamistas asesinen a la población en Irak, de los muertos de hambre en Sudán, de que no se alertara a tiempo del tsunami en Indonesia y de la malaria africana, de robar a los pobres para enriquecer a los ricos. Ha llegado, al iniciar su segundo mandato como gran jefe del Imperio del Mal, con la peor de sus sonrisas porque esta vez no viene a amenazarnos como otras veces, sino -algo mucho más perverso aún- a intentar embaucarnos. Pero aquí, en una Europa cada vez más convencida y autosatisfecha con su papel como Reino exquisito del Bien y exportador neto de bienaventuranzas al mundo entero no nos vamos a dejar engañar. Sabemos que, lejos de haberse caído del caballo, de confesar y expiar sus pecados, errores y perversiones, Bush está aún lejos de aceptar el hecho incontrovertible de que nuestro gran eje de la bonhomía ha tenido y tiene siempre razón cuando se opone frontalmente a él y a su política. Adalides de la franqueza y el talante y el diálogo hasta con los enemigos declarados de la democracia, los europeos sabemos que Bush, igual que Condoleezza Rice -traidora ha de ser siendo negra y mujer en la siniestra corte de allende el Atlántico-, viene a lograr los mismos fines monstruosos con diferentes argucias. Y además no han pedido perdón.
Estos vienen a ser -y perdón por la burda caricatura en la que nada he inventado yo- los trazos gruesos de argumentación que se han prodigado en la prensa europea estos días con motivo de la gira europea del presidente de los EE UU. Los políticos europeos por su parte -nobleza obliga- destacan en público como éxito propio el nuevo tono del presidente norteamericano hacia la Unión Europea, pero con igual énfasis dejan claro quién ha de cambiar su política de forma radical para recibir la bendición de esta gran Tabla Redonda del humanismo que se consideran.
Nadie defiende aquí a la Administración de Bush de unas acusaciones más que fundadas de indigencia política, de sus aberraciones retóricas, de los graves desastres de su gestión en el Irak de posguerra, ni sus reformas fiscales tan ajenas al llamado "conservadurismo compasivo" -detestable término- que en su día propugnó. Muchas serían las rectificaciones justificadas y bienvenidas por todos los que creen que un buen funcionamiento de la alianza transatlántica es vital para la seguridad de EE UU y la UE, y más para la de esta segunda. Pero no deja de tener gracia la autosuficiencia con que responden algunos de los grandes adalides del mundo multipolar a los intentos de la nueva Administración norteamericana de cerrar heridas.
Quienes durante más de dos años han celebrado con mayor o menor disimulo las dificultades de EE UU en Irak y apenas han ayudado simbólicamente a poner fin a una situación que amenaza la seguridad de Europa más aun que a la de EE UU, ahora adoptan una pose de superioridad moral que fácilmente puede volverse contra todos y la imprescindible cooperación en Oriente Medio, ahora que surgen esperanzas tanto en Irak -gracias a los esfuerzos y muertos iraquíes y norteamericanos- como en Palestina, en gran parte gracias a la muerte de aquel adoptado favorito de la Europa biempensante. Los errores, exquisitos humanistas, no son sólo del villano tejano.
Y mientras aquí se da lecciones a Bush, Washington y Tokio han firmado un importante pacto de defensa para hacer frente a amenazas comunes en el Pacífico, probable nuevo centro geoestratégico del mundo, e Iberoamérica mira a China. Está claro que nuestro villano se equivocó cuando se creyó poder reorganizar por su cuenta el mundo. Nosotros nos seguimos equivocando cuando nos creemos su ombligo.
February 18, 2005
Les Guignols, Bush and the World Company
Watching "les Guignols de l'Info", one of the most famous French TV shows, running for more than 15 years, is a very revealing experience regarding the image of George W. Bush and the US "power" in France. But behind the funny jokes lies the basic image that most Europeans, and at first French have of the president and his administration.
"Les Guignols de l'Info" (literally "The puppets clowns of the News") are short news broadcasted every night at 8 p.m on Canal +, a private French channel. In five minutes, they make fun of the "real" news, most of the time with pertinence. Although it is not a totally serious show, most of the observers agree to say that its impact on French opinion is significant.
George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice are the only members of the government who have their own puppets. "Mr Sylvestre", a puppet of Sylvester Stalone dressed up as a soldier, a general, Donald Rumsfeld or the average American, plays every other members. Mr Sylvestre is actually another main character of "Les Guignols de l'Info" : The chief director of the "World Company", something between the Spectre in James Bond movies and the NSA.
Mr Sylvestre, Chief Director of the World Company, and "W".
The concept of the relationship between the president and the World Company is very simple. The World Company governs the country and "W" "plays" president.
George W. Bush's character is an idiot who is only able to say a couple of words ("yeah !", "America" and "papa", sometimes more when he plays parrot). He is a child, playing with cowboys' dolls, small rockets or even nuclear weapons. Every character of the show treats him as a mentally retarded man, and everybody agrees that he is "bloody stupid", and that it is the reason why he is a good American president (easy to manipulate for the World Company).
Mr Sylvestre character is the very embodiment of cynicism. His anthem, "We f... the world", is a adaptation of "We are the world", but in which the world has to be better "for me, and me"... Mr Sylvestre use "beuuhharr" as an "hello", a reference to Rambo, the character he was created for. Mr Sylvestre (and his clones, blonde, dark haired, with glasses or with beard, etc. named John, Bob, Steve, Bill or any typical American name) is however very smart, and knows how to make good deals with the terrorists, win money on poor people, on the pope's business (John Paul II is one of the best trade mark of the world company) or on oil business.
With these two main characters (another famous one is "governator" Schwarzenegger, who is only saying "yeah !" and "Hasta la vista"), the Republicans and the US government is one of the favorite target of "Les Guignols de l'Info". But John Kerry was also ridiculed, as Bill Clinton was. Lets just say that the Democrats looked nicer.
But, of course, this is a caricature...
February 17, 2005
"Spain and Anti-Americanism": A dissenting voice from Spain
"According to the polls, Spain is the most anti-American country in Europe," writes Carlos Alberto Montaner in "España y el antiamericanismo."
Montaner is a Cuban-born author, academic, and journalist who has lived in Madrid (in exile from Fidel Castro's Cuba, one wonders?) since 1970 and contributes to, among other publications, the Miami Herald. He also maintains a webpage of his writings (in Spanish, English, German, Russian, Slovak, Czech, and Polish) at www.firmaspress.com.
In this article from June 2004, Montaner considers the historical and contemporary causes of anti-Americanism in Spain, then concludes:
The Spanish democratic left should recognize that it's absurd to continue attacking an ally vital in all terrains. It's time they understood that we live in a cultural and economic space that is absolutely interrelated, in which we all benefit from the successes of others and suffer from their failures. The need to understand that to be anti-American is also a form of being anti-Spanish...
He's right that U.S.-Spain relations aren't exactly at their zenith these days. In an October 2004 poll, Spain was the only country surveyed where fewer than half of respondents had "a favourable or unfavourable opinion of Americans," and only 5 percent said events during the past few years had improved their opinion of the United States. And current Prime Minister José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero famously irked the Bush administration by withdrawing Spanish troops from Iraq after his Socialist party swept into power in March 2004 in the wake of an al Qaeda attack on trains in Madrid that killed some 200 people.
But in "Spain and Anti-Americanism," Montaner traces Spanish anti-American sentiment much further back than the Iraq war, identifying its roots in 19th-century tensions between the U.S. and the Spanish right, which were then "reinforced" during the Spanish-American war, as well as in the Spanish left's resentment of the U.S. for not taking a harder line on Spain's Fascist dictator Francisco Franco (during the Cold War, the U.S. cozied up to Spain -- which was seen as strategically important in large part since it controlled access to the Mediterranean Sea).
Montaner takes a hard line of his own toward the Spanish left, arguing that U.S.-Spanish relations were vital to the country's transition to democracy following Franco's death in 1975, and suggesting that Spain cannot afford to turn its back on the United States.
Excerpts from the article (translated from the original Spanish):
According to the polls, Spain is the most anti-American country in Europe. As a consequence, the electoral strategy of the Spanish Socialists during the recent elections to the European Parliament was based on trying to demonstrate that their conservative adversaries were pro-American.
The origin of this negative perception is in the intense campaign launched by the Spanish right in the 19th century, when it identified the United States as a country that was Protestant, the wicked inheritor of the "perfidious Albion," materialistic, masonic, ignorant, dominated by the "Chicago sausages" or by the "Jewish bank." To this ridiculous stereotype, reinforced by the War of 1898 [The Spanish-American War] and partially in effect still today, was added the Marxist vision after the Bolshevik Revolution, and began to describe the United States as a soulless, imperialistic group of multinational corporations dedicated to the exploitation of weak countries and the looting of workers.
The truth is that, contrary to the opinion of the left, the close ties between the Americans and Francoism contributed decisively to the subsequent democratization and development of Spain. The Spanish military, victors of the Spanish Civil War, most of whom were adherents of Fascism, were influenced by the American military, formed from the cult of democratic values, which became a general trial for the subsequent entry of Spain into NATO. Also, the economists and functionaries of Francoism, at the time submerged in the Fascist mythology of economic nationalism, autarchy, and state-controlled economy (as dictated by the right's own Socialist ideology), had access to an American perspective based on the free market and openness to the exterior.
It's unfair, then, to attribute to the United States the kind of complicity with Francoism that supposedly retarded the establishment of democracy. On the contrary, it's very likely that the democratic tendency of King Juan Carlos, vital during the transition, was reinforced by his own pro-American attitude. And it's certain that, following the death of Franco, every time Washington had the opportunity to make its weight felt, it did so in the direction of fomenting the incorporation of Spain to the international mechanisms integrated by democratic nations, be it the European Union or NATO, given that American diplomats were convinced that [Spanish philosopher and essayist José] Ortega y Gasset was correct when he stated that "Spain is the problem, and Europe the solution."
It's a demagogic error on the part of the Socialists to insist on anti-Americanism as a formula for attracting voters. Just as conservative politicians – at least the controlling wing – buried their phobias toward Washington, the Spanish democratic left should recognize that it's absurd to continue attacking an ally vital in all terrains. It's time they understood that we live in a cultural and economic space that is absolutely interrelated, in which we all benefit from the successes of others and suffer from their failures. The need to understand that to be anti-American is also a form of being anti-Spanish, just as being anti-European is a foolish way of being anti-American.
Full text of article (Spanish): http://www.firmaspress.com/388.htm
Recent Montaner articles in English:
Election shows desire for peace
American strategists believe that the consolidation of a democratic state by Palestinians will contribute to the stability of the entire region and that, in due course, that climate of peace will lead to a radical reduction of the levels of anti-Americanism.
Zapatero's dangerous diplomacy
The first consequence of Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's foreign policy was to chill Spain's relations with Washington.
February 06, 2005
President George W. Bush -- Giant or Devil?
'It's hard for the States to do anything right these days," writes Der Spiegel Online (English). "The trans-Atlantic relationship is in shambles and Bush once again seems to be on the war path. Oh yeah, his domestic policies are a catastrophe as well."
Following that, a roundup of German newspapers' views of the State of the Union and newly confirmed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit to Europe (more inside).
The article continues:
For the conservative Die Welt, the much talked of trans-Atlantic rift is not only a problem of policy, but of perspective. While the US still sees itself as a "city on a hill" and wants to bring its vision to the rest of the world, Europe has long surpassed such idealism and in fact is "fed up" with huge broken promises and "lost visions," the paper says. One oddity of current American diplomacy, notes the paper, is that "on the outside, Rice won't recognize just how deep problems with Paris and Berlin are." Such aloofness doesn't necessarily sit well with a Europe that not only wants recognition, but a few pats and strokes ...
The tabloid Bild, on the other hand, is full of praise for Condi … It insists the visit is also a sign that America realizes the strategic importance of friendship with the European Union's largest and most powerful nation. "The visit from Bush's superwoman is significant and typically American," Bild commentator Joerg Quoos writes ...
The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung casts its eye on Iran, Syria and Bush's aggressive foreign policy. The headline for its commentary, "A Cowboy Without a Horse," gives a hint of the paper's tone. Although the US military is already overloaded with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the paper says Bush isn't likely to stop his bullying any time soon ...
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, itself a bastion of conservative thinking, focuses on Bush's recent State of the Union Address, in which he described his plan for reforming Social Security … The plan, says the paper, proves one thing: "(Bush) is not a conservative in the traditional sense… He is, to be honest, a radical -- an infuriating radical in his goals and far from squeamish in his methods" ...
The financial daily Handelsblatt likewise rails against such a plan, saying "What's particularly noteworthy about (Bush's) proposals are the things he has left out" ...
The Sueddeutsche Zeitung offers the day's most extreme assessment of Bush under the headline "Giant or Devil." In it, the paper argues, "Bush does not want to be a faceless manipulator of power, rather he aspires to something greater: He sees himself as a revolutionary who wants to turn his nation inside out and change the world."
February 01, 2005
German commentary on Bush's inaugural speech
This is the actual photo of Bush that the paper ran with the story, making the hand signal for the Texas Longhorns, but what most German readers would interpret as devil horns.
This commentary by Kurt Kister appeared a couple weeks ago in the Suddeutsche Zeitung, a daily newspaper published in Munich. It’s a pretty good place to start in looking at German attitudes towards the United States.
He starts with a quote from the current president’s father from his inaugural address in 1989 – “A president is neither prince or pope, and I don’t seek a window into men’s souls.”
The writer heard in the younger Bush’s speech something far different from his father’s sentiments, namely what has come to be known as the hawkish or neocon approach. The article goes on to analyze George W. Bush’s speech and put it in perspective for his German readers. I would describe the tone as something along the lines of the American president is taking the gloves off for his second term, and the rest of the world should be afraid.
Here are some translated excerpts (in italics):
These days in America political rhetoric, especially on big occassions, is much more elevated than in Germany. Here pathos is often regarded as ridiculous and invoking the Fatherland, God, or a national destiny is considered suspicious. If Gerhard Schroeder found that kind of language in a speech, he would tell his speechwriter to take it out.
In America it’s different. [people expect that kind of language at an inauguration]…
But, Kister goes on, Bush’s rhetoric isn’t just typical grandstanding. He’s serious about what he’s saying and he offers some specifics about his worldview.
This worldview is the basis of the President’s politics and therefore has great meaning for people between San Francsico and Boston, but also for everyone between Berlin, Baghdad and Peking...
One day, he [Bush] continues “this untamed fire of freedom will reach the darkest corners of our world."...
The writer then introduces the English term “manifest destiny” to the audience, an expression that I imagine few non-Americans would be familiar with. Manifest destiny is a philosophy from the mid-19th century, that encouraged American movement westward.
150 years later, it is exactly this ideology that Bush recalls - the spread of freedom. This time, however, it’s not about Kansas and Kentucky any more but about the whole world.
The author then brings up doubt that the president would want to, or be able to, change things in Saudi Arabia, even though it does many of the things Bush says he stands against.
This is how the piece ends -
If and when the untamed fire of freedom will reach Riyadh or Tehran is uncertain. But just as certain, as troubling as it is, is that George W. Bush really believed everything he said on the Capital on January 20th, 2005.
Germans have some tough decisions to make about what their involvement in Iraq is going to be.