Anti-Semitism is largely taboo in Germany. But in certain precincts it lingers on the far left as well as the right. Today Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung features a story by Mechthild Kuepper that delves into the tenebrous recent history of the successor to East Germany's Communist party. It is a political party known as Die Linke—The Left. It is stridently unrepentant about East Germany and favors Marxist economics. It also has a certain cachet among those—there is never a shortage in modern Germany—who wish to protest the iniquities of capitalism and the political establishment (which itself is wholly committed to a social-market economy). Die Linke, or the Left's, longtime member Gregor Gysi has gone to some lengths to try and distance the party from anti-Semitism. But it is not quite working. One of the party's leaders, Sahra Wagenknecht, is an admirer of old-time communism. She continues to refuse to recognize Israel's right to exist. Not that Israel should really care about what this twerp chooses to recognize. But it is also the case that a number of members of Die Linke refused to applaud when Shimon Peres addressed the Bundestag. Ditto for a measure mourning the 1938 Reichskristallnacht. Israel's behavior is always their excuse. This is the inverse of those politicians who try to use the Holocaust to explain away any untoward Israreli action. The members of Die Linke appear to be historically tone-deaf. Addled as well. The reasons for this historical amnesia are not far to seek. The East German Communist party purported to be the anti-fascist opposition to the allegedly Nazi-infested Federal Republic. The truth was that Nazis were amply represented in East German political and military institutions. It is also the case, as Jeffrey Herf has copiously demonstrated, that East Germany conducted anti-Semitic show trials. This sordid history has never been fully confronted in Germany. But it has a bearing on how Germany acts towards Israel. Israel, it seems safe to say, is not the most popular country in Germany or even Europe. It is a pity that some elements of the Left embrace both antagonism toward Israel and a refusal to face up to Germany's shameful past. At some point even Die Linke will recognize that it must rid itself of the suspicion of anti-Semitism—a grave charge that the head of the Central Council of Jews has now lodged against the party in an essay in the Suddeutsche Zeitung. In fact that point is long overdue. The party should face up to its record—as well as East Germany's—immediately.
Europeans, exasperated by Greece's profligacy, have taken to calling the situation there "real existing socialism," the same phrase that the old communist bloc used to describe itself. Prime Minister George Papandreou is seen as a Hamlet who could not even successfully fall on his sword. Meanwhile, the Greeks, or at least a motley crew of anarchists and members of the bloated state sector, are protesting any change. Is there a silent majority in Greece that supports reforms? Or is this the true fin-de-siècle? The end of the twentieth century, in financial misery, much as the nineteenth century ended in warfare in 1914? Perhaps Greece will in fact expose the weakness of Europe or force the creation of a smaller Eurozone. The Guardian, for example, is calling for Greece to exit (the British are happy they never entered, though the weakness of the pound spells the threat of inflation as imports become more expensive and the British economy, in any case, appears to be going nowhere). That would spell the end of the dream of Maastricht, a supra-European state that could stand toe to toe with America, that would ensure that it is no longer an economic power and political dwarf. The political class has gone into overdrive to reach a solution. But European leaders keep squabbling over what it might or should be. Most European leaders are skeptical, of course, about Greece's ability to alter its ways, which is why they keep trying to tie any further subventions to actual tax hikes and cuts in the state sector. European finance ministers meeting in Luxembourg are trying to hammer out some kind of compromise on the vexed question of how much responsibility the banks that lent Greece all the lucre in the first place should now assume. Chancellor Angela Merkel and Wolfgang Schauble pushed for banks to step up, while the Deutsche Bank is resisting. There is something both impressive and infuriating about the stance of the banks. Merkel must be fuming over their impudence. But this crisis is also a manifestation of the ratings agencies, which are viewed with disquiet and anger, as culpable for the financial crisis in 2008. In truth the most powerful person in Germany may be Deutsche Bank head Josef Ackermann. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Timothy Garton Ash worries that Europe as a political and economic project is cracking up. The generation influenced by World War II—Helmut Kohl, Jaques Chirac—is gone. Relations between France and Germany are cool. But it is always possible that this crisis will serve to forge a new Europe. It will either emerge stronger or be smashed on the anvil of the Greek crisis.
America is hated abroad. Today's International Herald Tribune features a long article on Pakistan that provides a reminder of why it is hated. Gen. Kayani has apparently been touring military installations in the wake of the humiliating snatch of Osama bin-Laden. "We can't" was his response when queried about why Pakistan should trust America. Pakistan is not alone. The perception abroad that America is a willful superpower bent on imposing its will is not confined to Pakistan. In Germany, America continues to be viewed as the most dangerous power in the world. Now the Czechs are saying no to basing an early warning system against ballistic missiles in Prague. Geoffrey Wheatcroft cogently asks why we should even continue to have NATO exist. Why indeed? Western Europe is unable, or unwilling, to field significant military forces. It is also not clear who the enemy might be. Iran? The mullahs have no real beef with Europe. They want to engage in economic trade with it. If the United States could afford to pay for all of its commitments, including the defense of western Europe, that would be fine. But it can't. So NATO will continue to stumble along. America will continue to reel from the weight of its defense outlays. And it will continue to be abused by so-called allies such as Pakistan, which resents its dependence on Uncle Sam. Gratitude is rarely a category in international politics. But Americans would do well to recognize why such resentment exists. It may not be because we try to do too little, but too much.
Is there a silver lining in the collapse of Greece for America? Actually, there could be silver linings. One might be the collapse of the Euro and the European Union. Looked at from a realist perspective, it would perhaps not be a bad thing to see a big economic contender go under as a unified block. America would continue to play off European countries against each other. But perhaps the most salutary lesson is the example of chaos in Athens. The cradle of democracy is rocking wildly. Paul Pillar today excoriates the GOP for playing fast and loose with the budget. But what happens if outlays are not cut? Many Americans, especially independent voters, are frightened that Greece is an augury for the United States. Might not the truth be that the collision between the Democrats and Republicans is the necessary condition for reaching the painful sacrifices that will be necessary? Movement is already clear on the foreign policy front, where the GOP is returning, haltingly, to its older stance of restraint in foreign affairs. Pillar is right to indicate that the GOP compiled grotesque deficits during the Bush era. But perhaps it is starting to reinvent itself. If a genuine compromise is reached on both spending and taxes, it will be a potent sign that America is not headed the way of Greece. None of this, of course, is much consolation for Europe, which is tying itself into knots to relieve Greece. It needs to find a Grecian formula. And America needs to ensure that it never comes to that pass.
The GOP presidential primary is doing something dangerous. It is adopting a serious tone. At least if yesterday's debate in New Hampshire is anything to go by. The candidates were fairly subdued. Tim Pawlenty and others even backed off of their attacks on presumptive frontrunner Mitt Romney.
It could have devolved into an ideological squabbling match. But it did not. Rather, Michele Bachmann, the lioness of the right, announced, "we need everybody to come together because we're going to win." Bold words. Are they true?
Obama could end up in a mess of trouble. The economy is floundering. The peace process with Israel is none at all. Syria is going up in flames. Afghanistan is a mess (what else is new?). And Obama's former Wall Street backers are disaffected with him. So are many of his followers on the left, as he has steadily reneged on a number of his campaign promises.
But to assume that the GOP primary is merely a coronation process would be a mistake. Obama remains an effective campaigner. And he likes to pull rabbits out of his hat at the last minute.
Still, it seems clear that several GOP contenders such as Bachmann and Rick Santorum are running for the vice presidential spot, confident that it could well be worth a lot in 2012. Hence the politesse in New Hampshire. So far, the GOP has a far stronger hand than it might have anticipated even a few weeks ago. But then again, if the next jobs report shows real progress, the race could get reshuffled again. The closer an actual primary looms, the more bellicose the contenders are likely to become.
"I only support Republicans," former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu announced to the Los Angeles Times, when asked about whether or not he would support John Huntsman for the presidency. Strong words. But are they justified? Or is the GOP heading toward the breakdown lane? Conventional wisdom is that the GOP could lurch out of control. Independent voters, so the argument goes, will be turned off by rightwing orthodoxy. Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty are thus making a mistake by discovering their inner conservative. On a host of issues they are jettisoning positions. Pawlenty, for example, now opposes cap and trade, which he once vehemently supported. Now he opposes it. Vehemently. Lots of politicians change their positions during primaries. But the conversions are coming unusually thick and fast this year. But they do not necessarily spell doom. This could be one of those elections where it is more about the president than it is about his opponent. In other words, it is about President Obama's record, which is not looking so hot when it comes to the economy. Obama will try to shift the focus to the Bush era and tie his opponent to it. But Reagan was able successfully to run against Carter-Mondale in 1984 because he could say he had overcome a bad economy. Obama cannot. At least so far. So it may come down to Obama's charisma versus the economy. The actual Republican candidate may be less important. Obama is vulnerable, especially now that his most fervent supporters have seen their enthusiasm dim over his flip-flops.
The Obama administration's prosecution of former National Security Agency senior manager Thomas A. Drake for leaking classified information about data collection is collapsing. No one would argue that the government shouldn't prosecute violations of handling classified information. But the case against Drake, which relies on the dubious provisions of the 1917 Espionage Act, has always been unpersuasive. It is more redolent of an effort to suppress and punish a legitimate whistle-blower than to apprehend a genuine culprit.
Drake's concerns about privacy violations by the NSA and the Bush administration appear to be fully justified. Senators Mark Wyden and Mark Udall, who are members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, are sounding alarms about the extent of spying on American citizens under the Patriot Act. According to Wyden, "I want to deliver a warning this afternoon: When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry.”
The Drake case is cause for perturbation as well. Drake blew the whistle on an expensive and failed NSA data-sifting program called Trailblazer that was promoted by then-NSA head Michael Hayden. The NSA was embarrassed by the appearance of stories in the Baltimore Sun showcasing its bungling. It went after Drake. The prosecutors at the Justice Department are guilty of gross overreach: apparently, they even contemplated charging Drake with being part of a conspiracy. Shades of the Moscow purge trials!
Now, as the Washington Post reports, federal prosecutors are going to withdraw documents that were supposedly going to prove that Drake was guilty of unlawfully possessing classified documents. Even though Drake is not accused of being a spy--he supplied a reporter with information that he believed demonstrated that the NSA was overreaching in its spying efforts--he is being targeted under the Espionage Act. But the act has proven an unwieldy instrument, as the case against former AIPAC official Stephen Rosen demonstrates as well--the Justice Department ended up asking the charges to be dismissed.
It's hardly a secret that the Bush administration overreached in its rush to compensate for its failure to detect the 9/11 plot. Some of the plotters were themselves ensconced in a motel near the NSA in Laurel, MD for a few days. The NSA worked overtime to try and get up to speed. Now the government, as Jane Mayer shows in the New Yorker, has tried to paint Drake as a subversive enemy:
The government argues that Drake recklessly endangered the lives of American servicemen. “This is not an issue of benign documents,” William M. Welch II, the senior litigation counsel who is prosecuting the case, argued at a hearing in March, 2010. The N.S.A., he went on, collects “intelligence for the soldier in the field. So when individuals go out and they harm that ability, our intelligence goes dark and our soldier in the field gets harmed.”
This is rhetoric straight out of the Bush administration. Whether Drake acted appropriately or not is one question. But the notion that he endangered national security is specious. Drake shouldn't be pilloried for trying to alert the public to egregious shortcomings at the NSA. Instead, his concerns should have been taken seriously. And still should.
The report of Senate Democrats about the failure of nation-building in Afghanistan is no surprise at all. At least to anyone who has occasionally looked at the front pages, or home pages, of a daily newspaper in the past few years. The billions that the Bush and Obama administration distributed to Afghanistan have mostly been wasted or feathered the pockets of local officials. What else is new?
The so-called Performance-Based Governors Fund, for example, is apparently distorting local economies, overwhelming them with cash and inadvertently fostering corruption. Wars lead to corruption and Afghanistan was corrupt before America ever entered it. The grim saga of America's intervention into Afghanistan goes back to the 1970s, of course, when Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, had the bright idea of providing Afghan rebels with stinger missiles and the like to extrude the Soviet Union from that forbidding landscape. It worked. Up to a point. Then the mujh, as they were known, began to aim their Enfield rifles and more at their quondam benefactor.
In today's Washington Post, Henry Kissinger calls for a negotiated political settlement. Any agreement is likely to amount to a face-saving one, as America seeks to extricate itself from the morass. But whether Obama can fully pull out is questionable. A reserve force will probably have to be left behind to prevent the country from completely collapsing or reverting to Taliban rule.
For his part, Obama has carefully kept his defined aims in Afghanistan quite limited. He's never talked about turning it into a shining democracy. Instead, he's insulated himself from criticism on the right by ramping up the number of troops serving in the area as the prelude to downsizing the war effort. His strategy may work—in America. As the New York Times reported yesterday, Rep. Walter B. Jones, previously regarded as a heretic by many Republicans for his opposition to the Iraq War, is gaining new respectability in conservative circles for his opposition to big government spending on Afghanistan. The only Republican candidate who has unequivocally endorsed the war is former Sen. Rick Santorum. As the Daily Caller observed,
there’s a growing anti-war trend in the GOP base that might tip primary votes away from candidates that vociferously champion the Afghan campaign. That trend surfaced last month when 26 House Republicans voted for a measure that would accelerate troop withdrawals from Afghanistan.
But if Afghanistan devolves into chaos in 2012, then Obama's campaign for the presidency will as well. After ten years and billions, Afghanistan continues to bedevil America. And that's not changing any time soon.
In his recent book Hitlers November 9, the German historian Joachim Riecker shows how deeply the memory of Germany's surrender in 1918 impregnated everything that Hitler did. He traces the origins of the Holocaust to Hitler's fury at the so-called November criminals who had allegedly betrayed the German nation, foremost among them the Jews. Hitler, as Riecker underscores, never believed that Germany had lost World War I. Instead, the Jews had engineered a betrayal. Hence Hitler's malignant obsession, to the very last day of his life, with eliminating the Jews who had cheated Germany of victory in 1918. Now, as the New York Times reports, Hitler's first anti-Semitic letter is headed toward the Wisenthal center in Los Angeles. Presumably, the letter is genuine—it was purchased for $150,000 from a private dealer. The tale of Hitler memorabilia, fake and real, probably deserves its own history.
The letter is known as the Gemlich Letter. Hitler was serving in the Reichswehr after World War I as an anti-Bolshevik agitator. Bavaria had been a hotbed of socialist and communist beliefs after the war and was briefly a socialist republic under the leadership of one Kurt Eisner. In fact, Germany itself was in revolt, which is why the army, fearful of chaos, prodded Kaiser Wilhelm to abdicate. This was a mistake. He fled to Holland by train, an ignominous flight if there ever was one. But Germany, a deeply patriarchal society, was left leaderless. It was not the last time that the army would make a spectacular political misjudgment. In fact, the army, probably more than any other institution, deserves the blame for Hitler's rise.
The army—specifically Capt. Karl Mayr, who soured on his quondam protege and later ended up dying in the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945—tapped Hitler to speak to groups of soldiers and urged him to join the fledgling NSDAP. His oratorical skills came naturally; this was the great discovery. As Thomas Mann once observed, Hitler couldn't do much of anything—he couldn't drive a car, father a child, and so on. But the one thing he could do was rant. In his memoirs, Ernst "Putzi" Hanfstaengl recalls the mesmerizing effect that Hitler had from the outset. Somehow he was able to assimilate and spew forth the resentments and hatreds of an entire country, leading it into the abyss, from which it emerged after World War II, a true pariah among nations.
In the letter, addressed to one Adolf Gemlich, also engaged in propaganda work for the army, Hitler supplied what the Times calls "clarification" about "the Jewish Question." Hitler explained that the Jewish "race" had to be "removed" from Germany. This is important because it indicates that anti-Semitism was always at the core of his Weltanschauung. Some historians like to dispute this. In addition, there is much controversy about when the Final Solution was initiated. Was it a haphazard program, as some historians claim, or something that he planned all along. In addition, did Hitler become an anti-Semite during his days as a bum in Vienna? Or did he become one in Munich?
Now that the Holocaust has become history, such documents will assume an increasing importance, particularly in the face of the deniers who continue to proliferate in the Arab world (Mr. Ahmadinejad for one) and elsewhere. The document offers a reminder of the power of ideology to transcend mundane fact. And its tenacity.
There is something about Sarah Palin that betokens greatness. She has now instructed the American people on her sprawling "One Nation" bus tour that Paul Revere was actually warning the British that they should be on their toes during his famous midnight ride in 1775: "You know what, I didn't mess up about Paul Revere," Palin said. "I know my American history."
Actually, she shouldn't be so defensive. If she didn't make these mistakes, people wouldn't know if it was her or her doppelganger that she produced the other day that was speaking. Palin's genius is that she is so flawed. It's only elites that know that Paul Revere was warning Americans that the British were coming, not the British that the Americans were on the march. Palin also offered an interesting interpretation of the meaning of the Statue of Liberty. It's apparently a warning, so Palin claims, against socialism. From France. Yes, France. The country that invented the slogan "property is theft."
Details, details, details. Palin did have the grace to apologize to Mitt Romney for horning in on his big announcement of his candidacy in New Hampshire: ""I apologize if I stepped on any of that PR that Mitt Romney needed or wanted that day." Wait a second. Is that actually an apology, as the Los Angeles Times states? Not quite. In fact, it sounds rather snippy—as though she herself doesn't perpetually need or want PR.
But it's certainly hard not to think that Palin might end up helping Romney. Her sheer wackiness, along with other members of the GOP field, suggests that he might well benefit from the contrast. When the lunatics are in control of the asylum, or trying to gain control, it can never hurt to pose as the sober voice. Romney's sobriety, his middle-of-the-road qualities, might pay off. If Romney plays his cards right, in other words, the contrast with Palin could redound to his benefit. So far, he's benefitted by refusing to engage with her at all.
The broader question is whether the GOP is willing to accept him as its candidate. The stumbling block for Romney, of course, remains his religion. Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann would probably siphon off votes from him in the primaries and it's hard to see the evangelical base voting for him. Meanwhile, Herman Cain is bashing Rep. Michele Bachmann for offering prayers during her speech last night before the Faith and Family Conference in Washington, DC, calling it the "ultimate pander."
The fireworks have begun. Any worries that this is a lackluster GOP field are absurd. It's going to be one of the most uninhibited brawls that the GOP has experienced in decades.