Syndicate content

Jacob Heilbrunn

Europe's Embattled Youth

Europe is not experiencing a crisis. It faces crises. One such is soaring youth unemployment in southern Europe. The headline in the Berlin Tagesspiegel today says it all: "In Spain and Greece a good education is not sufficient to get a job. That could harm Germany as well." Indeed it could. Germany is stuck between the Scylla of massive Greek debts and the Charbydis of its dependence on exports, first and foremost to the rest of the European Union. Over 60 percent head to its European brethren, the former state minister for foreign policy, Helmut Schaefer, pointed out to me yesterday. Schaefer thinks many Germans are being shortsighted about their dependence on a healthy southern Europe, preferring to castigate them for their alleged indolence. In Germany unemployment continues to go down. In Spain, by contrast, 44 percent of those under the age of twenty-five do not have a job. Greece, Portugal and France also face similar problems. Apparently the is a boom in learning German in Spain, the Taesspiegel's Corinna Visser reports. A kind of brain drain could take place between Germany and the economically precarious countries on Europe's southern rim. Would Germany itself become more "southernized" and less dour? In any case, the rise in unemployment will surely have bad political consequences. In Austria, for example, the far right Freedom Party hovers at around 27 percent in polls. Anti-immigrant sentiment is on the rise. France is a likely candidate as well. Europeans are quaking at the arrival of refugees from the conflict in Libya. The old cozy days of blather about European unity, in short, have come to an end. The EU has hit a rough patch. Only Germany can save it. Whether the Germans will react quickly enough to help out their embattled neighbors is an open question. So far this has not been Euroep's finest hour. Instead, it's weaknesses have been ruthlessly exposed.

Southern Europe

Is the GOP Turning Isolationist?

John McCain is unhappy with the Republican presidential contenders. "There has always been an isolationist strain," said McCain, in the GOP. He is right. There has. In the 1930s the GOP fervently opposed entry into any European war, as did much of the country. After World War II, Senator Robert Taft opposed entry into NATO. No entangling alliances was the watchword of the party, though some have argued that it was really an Asia-first policy that Republicans such as California Senator William Knowland wanted to pursue in the early 1950s. In any case it wasn't until the election of Dwight Eisenhower that the party went mainstream on foreign policy. But what about today? Does McCain have it right? Are Mitt Romney and others flinching from the freedom crusade? And does that make them isolationists? What is really taking place in the GOP is a showdown between the neoconservative view of the world that has dominated the party—a Wilsonian freedom crusade—and the more traditional view of using American military power in a restrained fashion—much as Defense Secretary Robert Gates is advocating. Gates has, of course, conveyed his deep unease about the idea of further wars of choice. Does McCain think Gates is representative of an isolationist strain as well? The surprising thing is not that Romney and others are calling upon Afghans to shoulder more of the burden. It is that it took the GOP until now to take another look at the costs and burdens of what amounts to a prolonged exercise in nation building. Right now a race is taking place between President Obama and his rivals to detach themselves from Afghanistan after a decade of war. To stake out a position to the right of Obama, as Tim Pawlenty is doing, may well be politically suicidal. It is interesting that the isolationist charge is seldom hurled at Obama. Instead such terms as cowardice and so forth are hurled at Democrats. When Republicans suggest curtailing America's posture abroad, then they often get tarred with the isolationist tag. In each case history is the culprit. Democrats are wary of being accused of being soft on national security, dating back to Vietnam—a charge that Obama is trying to avoid. Republicans have the legacy of the true isolationist sentiments that they once espoused. There are undoubtedly Republicans such as Rep. Paul who see nothing wrong with what amounts to a policy of fortress America. But it seems far-fetched to believe that Romney and others, in raising doubts about Afghanistan, are going down that road as well. Judging by the latest polls, the electorate isn't in an isolationist mood. It is simply weary of warfare as the main expression of American foreign policy.


Anti-Semitism on the German Left

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.

History, Ideology

The End of Socialist Greece

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.

Banking, Currency

Why America is Hated

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.

United States

The Greek Financial Catastrophe

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 Debate

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.

The Presidency
United States

Should the GOP Move Right?

"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.

United States

The Obama Administration's Leak Case Falls Apart

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.

United States

The Myth of Rebuilding Afghanistan

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.


United States

Follow The National Interest

April 24, 2014