Socialist Takes Over (a Tiny Part of) America

Congratulations to the State of Vermont, which just elected the United States’ first-ever sBernie_sandersocialist senator, Bernie Sanders:

"Bernard Sanders (I) [Independent] is the first self-proclaimed socialist to become a U.S. senator. The eight-term congressman, known to voters as Bernie, ran on a populist platform, promising to empower farmers, veterans, the elderly and the indigent. […]

While campaigning, Sanders told reporters that the United States should learn from the democratic socialist models in Northern Europe."

Appropriately, Sanders’ opponent was a "near-billionaire" businessman who a ctually did call Sanders a "red." You can visit Sanders’ website, Bernie.org, here. Don’Vermont_1t miss the socialist video game. Who says they’re all humorless radicals?

Vermont is sort of like the Saarland of the USA, so don’t read too much into this story…

European Coverage of the Iraq War

The folks over at Atlantic Review quote an assessment of the Globalist: the American media shows "an increasing unwillingness to tell hard truths when it really matters." The Globalist was writing in 2005 — now, I’d say the tendency is increasing.

Still, having followed coverage of Iraq and Afghanistan in the German, French, and American press, I’d say that reports about the Iraq war in the European press are notably more detailed and more unvarnished than in the U.S. press. A few examples among dozens I could cite. A report like CBS correspondent Lara Logan’s — on the vicious battle for Haifa Street in Baghdad — was not broadcast on American television because the producer deemed it "too graphic for an evening news audience." I’ve seen more graphic reports on mainstream European TV stations. In December, the German magazine Stern (if I recally correctly) featured a long article about an American soldier who was grievously burned in Iraq, complete with several large color photos of his reconstructed body and face. This morning, I heard, on German public radio, a voice from a recent American anti-war rally in which a mother talked about taking delivery of the body of her son, "with some of its parts missing, and burned to charcoal." I doubt that soundbite made the television news in the U.S.

Of course, you find reports of war casualties in the American media. However, compared to Europe, there are fewer of them, and they almost never show graphic pictures of dead civilians or mutilated or burned soldiers. One exception was the CNN special Combat Hospital. It’s the sort of gritty, bare-bones documentary that is a staple of the European media. It was, however, hailed as a ‘special event’ by CNN. For whatever reason — "good taste," timidity, or prudery — American media do not display to the American public the full human cost of American military engagements. In particular, they shy away from pictures or videos of corpses or severely wounded people. If you want a gritty, no-holds-barred view of life in Iraq, you’ll have to turn outside of the mainstream, to people like Nir Rosen.

This difference in coverage may be an underestimated factor in explaining the divergent attitudes to war in Europe and the USA. The average European is quite concerned about what’s going on in Iraq because he or she routinely watches graphic, blood-spattered news coverage of the aftermath of bombings and battles, and hears interviews with ordinary Iraqis, who describe in detail the perils and miseries of everyday life. I think it’s safe to say that European journalists view it as central to their mission to give their publics an unvarnished and brutally realistic picture of what war means. You can find this coverage on the evening news; you don’t have to seek it out in specialist journals. (It also helps that European journalists tend to have better access and more "intercultural competence" than American journalists).

Until recently, Americans displayed much less urgent attention to the war. This often made the statements of American officials and people in "man in the street" interviews seem callous. The European might have been thinking: "If those people are seeing the same images of death and mutilation that I’m seeing, and hearing the same detailed, first-person Iraqi accounts of grief, frustration and terror, why don’t they care more?"

The answer is, they weren’t seeing the same images. Whether they would have cared more is another question entirely…

Non-Bear Shaped Gummi Bears

Sex toys have been a topic on this blog before, albeit in the context of taxation. Now they’re back: a trip to the store turns into a journey of erotic self-discovery when Harald Martenstein discovers (G) that his local department store now sells sex toys.

Special Offer

Harald Martenstein discovers an “erotic goods” section in the department store

I’m not really a lady. That’s why I rarely visit the ladies’ underwear department in the Karstadt department store. However, it came to pass one day that I got lost. I wanted to go to the CD section. Do not buy the so-called new Beatles CD Love, by the way, it’s horrible. I didn’t find the CD-section. Instead, I was suddenly standing before a gigantic, knobby dildo. The term dildo denotes a stylized recreation of the male reproductive organ. It is designed for leisure pursuits. There are ones with and without motors, just like with boats and two-wheelers. I explain the word because once, when I was a young man, I had to admit at a party that I didn’t know the word, and that was embarrassing. I actually thought “dildo” was that large, extinct Australian bird. It also wouldn’t be such a bad name, when you come to think of it. Dildo DiCaprio. Dildo Jetengine. Suddenly it came to be that if Ildikó von Kürthy tried to pep up a Franz Kafka novel with sex scenes, you would have something that would be about as patchy as the Love CD.

I then ascertained that in the Kreuzberg (Berlin) Karstadt there is an “erotic goods” section, right there next to the ladies’ underwear. It’s just like a grocery store. About 30 different kinds of dildos sit there in the racks. There are also handcuffs, oils, and fluids, and various kinds of literature in word and image (with relatively discreet covers). There is also underwear that doesn’t cover exactly those things that one ordinarily expects underwear to cover. Finally, there are Gummi Bears that were not shaped like bears.  All of this is right out there in the open in the middle of the store landscape. Most of the shoppers were women; there is almost no men’s underwear there. Once, at a seminar, I learned that “lady”, which is supposed to be a polite form of address, is perceived as ironic or discriminatory by today’s women, one should instead say “Mister” and “Miss”, since we men have maintained an unbroken relationship to the word “Mister.” However, in Karstadt, it’s still “ladies’ underwear.” …

I thought: Don’t they have trouble with the child-protection laws? Kids are, after all, constantly running around in the department store. However, when one looks closely, no graphic pictures can be seen, they obviously thought of that. All of the objects possessed a certain degree of abstraction and ambiguity. Perhaps the underwear were factory rejects which just happened to have a hole at the most important spot. The handcuffs could be for playing policeman, which is pretty much accurate. The dildos basically looked like avant-garde rolling-pins or meat tenderizers, and in fact could probably be used for these purposes, if necessary. Only the Gummi bears which were not shaped like bears were pretty explicit.

Then I moved on. Because I absolutely wanted to exchange Love.

[Note: one sentence, which contained an untranslatable pun, has been omitted.]

Nothing to See Here, Folks, Move Along

As I’ve noted before, the 9/11 conspiracy-theory movement is alive and well in Europe, and one meets plenty of seemingly rational people over here who are much too sophisticated to be suckered in by the "official version" of 9/11. (Not that they have any particularly convincing "unofficial" version to counter it with, see below).

The headquarters of the movement is in the USA, but Germany boasts its fair share of these folks, whether they’re the LIHOP or MIHOP variety. Matt Taibbi met one of the most colorful of them, Nico Haupt, recently:

Over a month after I first wrote a column slamming the 9/11 Truth movement, I continue to get hate mail in massive quantities. A group of Truthers even picketed my office, and I’m still picking food particles out of my scarf after an incident in which the movement’s house lunatic, a wild-eyed German blogger named Nico Haupt, tried to goad me into slugging him in a West Side diner.

"Go ahead, heet me, then I haf beeg story!" he roared, scream-spitting half-digested detritus in my face.

Of course I didn’t hit him — nothing in the world is more ridiculous than two writers fighting in a restaurant. If you’re surprised that I would call someone who spit food on my lap a fellow writer, don’t be. As I subsequently found out, Haupt is a literary juggernaut, one of the most voluble bloggers on the planet earth. His internet entries read like a MySpace mixture of MTV’s Real World meets Che’s Congo Diaries, only on meth and in a German accent.

His 9/11 conspiracy rants are full of little tidbits from the peripatetic revolutionary’s hardscrabble life neatly gift-wrapped for his future biographers, ranging from the personal ("My girlfriend denied to marry me… I’m constantly broke.") to the heroic ("Maybe I’m scared that the Homeland Security will arrest me as a ‘terrorist’? Not at all."). Haupt also makes sure to include regular doses of that other staple of pseudo-revolutionary diaries, i.e. the defiant salutation to the secret agents who of course have him under constant surveillance. "A personal note to the NSA, who’s a regular log-in guest on my sites," he writes. "You’re still bastards for me… Shame on you and go to hell!"

[hat-tip: Sparklplug of the Actual Innocents]

A note to readers, 9/11 conspiracy-Nico Haupt should not be confused with magician Nico Haupt from Leipzig, who promises one and all "Table and Salon Magic" (!).

And now we come to another German 9/11 conspiracy-monger: Andreas von Bülow, a former Social Democratic Party official who has made a career of being a virulent critic of America. Von Bülow has published a book that basically alleges that the CIA and Mossad teamed up to carry out 9/11. The World Trade Center was blown up from inside, the planes that hit it were remote-controlled(!), and the 19 hijackers were alive after the explosion. Von Bülow is also a critic of all other things American, as can be seen by an article criticizing the U.S. justice system which von Bülow translated into German.

I’m not gonna get into the weeds here, because debating conspiracy theorists is a proverbial waste of time and energy, especially when they’re this confused. To understand how, take a look (here, about two pages down) at Matt Taibbi’s incredible behind-the-scenes look at how Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld cooked up the plot. There are some conspiracy theorists who are in touch with reality, have done original research and have interesting things to say about world events, but they generally don’t touch 9/11, because it’s impossible to construct any remotely plausible counter-theory to explain it. That doesn’t stop von Bülow, though. Most of the falsifiable claims he makes about September 11th have been disproven here.

You might also be interested to know that von Bülow also believes the U.S. government knew (G) about Pearl Harbor attack in advance, almost certainly drawing his arguments from this book by Robert Stinnett which, of course, was immediately translated into German (G). The translation was commissioned by the glorious, unique-in-the-world German high-end bargain-bookstore and CD chain zweitausendeins (G). Zweitausendeins is one of my favorite places to shop, but it’s choices of books to translate into English leaves plenty to be desired.

As Taibbi points out, the 9/11 conspiracy theorists are just as likely to emerge from the right-wing fever swamps as from left-wing ones. People like von Bülow encourage opponents of U.S. foreign policy to waste their time constructing ever more elaborate conspiratorial halls of mirrors, rather than engaging in any sort uf useful political action (Not that there’s much they can do anyway, and not that the sort of people who are suckered in by these theories are such a big loss to the movement).

In advising everyone to ignore the 9/11 truth movement, I and Taibbi are not alone. Another man of the left, Alexander Cockburn, writes in Le Monde Diplomatique (German version here): "[T]he conspiracism stems from despair and political infantilism. There’s no worthwhile energy to transfer from such kookery…. I am therefore sure that the Bush gang, and all the real conspirators of Washington, are delighted at the obsessions of the 9/11 conspiracists."

To use a phrase I just read in English in a German essay about P.G. Wodehouse (got that?), that about sums it up.

Lipset on American Exceptionalism

American sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset died on January 4 at the age of 84. One of his principal themes was American exceptionalism: the idea that the history of the United States is qualitiatively different from the history of almost all all other nations. One of the most obvious and intriguing proofs of this exceptionalism is that the United States’ political system, unlike all other developed countries and many less-developed ones, has never given rise to a mainstream mass socialist party.

Although he moved rightward during his life, he avoided patriotic chest-beating; his interest lay in explaining America, not exulting in it. I’ve often thought that every foreign journalist who writes about the United States should be required to read Lipset’s 1996 work American Exceptionalism: The Double-Edged Sword. The book would teach them that they are entering a country whose culture differs from Europe’s culture, and which does not want to, and will never, become Europe. This lesson, in turn, might reduce the number of tiresome opinion pieces European journalists write which scold the United States for flagrantly, obstinately failing to be Europe.

Here are a paragraphs that convey the flavor of Lipset’s work:

America continues to be qualitatively different. To reiterate, exceptionalism is a two-edged phenomenon; it does not mean better. This country is an outlier. It is the most religious, optimistic, patriotic, rights-oriented, and individualistic. With respect to crime, it still has the highest rates; with respect to incarceration, it has the most people locked up in jail; with respect to litigiousness, it has the most lawyers per capita of any country in the world, with high tort and malpractice rates. It also has close to the lowest percentage of the eligible electorate voting, but the highest rate of participation in voluntary organizations. The country remains the wealthiest in real income terms, the most productive as reflected in worker output, the highest in proportions of people who graduate from or enroll in higher education (postgrade 12) and in postgraduate work (post-grade 16). It is the leader in upward mobility into professional and other high-status and elite occupations, close to the top in terms of commitment to work rather than leisure, but the least egalitarian among developed nations with respect to income distribution, at the bottom as a provider of welfare benefits, the lowest in savings, and the least taxed. And as I elaborate in the chapters that follow, the positive and the negative are frequently opposite sides of the same coin.

Here I would only like to note that those who emphasize social morbidity, who focus on moral decline, for example, or on the high crime or divorce rates, ignore the evidence that much of what they deplore is closely linked to American values which presumably they approve of, those which make for achievement and independence. As Robert Merton points out, the stress on success, on getting ahead, presses the unsuccessful or those without the means to win out legitimately — the poor and the oppressed minorities — to violate the rules of the game. Individualism as a value leads not only to self-reliance and a reluctance to be dependent on others, but also to independence in family relationships, including a greater propensity to leave a mate if the marital relationship becomes troubled. America is the most moralistic country in the developed world. That moralism flows in large part from the country’s unique Protestant sectarian and ideological commitments. Given this background, it is not surprising that Americans are also very critical of their society’s institutions and leaders. Europeans, who take their national identity from common historical traditions, not ideologies, and are reared in a church tradition, have been unable to understand the American response to Watergate or the sexual peccadilloes of politicians.

[Source: Seymour Martin Lipset, American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword, pp. 26-27 (New York 1996].

Langage Texto

So on Tuesday I’m in French class, which is held in a building called, believe or not, Palais Wittgenstein. The teacher is the sylphlike, aloof Nicole (not not her real name), one of the most  attractive 5*-somethings I’ve ever seen. We’re currently studying a unit on how elderly French people use the Internet. Even Nicole apologizes for how soul-pulverizingly boring it is. But it’s the next unit in the book we’re using.

During a radio feature about actual old French people, we hear them complain about all the "langage texto" they see on the Internet. I ask what "langage texto" is. Turns out it’s the French phrase for SMS-speak: C U l8r, C U 2morrow, etc. Yesterday, a friend told me that France has the most advanced langage texto in the world. Apparently, it’s a structural thing: lots of French letters sound like French syllables, lots of French numbers sound like French syllables or words, lots of French words sound like other, longer French words. Examples are K7 (for "cassette"), or "o" for "eau,"

Here’s a list of hundreds of langage texto words. There’s even, apparently, a novel (F) written in langage texto.

Could this be the new Esperanto? Will there one day be a "Langage Texto Strasse", just as there is now an Esperantostrasse? [No, you dumbass, because it only makes sense in French. – ed.]

My Take on Markovits

Looks like my link to the Markovits essay has become one of the most-commented posts this blog has ever seen. I’ve gone through them with interest. Of all the views posted, I guess my take is the most similar to Koch’s. Koch doesn’t seem to be American, so perhaps Germans are more free with their comments to him than they would be with someone whom they know to be an American. In any case, because I criticize the policies of the Bush Administration (and was doing so before 60+% of the American public started doing the same thing), I often get an "unvarnished" view as well.

I have seen not only an increase in anti-Americanism recently, but what I would call a shift in its basic nature. Anti-Americanism of one form or another has, as we all know, been around since long before the U.S. was even founded as a nation.

However, it’s now characterized by certain overtones that were much more rare before 2003. Now, I am not talking about what prominent German politicians and business leaders say. As Markovits points out, they will always call for better U.S.-German relations, and will often make claims about the state of those relations that look rather unrealistic from the ground. Here are the overtones I hear in conversations with ordinary Germans:

  1. We don’t really care what the state of U.S.-Europe relations is. If they’re bad, it’s not because of anything we did. And if they’re bad; so be it.
  2. The number of areas of profound disagreement has increased to the point where we can say that many of our basic values are different from Americans’.
  3. This situation is not an exceptional situation that will be remedied by a return to the "norm" of close U.S.-Europe relations anytime soon, if ever. Nothing in particular needs to be done about it (see #1).

As Koch points out, 2003 was a very bad year, but in some respects, 2004, when a slim majority of the American people returned George W. Bush to office, was dramatically worse. That’s when "the American People" seemed, to Europeans, to declare their ownership and approval of Bush’s policies. The anger and resentment seemed to quadruple overnight. In 2003, the U.S. and Europe were going through a rough patch in their "marriage." Now, they have separated and are headed for an amicable divorce. When the kids (reporters, the public) are around, of course, they’ll still try to put a brave face on things.

Otherwise things are icy. Markovits help explain why this is so by pointing out another important dynamic: from a European perspective, anti-Americanism is now both much more practicable than it was, say, 20 years ago. It’s even desirable and useful from a European perspective.

Practicable. Europe no longer needs American military power to protect it from the Warsaw Pact. As for terrorism, almost no Europeans actually believe American policies have decreased the threat of terrorism; instead, like a large majority of Americans (now) and virtually all commentators, they believe President Bush’s policies have increased the danger of terrorism worldwide. Unlike in Cold War days, there’s little dispute about this among commentators. Back then, the European left thought the Americans were dangerous, but the right and the center generally accepted the idea that American power was a needed deterrent.

Now, however, nobody agrees that America’s policy against terrorism is "working." Seventy-four percent of Germans think the U.S. is having a negative influence on the world stage. You could say that differing with the U.S. on its main foreign policy priorities has not only become practical, it’s virtually mandatory. Of course, high-level cooperation on counterterrorism will continue regardless of the overall state of relations between the U.S. and Europe. And, of course, the USA is still a crucial trading partner and export market, but that can still work fine even if countries don’t have particularly warm political relations.

Thus, not only have the warm feelings generated by previous acts of generosity evaporated; there is also now no particularly strong reason why European politicians — left, right, and center — should feel inhibited from expressing strong criticism of American policies.

Desirable. As Markovits notes, anti-Americanism (regardless of whether we like it or not) has positive side effects both internally and externally. Internally, it helps shore up a sense of distinctly European identity, which is especially important when the EU’s actual policies contribute little to this goal (when not actually undermining it). Externally, it is hard to emphasize how useful the U.S. is as a whipping-boy. Measured by standards the rest of the world uses, European policies on foreign aid, climate change, human rights, development assistance, multilateral cooperation, among others, look praiseworthy and enlightened when compared with Bush administration policies. Sometimes, this is indeed because they are praiseworthy and enlightened. Even when they are far from perfect, though, they still look much preferable, to hundreds of millions of people across the world, when compared to American policies.

That’s why I thought Markovits’ piece was particularly insightful: he seems to have caught on to a fairly deep shift in the dynamics that mirrors my experience. And he does so specifically because he looks outside the normal channels of high-level discourse to other areas, where ordinary Europeans directly vent their opinions.

German Joys Uncut: Michael Buback on RAF Terrorism

The debate about the possible early release of RAF terrorists Brigitte Mohnhaupt and Christan Klar intensifies. One recent contribution is an essay in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung written by Michael Buback. He is the son of Siegfried Buback, former Attorney General of Germany, who was murdered by RAF terrorists in 1977. The piece is called (in my translation) Debate about Strange, Distant Murderers (G). My translation, presented complete and unedited, appears below.

Debate About Strange, Distant Murderers

Why it is almost unimportant for a survivor whether an RAF terrorist remains in custody or is freed. An essay by Michael Buback, the son of Attorney General Siegfried Buback, murdered in 1977.

It is entirely proper that relatives of the victims do not participate in decisions on clemency for murderers. My essay could actually be limited to this one sentence. If, however, I write further, I do so because I have been repeatedly implored to give a detailed statement of my position and because I belong to the ever-diminishing group of people who still have strong memories of the events of 30 years ago.

To be sure, one hardly needs an especially good memory here. The event is chiseled into my memory, as it surely is with most people who have lost relatives to crime.

One particularity of the killing of my father is that those who murdered him and two members of his retinue, Georg Wurster and Wolfgang Göbel, did not know their victims personally.  They defined the Attorney General as evil by virtue of his function in a state that they rejected and hated. In thier blind fanaticism, fathomless arrogance, and extreme cruelty, they chose him for death according to their perverted standards, along with members of his security detail just as innocent as he.

The Assassination was Aimed at the State

The assassination was primarily aimed at the Federal Republic of Germany, whose leading criminal-justice officials were marked to be “blown away” by the terrorists. Perhaps the terrorists’ hate for this Attorney General was increased by the fact that he recognized the enormous dangers of terrorism early (which one would, of course, expect from an official with so much experience in the investigation of crimes against the state) and gave clear warning of the possible dangers.

Later events show how correct his warnings were. We now see the ubiquitous threat of terrorism almost daily in news programs. We are confronted with the consequences of terrorist violence every time we board a plane. Leading politicians in free, democratic countries are forced to live subject to intensive security measures.

They must often work in areas screened-off from the public, behind security fences and protective walls. Sometimes, in fact, the buildings from outside are so fortress-like that they resemble buildings intended for prisoners. The fact that there are ever more terrorists whose fanaticism drives them to take their own lives in addition to those of strangers makes the planning and execution of measures against terrorist brutality especially difficult.

Little interest in the trials

In dealing with this terrible event, we were helped by the fact that my father was not killed because of his private identity – which was the only thing of importance to us – but as a representative of German justice. This also had the effect of making those who murdered him nothing more than remote strangers. I had little interest in the trials and judgments. For this reason, I am also not interested in attempting to influence the length of the murderers’ imprisonment in any way.

From my point of view, it is almost irrelevant whether Christian Klar – who was sentenced for participating in the murder of my father, among other crimes – remains in prison until the official end of his sentence in about two years, or if he is freed earlier by a grant of executive clemency from the Federal President. If competent officials believe with sufficient certainty that he will present no further danger, and if he recognizes his crimes and feels remorse for them, there will certainly be no objection to a grant of clemency from me.

The circumstances of the crime are still unclear

There is, however, another aspect of the case that concerns me. To my knowledge, the exact circumstances of the crime and the nature of the individual actors’ participation has yet to be clarified. Who was the driver of the motorcycle, and who was the shooter?

One might object that knowing this cannot undo the crime and that the criminals have already been sentenced for murder. However, for me, as a relative, it is still important to know the exact circumstances of the crime, in order to have a better chance of finally closing this chapter – just as relatives of accident victims wish to know the events leading to death as exactly as possible, to be able to understand and deal with what happened.

Shortly after my father’s death, an RAF-sympathizer published a text under the pseudonym “A Mescalero from Göttingen” under the title of “Buback – an Obituary,” which my family, and many others, found despicable.* It was a relief to me when, more than two decades later, the author revealed himself to me in a letter. I wrote him and told him this, although composing the letter was difficult, and I would have preferred to use a less sonorous address than “Dear Mr. H.” 

It still disturbs me that I do not know who killed my father, and it surprises me that a criminal, without acknowledging his crimes and without remorse, can expect clemency, even though he has not contributed to the clarification of the circumstances of the crime for which he has already spent 24 years in prison.

One would hope that the clemency request contains some of this information, which is of great interest to the victims’ relatives. Readiness to supply these facts, however, cannot and should not be a pre-condition to a grant of clemency. This readiness would, however, provide an indication that Christian Klar has come closer to the society that he urgently wishes to rejoin, after distancing himself so far from it by his crime.

—  Michael Buback, Professor of Technical and Macromolecular Chemistry in Göttingen, is son of the Attorney General Siegfried Buback, who was murdered in 1977 by the RAF.

[Translated by Andrew Hammel]

* Buback here refers to an incident that occurred shortly after his father’s death. In a left-wing student newspaper at the University of Goettingen, an anonymous author, using the name "Mescalero," published a mock-obituary of Buback in which he admitted to a "clandestine joy" at Buback’s murder. He wrote that Buback’s killing would mean "one less face in the small red-and-black album" which will be publised "after the revolution, to hunt down the most-wanted and most-hated criminals in the world and subject them to a public interrogation." The piece attracted a great deal of attention. In the months following the publication of the "obituary," prosecutors all over Germany brought lawsuits against many press sources which re-printed the article on grounds such as "desecrating the memory of the dead" and "praising criminal activity."

A Call for Withdrawal

An friend of mine who is Iraqi, Zaid al-Ali, has monitored events in Iraq with extreme care over the past few years, and often writes about the situation there.

In his latest piece, The United States in Iraq: the case for withdrawal, he argues that immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops could open a space for competent politicians, and names names:

There are many Iraqis who are competent, honest, and non-sectarian and who would be willing to rebuild their country, so long as the circumstances are correct. What this means in practice is that the US army must leave in order to create enough space for these people to contribute. Hussein al-Muayed, Jawad al-Khalissi, Abdul Hussein Sha’ban and many others have been waiting in the wings for the past four years and will continue to boycott the political process so long as the occupation remains in place. They are all household names in Iraq, respected for their integrity, their intelligence, and their non-sectarian credentials, but they remain largely unknown in the west precisely because they refuse to collaborate with the occupation.

Some would no doubt argue that a withdrawal of US troops in Iraq would merely lead to an increase in violence. I would suggest that the alternative – staying the current course and maintaining the presence of US forces in Iraq – is much more likely to lead to more violence. A withdrawal will force a realignment of political forces in Baghdad. The government would probably collapse – not an unattractive proposition – and because truly competent and honest political forces would accept to participate in the post-occupation phase, there is a strong likelihood that the political wrangling that would ensue would lead to a more effective and non-sectarian government.

Of course, he adds, this is only the least worst of options:

Today, there are no good solutions to the catastrophe that the US has created in Iraq. There are only those options that we know will lead to a further escalation of the conflict, and those that have a chance of leading to a positive conclusion. At this stage, it is certain that the deployment of additional US troops to Iraq will merely lead to more death and suffering. On the other hand, a unilateral and immediate withdrawal of US troops offers the possibility and some hope that an effective and non-sectarian system of government may emerge in the aftermath.

After all, and in the final analysis, what the Iraqi people need now is not more armies, more war, and more violence. What they need is to recover their independence and to be given the space to govern themselves, by themselves. What they want and what they need is to be free once and for all.

Andrei Markovits on Anti-Americanism

I don’t have a long enough historical perspective to judge whether European anti-Americanism has increased recently, but Andrei Markovits, a Romanian who has commuted back and forth between the United States and Europe since 1960, definitely does.

In a fine essay that you should go read, he says that anti-Americanism has increased dramatically and appears to have become a permanent feature of European cultual life:

Any trip to Europe confirms what surveys have been finding: The aversion to America is becoming greater, louder, more determined. It is unifying Western Europeans more than any other political emotion — with the exception of a common hostility toward Israel. Indeed, the virulence in Western Europe’s antipathy to Israel cannot be understood without the presence of anti-Americanism and hostility to the United States. Those two closely related resentments are now considered proper etiquette. They are present in polite company and acceptable in the discourse of the political classes….

There can be no doubt that many disastrous and irresponsible policies by members of the Bush administration, as well as their haughty demeanor and arrogant tone, have contributed massively to this unprecedented vocal animosity on the part of Europeans toward Americans and America. Indeed, they bear responsibility for having created a situation in which anti-Americanism has mutated into a sort of global antinomy, a mutually shared language of opposition to and resistance against the real and perceived ills of modernity that are now inextricably identified with America. I have been traveling back and forth with considerable frequency between the United States and Europe since 1960, and I cannot recall a time like the present, when such a vehement aversion to everything American has been articulated in Europe. No Western European country is exempt from this phenomenon — not a single social class, no age group or profession, nor either gender. But the aversion reaches much deeper and wider than the frequently evoked "anti-Bushism." I perceive this virulent, Europewide, and global "anti-Bushism" as the glaring tip of a massive anti-American iceberg.

Three recent shifts have transformed anti-Americanism from a fringe phenomenon to a defining aspect of European culture. First, the Bush Administration’s policies have driven anti-Americanism into "overdrive." Second, the demise of the Soviet Union and America’s increasing power and arrogance have seriously weakened neutral or pro-American sentiment, which formerly acted as a counterweight to anti-Americanism. Third, the sheer number of reasons to be angry at the U.S.A. has reached critical mass, furnishing grudges for every European social group:

America [is accused] of being retrograde on three levels: moral (America’s being the purveyor of the death penalty and of religious fundamentalism, as opposed to Europe’s having abolished the death penalty and adhering to an enlightened secularism); social (America’s being the bastion of unbridled "predatory capitalism," to use the words of former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, and of punishment, as opposed to Europe as the home of the considerate welfare state and of rehabilitation); and cultural (America the commodified, Europe the refined; America the prudish and prurient, Europe the savvy and wise).

Conservative or communist, Arab immigrant or nationalist dock worker, Green party member or factory owner, Europeans from all classes and backgrounds can agree on their disgust with one or another quality they associate with the United States.

Drawing from diverse areas of discourse such as sports and university reform, Markovits shows how America is presumed to have almost unlimited power to force "Americanization" into all the corners of European life, and highlights the incoherence of much anti-American reasoning:

All of these "Americanizations" bemoan an alleged loss of purity and authenticity for Europeans at the hands of a threatening and unwelcome intruder who — to make matters worse — exhibits a flaring cultural inferiority. America is resented for everything and its opposite: It is at once too prurient and too puritanical; too elitist, yet also too egalitarian; too chaotic, but also too rigid; too secular and too religious; too radical and too conservative. Again, damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Anti-Americanism, Markovits notes, has desirable side-effects: it provides contrasts which help form a common European cultural identity. Markovits also disagrees with those who maintain that anti-Americanism is an irrational phenomenon, and that Europe will soon "come to its senses" and realize the need to return to a strong trans-Atlantic bond. Anti-Americanism is here to stay, he insists, because "[f]ar from harming Europe and its interests, anti-Americanism has helped Europeans gain respect, affection, and — most important — political clout in the rest of the world."

It’s a balanced and thoughtful piece, devoid of hysteria or defensiveness, and laden with plenty of specific examples. It’s worth a careful read.