Letter to America | The Nation


Letter to America

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How do you see the role of the United States on the contemporary world stage?

About the Author

What disturbed me most was the Administration's new National Security Strategy of the United States. With this provocative document, a superpower assumes the privilege of launching pre-emptive strikes against anyone who appears to be sufficiently suspicious; it declares, moreover, its determination to prevent any competitor from even approaching a status of equal power. Not long ago, a generation of young Germans who were liberated from the Nazi regime by American soldiers developed admiration for the political ideals of a nation that soon became the driving force in founding the United Nations and in carrying out the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals. As a consequence, classical international law was revolutionized by limiting the sovereignty of nation-states, by abolishing the immunity of state authorities from supranational prosecution and by incorporating unprecedented crimes into the penal code of international jurisdiction. Should this same nation now brush aside the civilizing achievement of legally domesticating the state of nature among belligerent nations?

What is your view of US-German relations at this time?

The bullying attitude of Bush, Rumsfeld and others toward members of the German government reminds me a bit of scuffling among adolescents in the schoolyard. [German Chancellor Gerhard] Schröder was right to reject the tacit shift in Bush's Iraq policy--from the declared goal of "disarmament" toward "regime change." He should have confirmed, though, his unreserved respect for the authority of the UN. I find myself also in agreement with [Foreign Minister] Joschka Fischer's repeated attempts to get the "Quartet"--the United States, Russia, the European Union and the UN--engaged in a joint effort to arrive at and guarantee a peaceful resolution of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. This conflict also has roots in German and European history. Since the founding of the Federal Republic, solidarity with Israel has been an unwritten law of German foreign politics, whoever was in charge, and it will remain so for the time being. Our recent national elections have proved once again that anti-Semitism is, at present, not a danger within the larger population either.

And what about relations between the United States and Europe more generally?

Many Americans do not yet realize the extent and the character of the growing rejection of, if not resentment against, the policy of the present American Administration throughout Europe, including in Great Britain. The emotional gap may well become deeper than it has ever been since the end of World War II. For people like me, who always sided with a pro-American left, it is important to draw a visible boundary between criticizing the policy of the American Administration, on one hand, and the muddy stream of anti-American prejudices on the other. Remembering the period of the Vietnam War, it would be helpful in this respect if the opposition in Europe could relate to, and identify with, a similar movement in this country. Yet compared with 1965, timidity now prevails here.

Maybe a kind of systematically distorted communication between the United States and Europe is also in play. I had not thought of such a possibility until an American friend tried to explain to me what he perceived as the hawkish worldview of influential people like Paul Wolfowitz. They think of themselves, so the explanation goes, as the real defenders of universalist ideals. Europeans, always susceptible to anti-Semitism, are perceived as falling back on the cynical realism of their pre-1945 power games, while brave Americans and Britons are rushing to arms for the same goals as in World War II. From this perspective, only the Anglo-Saxons are committed to defending the universal values of freedom and democracy against an "evil" that is now embodied in "rogue" states. If that were in fact more than a caricature, we would need, perhaps, a discussion on the respective faults and merits of what we might contrast as "liberal nationalism" and "cosmopolitanism."

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