2/08/2005

German perspectives on Bush and Condi

Thanks to a reader for this post from Der Spiegel:
It's hard for the States to do anything right these days. Berlin is expecting Condi Rice on Friday and the nation's commentators are spoiling for a fight. 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. With United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice touching down in Berlin today, and President George W. Bush's State of the Union Address still fresh on German minds, America is the subject of the day for editorialists. It is a topic on which German commentators love to hold forth, and the US generally doesn't come out looking terribly good when it's all over. Friday is no different.
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, and works hard to muster as much politesse as its trashy pages can muster. Although it notes the "lightening quick" trip is merely a "diplomatic necessity," 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. How so? Mostly, he says, it's because of of the administration's innocent, yet pragmatic way of thinking. As he sees it, American logic works like this: "We no longer want to be tied up in old fights. Instead, let's all look together to the future." Rice's visit, he says, marks a chance to shake hands and make friends with America. It's also an opportunity for Germany. It can never be forgotten, he says, that "when Germany was in trouble, no one stood more firmly behind the nation than the US." Next to Quoos' commentary, Bild features a huge photo of a sun-glasses toting Condi as well as interesting factoids about her stay, including that her hotel suite -- featuring a whirlpool, fireplace, butler service and sound-proof walls -- will cost US taxpayers €2,600 per night.
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 fact that the US President mentioned Syria in his State of the Union address does not bode well. Whether the target is Syria, Iran or the whole Middle East, the fact is that since the Iraq war the cowboy in the White House has more faith in military intervention than ever. In everything that concerns 'the war on terror' and 'democracy exports' the Bush administration is simply starting where they left off in the first administraton."
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. It is a system originally put into place by US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and includes the security nets and social programs that form the basis of the American system today. Bush is trying to sell his plan as a means of stabilizing Social Security, which he and others insist will go bankrupt if measures aren't taken. The Bush plan wants to allow younger workers the option of diverting up to two-thirds of their Social Security payroll taxes into private accounts which could then be used to invest in stocks and bonds.
The FAZ isn't buying it. The plan, says the paper, proves one thing: "(Bush) is not a conservative in the traditional sense." In fact, says the paper, he is not a conservative at all. "He is, to be honest, a radical -- an infuriating radical in his goals and far from squeamish in his methods." During his first administration, Bush pushed his will on the world and in his foreign policy. "Now, in his second administration, Bush is turning his "revolutionary" ambition toward America's domestic life and toward its safety net: He wants to reform the Social Security system through partial privatization." In this battle, however, the paper warns, he likely won't get the same sort of bi-partisan support that helped him push through the Iraq war in 2003. "The Democrats will close ranks against him and, under the banner of Roosevelt Socialism, they will begin an anti-Bush march."
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. It is still unclear how he expects to pay the costs of the gap between the old generational system and the privatized one." The omission of salient details is only part of the problem with the plan. "The worst part," says the paper, "is that in trying to push through America's greatest social reform in 70 years, Bush is not telling the full truth." While Bush has promised that those who opt for the privatized system will get as much or more than in the old system (6.5 percent returns), the only way he can deliver is if the stock market grows considerably, says the paper. "The American people would therefore not only be in charge of their own retirement accounts, they would also personally live with the risk."
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." In his State of the Union address, Bush showed the hard-nosed self assurance that has characterized his administration all along, the paper writes, and he showed no signs he would give in, either to Democrats or to world opinion. "According to Bush, America is the land of dreams. And he is determined to dream his dreams to the end -- either until they become reality or until he wakes up in a fever." The stakes Bush is laying out are very high, the paper insists. "If Bush fails, the failure will be enormous. And if he is successful, he will be remembered as one of the most important presidents in history.

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