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The Weekend Australian September 21-22, 2002 ,
Greg Sheridan - Australian Angle - "Schröder's anti-US stance purely cynical"

Germany 2002 from within and its relevance to Australia and the US

by Frank Mankyboddle

Greg Sheridans article in "The Weekend Australian" of September 21/22 is a wonderful piece of disinformation: conformist, conservative, and confused as are those who claim "realism" to serve their own ends.

Firstly, the recent German election did NOT "turn on" anti-Americanism. Least of all the German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. To claim that it did reeks of globalised electioneering as demonstrated by the Bush administration which was flabbergasted by a German government for once not servile to American demands. There is no doubt that Schröders move, to declare categorically not to participate in any action whatsoever in Iraq, was one of those election promises which are hard to keep and designed to win votes. Coincidentally, though, it mirrors German public opinion and, what wonder, that of the populations of most western countries. And it is a sovereign right of any country NOT to participate in any military action anywhere, even if sanctioned by the UN. During the last weeks of the election campaign Chancellor Schröder never tired to emphasize allegiance to the US and never condemned any possible future action taken by other western countries. He merely reserved the right for himself and the German people to have a different opinion on what kind of action should be taken. The US government, on the other hand, used to outright obedience over the 16 years of the former Helmut Kohl government, tried to meddle in German politics by cooking up supposed and as yet unproven remarks by the Justice Minister which, if indeed uttered, were ludicrous but certainly not an indication of a general anti-American "core message" from within the government. To state such a thing is an outright lie worthy of a journalist's sacking.

Let me say something about Hitler-analogies used far and wide and also frequently in Germany. They are an obvious German fixation, flippantly used to simulate a strong point - and certainly unfit for ministerial use. They are the reverse side of the Hitler joke which Germans, - still unsure of how to deal with their past, - other than by uttering eternal regret and guilt-, are not allowed or willing to make. (To illustrate my point first enter "Hitler-Witze" and then the English equivalent, "Hitler-jokes", into your internet search engine and compare the results.) Usually Germans, and particularly those Greg Sheridan calls "cynical left wing populists", mean to warn of a plight that the world and, not to forget, the Germans suffered from totalitarian power. It is a well meant, if inappropriate and inarticulate analogy. However, such silly rhetoric is grist to the (dark satanic?) mills of an increasingly "unilateral" US which, and the world knows it for a fact, is deflecting from a desolate political and economic status quo at home by leading "necessary" or "unnecessary" wars with dictatorships it itself has installed and sponsored (Saddam Hussein, Taliban). German politics has no such options.

To ridicule the German economy by pointing to low economic growth and high unemployment is only the fools proof of inferior german policies, and again, "deflecting", from serious fundamental flaws in the, let's call it, anglo-american system:
It's all put into perspective, on the one hand, if you consider that a huge part of the German economies' troubles today are still a result of re-unification and it's election-promises which the German conservatives, given the preference in Mr. Sheridan's pompous diatribe, decided to finance with West German pensioners' pension funds. Sixteen years of conservative rule ended in an economic disaster...
...only, on the other hand, topped by the American economic disaster (in the most indebted nation on earth) which relies on the "working poor" and an avalanche of forged balances to "improve" it's (un)employment record. Similarly the glorious British economy, which seems unable to provide its citizens with decent public transport or health care, so that people come to Germany in droves to get the surgery they need. The world is holding its breath to see what other "economic miracles" neo-liberalism has in store for us. The Bush-Cheney "dream team" will probably let us know by leaflets from the sky...

For Mr. Sheridan to try and make Australian readers believe that a conservative government under Edmund Stoiber was preferable or more beneficial to Australians is so laughable that one is tempted to ask which "expertise" commissioned him to take his position as foreign editor at "The Australian". The opposite is true. Even though the EU is indeed kind of "undemocratic", as supra-national organisations including NATO tend to be, this is not true of Gerhard Schröder's Germany. His government was legitimized by a 79% voter turnout. It's a figure that most western leaders dream of - or do they? But not only are Germans more inclined to exercise their democratic right to vote, because they have more exciting choices than Americans or even Australians, but their government, furthermore, has policies and laws in place or in the pipeline which are as innovative as a large nation dares to produce them these days. And Joschka Fischers "Greens", who are the "junior" partner in coalition with Schröder, are in fact the motor driving this admittedly somewhat old-fashioned social-democratic "car". But then cars are old fashioned altogether as Peter Wilson knows to report in Greg Sheridans own newspaper following a visit to Berlin (The Australian, September 23, 2002).

Greg Sheridans "Australian Angle" is a corner Australia and the rest of the West -and, seemingly unapproachable, the US - has maneuvered itself into, - so large that it is able to see other angles no longer. A corner where he would like to stay because of his lack of political imagination fostered by a visionless Howardian Australia that will not dare to navigate outside the wake of American policy. - Kyoto? Where is that? International Criminal Court? - Coercion! he cries. For a government of a large industrial nation to attempt the first deliberate steps towards a "sustainable" economy? Sheer lunacy! 120 000 Germans employed in environment-technology industries? Wind-power equaling the output of two full-scale nuclear power-plants where the sunshine-and-wind-continent, Australia, competes with the top three CO² polluters in the world? Never heard of it!

"Sustainability" has a price. Germans and their government seem, overall, a little bit more inclined than the US, Britain and certainly Australia to pay this price. Germany has, through some of its policies, acquired a great deal of expertise in the field of ecological economy. This is a heritage of 20 years of innovative "Green" politics which now shares responsibility in government. Australia should wish it well and share the results. These are some of the benefits for Australia with a Schröder and Fischer government in Germany. Germans love Australia but I doubt very much that they would opt for the current Australian government. And democracy also means still highly diversified print media in a Germany which deserves better reporting from the foreign editor at "The Australian". But can they...?



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