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Jewish World Review April 23, 2003 / 21 Nisan, 5763

Seth Gitell

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What a German Conservative Has to Say about Terrorism | One major task the United States faces in the wake of the Iraq War is repairing relations with Europe, particularly Germany and France. I learned first hand about the diplomatic troubles the Bush Administration would have in convincing Europe of the need to invade Iraq last June, before the idea was at the forefront of most policy makers, when I paid a visit to Germany's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Berlin. One of the diplomats I met with that day was K. Peter Gottwald, the director of the foreign ministry's North America division and now a fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard. Gottwald moderated a timely panel titled " Looking Ahead: Europe and the USA " at the ornate Boston headquarters of the Goethe-Institut Boston on Beacon Street Tuesday.

The marquee panelist was Kurt Biedenkopf, the former Minister-President of Saxony and a leading member of the Christian Democratic Union. Biedenkopf, the Economist wrote on September 25, 1999 is " charming, telegenic, erudite, independent-minded. " He was all those things Tuesday night. By way of context, Biedenkopf is an admirer of the United States: he spent his first year of college, 1949-1959, at Davidson College in North Carolina and received an advanced degree from Georgetown. He, unlike boomers Prime Minister Gerhard Schroeder of the Social Democrats and Joeschka Fischer of the Green Party (whom he frequently debated in the 1970s), is of the immediate post-war generation that possesses a base of affection for the United States. He is a friend of Henry Kissinger's. During his remarks, he was careful to not launch inflammatory attacks against President George W. Bush.

That's what made his remarks so interesting and demonstrated how deep the divide between Germany and the United States really is. Towards the end of the two-hour panel, the subject focused on terrorism. " The damaged identity caused [to America] by 9/11 has made it extraordinarily difficult to discuss the reasons of the terrorists, " Biedenkopf said. " My suggestion ... is to study that .. and to try to find out what it is that makes people seek to take their own lives. " Biedenkopf lamented " a lack of real research into the real causes of terrorism " and recommended Norman Mailer's most recent book, Why Are We At War?(Random House, 2003). From Biedenkopf's remarks, his causes seemed to lay much closer to those generally lumped into the category of " root causes, " such as economic disparities between Islamic countries and the West.

With that innocent comment, Biedenkopf, who lies to the right of the political spectrum in Germany and was once a party rival to Helmut Kohl, Germany's former chancellor, placed himself in the far left of the American political context. Republicans almost never talk about " root causes " of terrorism, and most mainstream Democrats rarely do either. Presidential candidates such as US Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts, John Edwards of North Carolina, and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, leave such discussion to the far left of their party or those outside of the Democratic Party. Norman Mailer's writings on terror, meanwhile, have been generally ignored.

Still, the German expressed a warning that the Bush Administration would be wise to heed. While America demonstrated great military might in the recent conflict, the country's weak economic underpinnings - helped along by Bush -- may threaten its success. " The US is deeply in debt. More than 30 percent of the US debt is financed by other nations, such as China and Japan, " Biedenkopf said. This weakened economic footing may be exacerbated if the Bush Administration extends conflict to other parts of the Middle East. " It would tremendously over-extend itself, " Biedenkopf said. " I can only pray that those in the administration who feel that America is the New Rome will fail. Neither Britain nor Europe will follow them. "

Nothing in Biedenkopf's comments were unique or unusual to anyone in the room. His co-panelist James Cooney, the executive director of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, quipped " when I go from Cambridge, Massachusetts to Berlin, it's not like our viewpoints are so different. " But there is a large divide between overall American public opinion and German public opinion, as Cooney knows, as he was quick to add: " that's not true when I go visit my sister in Chicago. "

It's possible that more attention on diplomacy will help bridge gaps between the US and Europe, particularly Germany. But that diplomacy will have to start with the recognition that there is a whole world of difference between both sides.

JWR contributor Seth Gitell is the political writer of the Boston Phoenix Comment by clicking here.

04/16/03: On to Syria?
04/11/03: US must help Iraq achieve a democratic government which poses a threat neither to its own people nor to its neighbors in the region --- - what Michael Kelly would have wanted
04/04/03: Fighting house to house
03/21/03: After the war Will Bush's promise of democracy for Iraq be kept?
03/12/03: The North Korean hawks are missing the big picture
02/21/03: Urban fight: Military takes lessons from Mogadishu, Chechnya, Jenin
02/13/03: Imagine that, Bin Laden not listening to Chris Matthews!
02/06/03: Powell's powerful presentation
02/05/03: Making the case that Saddam Hussein is linked with Al Qaeda
01/31/03: Gen. Schwarzkopf is against going to war with Iraq. Since he messed things up so bad the first time around, why is anyone listening to him now?
01/24/03: Cynthia McKinney for president
01/16/03: The Sharpton test
01/13/03: Lieberman is in a pickle --- and it's becoming increasingly more sour
12/26/02: Where does the war on terror go from here?
12/23/02: Why democracy never came to Iraq after the last Gulf War
12/20/02: Vermont governor Howard Dean hopes to bridge the gulf between New England and the Western states, and bypass the socially conservative South. Should John Kerry be worried?
12/18/02: No Gore 2004: Follow the Money
12/06/02: Gore, like Dicken's Jacob Marley, Dead as a Door-nail
10/24/02: War with Iraq may not happen, after all
10/22/02: Winning European hearts and minds
10/18/02: Lieberman makes 'em laugh --- on purpose
10/04/02: Hawking an interpretation (in which Scott Ritter tells our columnist to 'go to H-LL!')
09/13/02: Bush Challenge to U.N. Members: Are You Better than League of Nations?
09/06/02: Iraq attack: Ritter's reversal
08/30/02: Stick with comedy, Jon Stewart
08/16/02: Green around the gills: Nader Effect could cost the Dems the election in three states
08/01/02: Gore's low profile is no accident
07/31/02: President Hillary? Despite her denials, candidacy is not that unlikely
07/26/02: On the road with John Kerry
07/17/02: Meet the 'Clinton' of the 2004 New Hampshire primary
07/12/02: Ancient rivalry: Williams vs. DiMaggio
07/10/02: Warrior spirit
05/08/02: Hosting a TV show will keep Clinton off the streets
04/26/02: Truth in advertising in SaudiLand --- and ours
02/28/02: Time for hipsters to do a reality-check

© 2002, Seth Gitell