Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Fisking A Reuters Reporter

I haven't been big on fisking (point by point rebuttals) over the year, but this Reuters reporter who has spent more time in Germany than the U.S. recently has my dander up, so here I go.
There may be no better place in the world to witness the shift in sentiment toward the United States than Berlin.

It was hard to imagine a more pro-American city when I first moved here in 1993, yet the wind has changed and the love affair is over.

America was at its peak in Europe in 1993. The Wall had fallen, but nobody was sure that communism and the USSR were completely dead yet. Yeah, I can imagine it was hard to find a more pro-American place at that point. We'd already saved it, but the lingering threat still hovered, and Europe was not yet ascendant. Europe, specifically Germany, and more specifically West Berlin, still felt vulnerable.

The infatuation with all things American has all but disappeared.

It was bound to disappear. For the entirety of the Cold War, Western Europe was essentially a ward of the United States. They were independent, yet they were entirely dependent upon the United State's military guarantee of their sovereignty. As Europe rose as an international competitor of the United States, it was natural that any infatuation that might have been would fade away. It is ignorant to think otherwise.

Perhaps it will change after the November 4 U.S. presidential election -- even though things will never be the same no matter who wins.

As in other countries, America's image has suffered. A June PEW survey found 31 percent of Germans had a favorable view of the United States, down from 78 percent in 2000.

Europe had yet to really feel its oats in 2000. I don't care who was President of the United States the last 8 years, that number was destined to plunge as the Euro, and as a result, the European Union, strengthened. And don't think that the Obamessiah is going to change that significantly unless Russian tanks begin to roll across the European plains.

Being an American in Berlin was once special. Not any more.

A city saved and protected by the Americans during the Cold War, Berlin was an island of overwhelming admiration for America, its presidents and above all the American way of life -- at least its altruistic, kind-hearted, justice-seeking side.

America was once special in Berlin because Berlin's very freedom was entirely dependent on the United States. It isn't all that uncommon for the dependent to chafe against those they are dependent upon as they become more able to fend for themselves. See teenagers.

Avenues were named after U.S. generals, schools after U.S. leaders and squares named after U.S. cities. American disc jockeys speaking mangled German were radio stars.

The U.S. ambassador's Fourth of July gathering was once the most coveted ticket on the garden party calendar. Not any more.

"Ways" and "Passes" were once named after triumphant Packers in Green Bay, Wisconsin. But as time moved on, so did the public.

Berlin mayors spoke American-accented English and everyone from children to the elderly had a twinkle in their eye when recalling the 1940s Berlin airlift, Checkpoint Charlie tank standoffs or John F. Kennedy's 1963 speech in the city proclaiming "Ich bin ein Berliner" ("I am a Berliner").

It isn't hard to be a big fan of the people that are currently pulling your fat out of the fire. That fandom is not destined to last when your own team has it's own strength, tough.

Probably the most moving assignment of my 18 years as a correspondent abroad was in 1994, when a district that hosted 6,000 U.S. soldiers who protected them from 90,000 Soviet forces stationed outside the Berlin Wall held a parade for the departing GIs.

Steglitz is a low-rise district with a small-town feel, and I had expected perhaps a few thousand to interrupt their Saturday shopping for a quick wave goodbye -- or good riddance.

Instead, more than 250,000 packed the streets on that sunny summer morning. As the soldiers marched, the Berliners cheered, and cheered, and cheered. They threw tons of confetti from windows and gave their departing heroes a thunderous send-off.

The reporter in question should not confuse a "thank you" with a "we love you so much that we want you to be here forever." Sometimes thank yous are synonymous with "good bye."

I was born 11 years after the airlift ended in 1949, was toddler in 1963 when Kennedy came, never served in the army and, frankly, never learned in school about the U.S. role in Berlin.


Even in a big city with its stressed and grumpy residents, Berliners always seemed eager to help when I opened my mouth and American-accented German came out.

While I have no doubt that Mr. Kirschbaum is thoroughly Deutsch-ified, I don't think, after all this time, he understands the long love-loathe relationship that Germans have for the United States.

At first, I wondered why I kept running into so many retired GIs in Berlin who stayed. There are thousands of teachers, mechanics, cooks, DJs, bakers, and many in other professions.

It did not take long to figure out why. And I stayed too, one of almost 13,000 Americans who live permanently in the city.

When I first arrived in 1982 as a student, I had the naive goal of losing my American accent. I feared a "foreign accent" would bring disadvantages -- as it might in the United States.

Fortunately, my language abilities are limited and the bad accent actually opened many doors. Years after I married a Berliner, my wife admitted the only thing she remembered about our first meeting was my accent.

I'm not really seeing the point of these paragraphs. Any time you bring new people into a new area, a certain number of them will fall in love with their new home. I did with an area that I still think is inferior to my hometown. Some people even fall in love with Detroit. The fact that a number of Americans fell in love with Berlin (and Berliners) means nothing.

I used to hitch-hike across Germany when I was a student and often felt a surprising warmth toward the United States. Strangers wanted to buy me lunch; for many it was a personal recompense for a piece of chocolate a GI had given them decades earlier.

During the 1990s pro-American sentiment was still high.

They appreciated George Bush's support for reunification in 1990 that overcame British and French reticence. And Bill Clinton got rock star treatment every time he came here.

Even in the wake of September 11 attacks, Berlin's support for the United States was special. More than 200,000 attended a pro-America rally in Berlin on September 14, 2001 to hear German President Johannes Rau say:

"No one knows better than the people here in Berlin what America has done for freedom and democracy in Germany. So, we say to all Americans from Berlin: America does not stand alone."
The author mistakes the transition from dependent to competitor for some nefarious shift of opinion from pro-'good America' to con-'competitor America'.

It was, of course, the dispute over the invasion of Iraq.

Before that, U.S. presidents had always been welcomed in Berlin. However, in May 2002 George W. Bush needed 10,000 German police to shield him from 10,000 anti-war protesters.

While Iraq played a role, Europe, Germany included, began a reflexive resistance against the U.S. this decade because it was no longer fully reliant upon the United States for its security because there really wasn't much in the way of threats. Instead of defender-defended, the relationship became that of more adversarial competitors.

It was difficult to believe that a U.S. president seemed to be avoiding the city that owed its very survival to America. There was a brief ray of hope a month later when Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama gave a speech in Berlin -- and 200,000 people showed up.

The response to Obama was not to Barack Obama. It was Europe's response against America. While I hold no doubt that Obama's yellow bellied ways will appeal to Europeans, he'll never be Jack Kennedy. And because of that, any hope that the author has of Obama reinvigorating the Cold War era relationship is grossly misplaced.

In case things don't change after November 4, perhaps it's time to try finally to get rid of the American accent.

Better get working on that, bud, because the days of the U.S. acting as benevolent host while Europe acted as the symbiotic parasite are long gone.

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