Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Third Observation: The Meaning of Schäuble (II)... for Transatlantic Relations

Leaving aside what may indeed have been a touch of pandering on the matter of Christian “Fundamentalism” in the US, when one considers Wolfgang Schäuble’s remarks from ARD’s Sabine Christiansen show cited below, what is striking about them in the context of the current political climate in Europe is the depth of the commitment to the transatlantic relationship that they express with all that entails: among other things, notably, respect for the sovereign decisions of the American people. If Germany wants to insist on “multilateralism”, then it needs to show that it is a “reliable” and “relevant” partner. “A strong America is in our interest, an America that is at peace with itself and not so divided.” By way of comparison, sentiments of this order virtually never get a hearing in the equivalent French media: notably, the two French-French public television channels France 2 and France 3. (The private print media in France is a somewhat different matter. Le Figaro does open its editorial pages to “pro-American” opinion.) For a first-hand account from an American journalist of the prosecutorial atmosphere that currently reigns on France 3, see Kenneth Timmerman’s recent article on National Review Online. (Hat tip lmae, who suggests that the political talk show on which Timmerman appeared, “Pièces à conviction” – literally, “Trial Exhibits” or, let’s say, “Exhibit A” – might be better titled “Accusation” or “Stalinist Justice”.)

Does this mean that the German public media is more even-handed in its treatment of America and the American government than the French public media? Well, not necessarily. See again Sabine Christiansen’s introductory remarks to her show on the American elections: “Bush has made war, lost 2.7 million jobs, and not exactly made the world safer with his fight against terrorism…..” This too is the language of the prosecutor – and indeed of a prosecutor who would lose her case in anything other than a show trial. The 2.7 million was a democratic talking point during the election campaign. It refers just to the manufacturing sector, not to the evolution of employment in the economy as a whole, and indeed, as shown at, the losses in manufacturing jobs under the Bush administration form part of a longer term trend that began already under the Clinton administration. As for the claim that Bush “has not exactly made the world safer with his fight against terrorism”, this too has been a Democratic talking point, as well indeed as a talking point of those sections of both the political and chattering classes in France and Germany that have led the European charge against Bush in the last year. It is a classic example of a claim that cannot be empirically falsified, since the contrary case – i.e. if President Bush had not engaged the war against Islamic terrorism – is obviously not available for comparison. It is, in short, pure propaganda.

No. I would suggest that the significance of Schäuble’s appearance on the Sabine Christiansen show is not that the German public media is more balanced in its treatment of America than the French public media (though it probably is, if only marginally, since nothing could match the hysteria of the latter), but rather that the German political class is itself significantly more divided in its attitudes toward the United States, and even indeed toward the Bush administration, than is the French. Unlike Deutsche Welle, whose express purpose is to present “the German attitude to important issues” to non-German audiences, ARD is a public broadcaster producing for domestic consumption and that hence should contribute to the process of political will formation in Germany which issues finally in some “German attitude” – or, in other words, some position taken by the German government. It cannot, then, fulfill its public function without at least to some degree reflecting the real heterogeneity of the political debate, however much journalists like Christiansen may try to spin matters in favor of one party or another. In France, there is simply no public figure of a similar stature as Schäuble who so persistently adopts “pro-American” or, I would say rather, “Atlanticist” positions. The closest one comes is Alain Madelin. But Madelin’s former party Démocratie Libérale, since absorbed into Jacques Chirac’s “Union for a Presidential Majority”, never represented more than a minor current in French politics. Schäuble, by contrast, arguably remains the major foreign policy voice of one of Germany’s two major “Volksparteien” (or “popular parties”) and the one indeed which, if recent trends hold, may well form the next German government.

I’d be very glad to have some input regarding the above from French or German visitors – not to exclude others, of course. The comments section is open.