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Commentary :: War and Militarism
Dear Americans by Helmut Schmidt
18 Feb 2008
Will Americ a stop consuming a large share of the savings and capital formation of other nations? The trust of Europeans in American leadership is shaken today. We want to love America again. But we are skeptical because Washington seems focused only on troops and finances.

What can the world expect from you? Twelve questions to the candidates

By Helmut Schmidt

[This article published in: DIE ZEIT 06/2008 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]

If we Europeans could participate in the American primaries, I would raise several questions to the candidates. In the last century, we learned that the foreign policy of every American president had a breathtaking significance for Europeans. In the fall of 2003, President Bush jr. proclaimed: “Mission accomplished.” But today, nearly five years later, America’s future goals and ways are as unclear as ever. New uncertainties appear.

The world-political inheritance that the new president must take over in January 2009 seems more complicated, extensive and depressing than the inheritance in Vietnam assumed by Nixon in 1969 from his predecessors Kennedy and Johnson. Neither Richard Nixon nor his successors Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter actually restored the self-confidence of the American nation. Ronald Reagan first succeeded in this. Still the remembrance of the terrible mistakes of the Vietnam War plays an important role in the current primary battles.

A new beginning is vital, Americans hope. But is this also true for foreign policy? Some of the candidates have written intelligent essays in the “Foreign Affairs” journal although foreign and security policy occurs at the margin and is very uncertain. From our experience, we Europeans know election campaigns in every democracy are fought on low swampy planes and only rarely on a high level of discernment.

Neither the candidates’ past political actions nor their speeches indicate how they will form foreign policy when elected. At least a single comprehensive foreign policy speech from each candidate would be helpful. As Europeans, we want answers to burning questions in Europe and America that include and go beyond the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

1. How would you end the war in Iraq? What means would you use? What will Iraq look like at the end?

2. What is your goal in Afghanistan? Is it only the elimination of al-Qaida or the Taliban or is it the establishment of democracy?

3. Would you intervene militarily in Pakistan if al-Qaida switches to Pakistan and gains access to Pakistani nuclear weapons? Would you invade Pakistan militarily?

4. What is your strategy for a peaceful solution to the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors that has lasted half a century? Would you support the creation of a Palestinian state or will the Annapolis conference be merely an episode?

5. What should be the future policy of the US toward Iran after the US secret services declared Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons?

6. Since a quarter of all states of the world are Islamic, would you champion religious and cultural tolerance and oppose a clash of civilizations with Islam?

7. Do you share the opinion that “Russia is the other great challenge for global security” beside the Middle East (Zbigniew Brzezinsky)? Or do you agree with us that Russia since Gorbatchev has not militarily violated its borders anywhere and has acted more peaceably than in czarist or Soviet times? Will the planned ABM (military defense) systems in Poland and Tschechnya help protect these two states and the US or will they only intimidate Russia? Do you accept Russia’s world-political and world-economic role?

8. Do you accept China’s world-economic and world-political role? Will you finally invite China to the world summits?

9. Will you fulfill America’s obligations from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty? Will you restore the ABM treaty to prevent a new arms race with missile defense systems that your predecessor in office unilaterally cancelled? Will you ratify the adjustment of the KSE treaty on conventional armed forces in Europe which your predecessor refused?

10 After two American presidents did not join the Kyoto protocol, will America participate in a future worldwide limitation of greenhouse gas emissions fixed by treaty?

11 Will your budgetary and monetary policy bring the mammoth foreign trade balance into equilibrium? Will America stop consuming a large share of the savings and capital formation of other nations? Do you support an oversight of the highly speculative global financial markets?

12. Is the Charter of the United Nations binding international law?

Since the founding of the United States of America, isolationist, imperialist and internationalist tendencies have played a great role in American foreign policy with alternating weight. Many Europeans regard the largely unilateral world policy of the current president as a product of the imperialist mentality. For us, America is still a stronghold of freedom and enlightenment. We know the world cannot be ordered by the West alone. The United States only constitutes four-and-a-half percent and only twelve percent together with the European Union. By the middle of this century, the West will only be nine percent.

The trust of Europeans in American leadership is shaken today. Still we want to maintain the Atlantic community. We want to love America again. However we are skeptical because Washington has only conferred with us for ten years about troop reinforcements and finances.

We Europeans are conscious of our own weaknesses. Together we still regulate our railways and the depths of the water basins in our zoological gardens. But a “common foreign policy” of the European Union only exists in theory. Therefore we hope for a rational and multilateral foreign policy leadership by the new president. We are still convinced of America’s vigor and vitality.
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