Candor Costs Germany's President His Post

Such candor is rare in geo-politics and it is rarely welcomed. Today, Horst Köhler, the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, resigned his largely ceremonial post of head of state over remarks made while on a visit to Afghanistan. Mr. Köhler had noted that “a country of our size, with its focus on exports and thus reliance on foreign trade, must be aware that military deployments are necessary in an emergency to protect our interests, for example, when it comes to trade routes, for example, when it comes to preventing regional instabilities that could negatively influence our trade, jobs and incomes.”

The reference is clear. NATO is in Central Asia to secure access to the region's vital energy supplies. 

The story in Der Spiegel:

German President Horst Köhler, under fire for controversial comments he made about Germany's mission in Afghanistan, resigned with immediate effect on Monday in a shock announcement that comes as the latest in a series of blows to Chancellor Angela Merkel.

German President Horst Köhler announced his resignation on Monday in response to fierce criticism of comments he made about Germany's military mission in Afghanistan.

"I declare my resignation from the office of president -- with immediate effect," Köhler, with tears in his eyes and speaking in a faltering voice, said in a statement, flanked by his wife Eva-Luise. The president is the head of state and his duties are largely ceremonial. But the resignation is the latest in a string of setbacks for Chancellor Angela Merkel since her re-election last September. The German federal assembly -- made up of parliamentary MPs and delegates appointed by the country's 16 federal states -- will have to vote for a successor to Köhler within 30 days, according to the federal constitution.

The president had become the target of intense criticism following remarks he made during a surprise visit to soldiers of the Bundeswehr German army in Afghanistan on May 22. In an interview with a German radio reporter who accompanied him on the trip, he seemed to justify his country's military missions abroad with the need to protect economic interests.

"A country of our size, with its focus on exports and thus reliance on foreign trade, must be aware that ... military deployments are necessary in an emergency to protect our interests -- for example when it comes to trade routes, for example when it comes to preventing regional instabilities that could negatively influence our trade, jobs and incomes," Köhler said.

It sounded as though Köhler was justifying wars for the sake of economic interests, in the context of the Afghan mission which is highly controversial in Germany and throughout Europe.

Horst Köhler is a former director of the International Monetary Fund and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. He was elected to his second five-year term in May 2009 by a single vote. Under German law, a successor must be chosen within 30 days by the so-called Federal Assembly composed from members of the Bundestag and from representatives chosen by Germany’s 16 länder or states.

One wonders if we will ever hear such candor from our own leaders.

The Clinton-Gates Axis

Mark Landler and Thom Shanker have an article in the New York Times on the emerging alliance between Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary of Defense Gates casting them as "two moderate pragmatists" who are likely to advocate a middle ground between the "minimalist" Biden approach that focuses on counter-terrorism and the full-on counter-insurgency approach advocated by General McChrystal among others. The article suggests that the two secretaries are expected to carry great weight as they begin to express specific advice.

The problem is that the Vice President is right in his view that a larger military presence in Afghanistan will breed resentment among Afghans especially the Pashtuns and is likely politically untenable at home. As I've noted before, a growing Pashtun nationalism is fueling the growing Taliban insurgency. A "Pashtunistan" is now a part of the Taliban platform. Recent Taliban communiques all make appeals to driving out the foreign occupiers.

Beyond this stark reality is the economic cost of the Afghan war. Since the invasion of Afghanistan eight years ago, the United States has spent $223 billion on the Afghan war-related funding, according to the Congressional Research Service. Aid expenditures, excluding the cost of combat operations, have also grown exponentially, from $982 million in 2003 to $9.3 billion in 2008. The cost of fighting the war in Afghanistan will overtake that of the Iraq conflict for the first time in 2010. Even before General McChrystal's troop increase request, the Pentagon had requested $65 billion for Afghanistan on top of the basic defense budget of $533.7 billion. An escalation of any size will only add to the financial burden.

The economic cost of an escalation in Afghanistan needs to be a part of this discussion even if the seemingly influentially ascendant Clinton-Gates axis seems to ignore it.

There's more...

The President at the UN

The President's speech at the United Nations was a hopeful speech entitled Real Change is Possible but the President is bound to be accused of naïveté. Most striking is this departure from the reality of our world:

In an era when our destiny is shared, power is no longer a zero-sum game. No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation. No world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will succeed. No balance of power among nations will hold. The traditional divisions between nations of the South and the North make no sense in an interconnected world; nor do alignments of nations rooted in the cleavages of a long-gone Cold War.

What planet is he on? That's a noble aspiration, no doubt, but in a world that includes the Chinese not to mention the North Koreans, the Syrians, the Iranians, the Russians, Burmese Generals and dysfunctional African despots  among others that's frankly delusional and dangerous. I'm not even sure I trust the Americans given our penchant for garrisoning the world. It's a tad hypocritical to talk about the need to eschew global domination when the United States has military bases scattered across the planet. I appreciate the President's hopes for humanity to indeed turn the corner on past injustices but this goes far beyond a failed Wilsonian idealism.

Despite my cynicism (and I can only imagine the response from the neo-conservatives), I do appreciate what the President is trying to say. The world is now so interconnected that solving the problems that confront humanity requires global inputs and a cooperation heretofore never achieved. The hour is indeed late and the problems pressing thus it is incumbent to highlight that we are indeed in this together. As the President noted "we come from many places, but we share a common future."

There's more...

The President Mulls Deep Cuts to the Nuclear Arsenal

The UK Guardian is reporting that the Obama Administration is considering deep cuts to the American nuclear arsenal. In preparation for such a move, the President has asked that the Pentagon conduct a radical review of US nuclear weapons doctrine.

Obama has rejected the Pentagon's first draft of the "nuclear posture review" as being too timid, and has called for a range of more far-reaching options consistent with his goal of eventually abolishing nuclear weapons altogether, according to European officials.

Those options include:

* Reconfiguring the US nuclear force to allow for an arsenal measured in hundreds rather than thousands of deployed strategic warheads.

* Redrafting nuclear doctrine to narrow the range of conditions under which the US would use nuclear weapons.

* Exploring ways of guaranteeing the future reliability of nuclear weapons without testing or producing a new generation of warheads.

The review is due to be completed by the end of this year, and European officials say the outcome is not yet clear. But one official said: "Obama is now driving this process. He is saying these are the president's weapons, and he wants to look again at the doctrine and their role."

The move comes as Obama prepares to take the rare step of chairing a watershed session of the UN security council on Thursday. It is aimed at winning consensus on a new grand bargain: exchanging more radical disarmament by nuclear powers in return for wider global efforts to prevent further proliferation.

That bargain is at the heart of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which is up for review next year amid signs it is unravelling in the face of Iranian and North Korean nuclear ambitions.

This may be the most ambitious project of the Obama Administration yet and it does seem clear that it is the President himself driving the policy. It is reassuring to learn that the President does have convictions.

There's more...

Japan Repudiates the LDP

While official results are still being counted, exit polls by all major media said Yukio Hatoyama's Democratic Party of Japan was projected to win 308 of the 480 seats in the House of Representatives, the lower house in the Japanese Diet. That would easily be enough to ensure that Mr. Hatoyama will be installed as the country's next Prime Minister in a special session that is expected to start in mid-September.

The current and fourth in as many years Prime Minister Taro Aso, conceding defeat, said he would also step down as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Although the vote gave the Democrats a landslide win, most voters were seen as venting dissatisfaction with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party more so than endorsing the policies of the opposition. In this light, the Japanese election is more a repudiation of the long-governing LDP than an embrace of the Democratic Party of Japan. The conservative Liberal Democrats who with their precursors have held or shared power for 62 of the past 63 years.

As Mr. Hatoyama noted in his victory speech this election was "a revolutionary election" and portends a reorientation of Japanese foreign policy away from the United States towards a more focused role in Asia.

There's more...

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