US foreign policy looms over German election

(By Deutsche Welle) In Germany’s election, controversial US policies on surveillance and Syria have forced the candidates to walk a fine line on relations with Washington. But the US wants Berlin to play a bigger global leadership role.

At the G20 summit in St. Petersburg this month, major European nations such as France, Great Britain, Italy and Spain all signed a joint statement supporting the United States’ position on Syria. The document pointed the finger at the Assad regime as the likely culprit behind the alleged August 21 chemical weapons attack in eastern Damascus and called for a “strong international response.”

But the signature of Europe’s largest economy and arguably most important political power, Germany, was noticeably absent from the joint statement.

Berlin hesitated and then ultimately signed the communiqué one day later. It’s an election year, and with the campaign now in its final leg before the vote on September 22, the center-left opposition is trying to breach Chancellor Angela Merkel’s seemingly impregnable position in the polls. Even foreign policy, often a back-burner issue in elections, has become a point of campaign contention.

The issue of military strikes against Syria is not the first time that US policy has stirred up partisan recriminations in Germany’s election campaign. Reporting by newsmagazine Der Spiegel on former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s leaks about US surveillance programs, and Berlin’s alleged involvement in them, has dogged Merkel for months now.

“It’s a fine line – the candidates can’t get too close to the US, especially on the NSA issue,” Stephen Szabo, executive director of the Transatlantic Academy, told DW. “On the other hand they can’t be seen as being too distant either, because the US is still one of German’s biggest economic partners. It’s still its major security partner.”

Continue reading

Advertisements

Despite protests, Turkey remains ‘indispensable’ to West

(By Deutsche Welle) Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown on protests in Turkey has sparked condemnation in the EU and US. But as the West moves to up its involvement in Syria, it’s unlikely to risk a break with Ankara.

Long heralded in the West as a democratic example to the broader Muslim world, Turkey has elicited harsh condemnations from its allies in the European Union and the United States in recent weeks. Reacting to Erdogan’s crackdown on protests, both powers have called on Ankara to respect the rights to freedom of speech and assembly.

In Washington, the Obama administration has – at least rhetorically – positioned itself on the side of the protesters. Presidential spokesman Jay Carney has said that the White House believes most of the demonstrators are law-abiding citizens. Prime Minister Erdogan had labeled the protesters as “looters” and “extremists.”

“We believe that Turkey’s long-term stability, security and prosperity is best guaranteed by upholding the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly, association and a free and independent media,” Carney told reporters over the weekend.

But the protests in Turkey come during a critical juncture in Middle East, with the Western powers moving to become more deeply involved in Syria’s civil war. Last week, the Obama administration announced that it would begin supplying the Syrian rebels with weapons, saying that the Assad government had crossed a “red line” by allegedly deploying sarin gas.

Turkey – which shares a 822-kilometer border with Syria – has played a critical role in the conflict in Syria, hosting more than 380,000 Syrian refugees and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) on its territory. Western arms shipments are likely to be delivered to the FSA, which is considered to be more liberal and secular than Islamist rebel groups fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad’s government in Damascus.

“For the US to be able to implement that policy, it needs to work closely with the Turkish government as a conduit for those weapons,” Sinan Ülgen, an expert on Turkish foreign policy and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Brussels, told DW.

Continue reading

US, Europe struggle to redefine partnership in a changing world

(By Deutsche Welle) US President Barack Obama has called on America and Europe to renew their flagging global leadership. But the Atlantic partners first must redefine their relationship in the face of Arab uprisings and Asian strength.

In his address to the British Parliament, Barack Obama called for the United States and Europe to take on a global leadership role by setting a democratic example to the rest of the world, even as the decade-long war in Afghanistan grinds on and a stubborn financial crisis worries both sides of the Atlantic.

Obama’s speech on Wednesday, the first by an American president in London’s 900-year-old Westminster Hall, was the keynote address of a European tour that led him from Ireland to Poland in a bid to inspire a renewed sense of purpose in a Western world demoralized by a wrenching start to the new millennium.

The trans-Atlantic partnership has survived the 10-year crisis that began with the September 11 attacks and ended with the near collapse of the global financial system. As a new decade dawns, Europe and the US are struggling to come to terms with the fact that their historic partnership is changing in response to revolts in the Arab world and stunning economic growth in Asia.

Continue reading