Stefan Aust, Editor-in-Chief of Der Spiegel, spoke on US -- German Relations at The American Club of Hamburg on Thursday evening. He admitted he rarely gives speeches and never in a 'foreign' language, but Der Spiegel has just started up a printed English publication which he wanted to promote. He frankly stated that a little more aggressiveness is needed in showing what Europe and Germany is and English as the global language is the tool Der Spiegel intends to use.
In fluent, excellent English Aust, who has been to America at least 50 times starting off in 1969 on a six month tour of not only the U.S. but parts of Canada and Mexico as well, immediately talked of the beautiful balloon of Europe which went puff this week and how one can forget a common European policy anytime soon. The heart of his speech, though, was comparing Woodrow Wilson and his policies and aims with that of George W. Bush -- the idea behind 'the city on the hill' and then talking about the different perspectives of freedom and stability that exist in Europe and the US. In the US religion and freedom are often perceived as identical twins whereas in Europe religion is equated with limiting freedom. The whole sticky idea of 'being exceptional' which is widely accepted in the US as a given, positive factor in its dealings with the rest of the world is tainted in Europe. As he pointed out, European history shows that episodes of feeling 'exceptional' were followed by war.
As for the war in Iraq, he stated directly that the reasons were not profound or even clear enough to start it: no weapons of mass destruction were found and the instability the war is causing in Iraq leaves the world very unsettled. No one, of course, can be untouched by the downfall of a cruel dictatorship. Ending tyranny is like mother's love---you can't be against it. Yet, as he pointed out, Germans know something about starting wars on false assumptions and facts and the horror and hardships of war itself. He also spoke about other ways of 'liberating' people and how the European Union has every right to boast about how it has helped many people here.
Asked about the role of US journalists in the post 9/11 period and in the play up to the war in Iraq, he contended that they were very reluctant to criticize and went along too timidly with the government's arguments. However, he pointed out it were US journalists who uncovered the abuses at Abu Ghraib and he sees a change in reporting and style now, in particular due to not finding any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. As for Europe's role after the lost elections in France and Holland, he does not see it being a counter balance in the foreseeable future to the US which is still the 600 pound gorilla in the middle of the room.
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