Helmut Schmidt’s 12 Questions to the (US) Presidential Candidates

Is he still around? Yes, he is: Helmut Schmidt, German Bundeskanzler from 1974 to 1982. Famous for his no-nonsense personality (but, after all, in his youth he was heavily involved in the Wehrmacht throughout the Second World War, including two years serving on the Russian Front), he was in particular the scourge of President Jimmy Carter, who felt the full glare of his teutonic disdain for not being quite as ready to face down the Soviets across the inter-German border in as hard-core a fashion as he. Yes, Ronald Reagan turned out much more to his taste, but alas, he only had about a year-and-a-half to enjoy the Gipper: he lost his majority in the Bundestag on 1 October 1982 and so had to yield his office to Helmut Kohl of the opposition CDU party.

But you could always count on the fact that Helmut Schmidt would land in the private sector on his feet, and in fact from 1983 through today he has been a co-publisher of the well-respected (certainly by this weblog) Hamburg-based opinion weekly Die Zeit. In that capacity – and, really, as among the most éminent of the German intellectual and political éminences grises – it’s only natural that he occasionally grab the podium offered him by his publication to hold forth on some important contemporary development. This time – on a weekend that is just before Super Tuesday, you’ll remember – the German-reading public is treated to a piece by Schmidt titled Liebe Amerikaner (“Dear Americans”), and sub-titled was kann die Welt von euch erwarten? – “what can the world expect from you?”

Schmidt’s starts his article with a familiar litany: It’s really a shame that we Europeans are not allowed to cast our own votes for President of the United States as, goodness knows and the past seven-year reign of Bush has once again demonstrated, what the occupant of that high office decides to do can have enormous repercussions on European affairs. Also, if we could vote, Schmidt goes on, then we could pose questions to the presidential candidates about their plans and intentions in the realm of foreign policy, and they would actually have to answer them, or at least pretend to do so. Indeed, in Schmidt’s judgment, “the world-political inheritance that the new President will have to start to deal with in January, 2009 seems more complicated, extensive, and oppressive than the Vietnam legacy that Nixon took over in 1969 from his predecessors Kennedy and Johnson.” For all that, the positions of the candidates remain by-and-large about as clear as mud.

So Schmidt is glad to step into the breach and – in what is likely the vain hope that some of the candidates might eventually feel a need to respond – pose his own twelve questions to the US presidential candidates (as usual, the following translations are my own):

  1. How do you want to end the War in Iraq? What means will you use? What should such an end to the War look like?
  2. What is your goal in Afghanistan? Is it the eradication of only al-Qaida, or also of the Taliban? Or is it the establishment of a democracy?
  3. In the event that al-Qaida definitely decamps to Pakistan and possibly even wins access to the Pakistani nuclear weapons: Would you also intervene militarily in Pakistan?
  4. What is your strategy for a peaceful resolution to the half-century-old conflict between Israel and her Arab neighbors? Will you push for the creation of a Palestinian state, or will the Annapolis conference be just an incident [presumably with the implication “isolated”; the German word here is Episode].
  5. Now that US intelligence agencies have publicly determined that Iran has abandoned its quest for nuclear weapons: What is the future policy of the USA regarding Iran?
  6. Considering a quarter of all states in the world have some Islamic influence: Will you push for religious and cultural tolerance and intervene against a “clash of civilizations” with Islam?
  7. Are you also of the opinion that, next to the Middle and Far East, Russia is the other great challenge for global security (according to Zbigniew Brzezinski)? Or do you share our judgment, that since Gorbatchev Russia has nowhere violated any borders militarily and in fact has behaved friendlier towards the outside world than it ever did in Tsarist or Soviet times? Should the planned ABM sites in Poland and the Czech Republic serve to protect these states as well as the US – or should they merely intimidate Russia? Do you accept the world-political and the world-economic role of Russia?
  8. Do you accept the world-political and the world-economic role of China? Will you finally invite China to a global summit meeting?
  9. Will you fulfill America’s obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty? Will you resuscitate the ABM treaty, which your predecessor so unwisely abrogated, in order to prevent any new arms-race of anti-missile defenses? Will you finally ratify the modifications to the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, which your predecessor so far has refused to do?
  10. After two American Presidents have declined to enter into the Kyoto Protocol: Will America participate in the future in a system of treaty-determined, worldwide restrictions on the emission of greenhouse gases?
  11. Will your budget and financial policies strive to bring back into balance the heavily-negative trade deficit? Will America stop using up a great piece of the savings and capital of other nations? Will you support a common order and supervision of the highly-speculative global financial markets?
  12. Is the Charter of the United Nations also for America a document with the force of domestic law?

Pretty good questions, no? – some of them rather pointed. But you’d expect as much from Prof. Schmidt – as well as some further explanation behind them, which follows. In a nutshell: “European confidence in America’s ability to lead is currently disrupted [Ger.: gestört].” For a number of years now, Schmidt writes, Washington has turned to us only when it needed troops and money. But we want to restore the trans-Atlantic relationship the way it is supposed to be – we want to be able to love America again, not least because we admit that the animal known as a “common EU foreign policy” itself exists only in theory. Dear presidential candidates, don’t let us down – and maybe answer some of these questions!

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