With tensions between Germany and the US at their highest point since the end of the Second World War, the first meeting between President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel took place on Friday in Washington.
The mood was tense and cold. At a joint photo op in the Oval Office, Trump barely acknowledged Merkel and refused the customary handshake requested by photographers.
At a joint press conference following a White House meeting between Trump and Merkel, other officials and business leaders from the two countries, the two heads of state expressed agreement only on the questions of increased military spending and war. Merkel promised Trump that Germany would increase defence spending two percent above the NATO minimum. In return, Trump pledged his commitment to NATO. They agreed “to work together hand in hand in Afghanistan and to collaborate on solutions in Syria and Iraq.”
The conflict between the two countries, which stood on opposite sides in two world wars in the first half of the twentieth century, emerged most sharply on the issue of trade policy. Trump complained that the past behaviour of US allies had often been “unfair” and he insisted on a “fair trade policy.”
What Trump means by this is clear. He threatened Germany with trade war in an interview he gave shortly before assuming office, specifically warning of import duties of up to 35 percent against the German automobile industry. Claiming that Germany’s behaviour toward the US was “very unfair,” he said he would make sure this ended.
In the past week, Trump’s economic advisor, Peter Navarro, once again referred to the German trade surplus as a “serious matter” and called it “one of the most difficult problems” for American trade policy. The US is currently preparing a so-called “border adjustment tax” that would substantially diminish taxes on American exports and place a heavy burden on German and other European imports.
The growing transatlantic conflicts were also reflected at the G20 finance ministers’ summit in Baden Baden, Germany. The previous evening, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble met for the first time with his new American counterpart, Steven Mnuchin. The former Wall Street banker insisted that the US did not want a trade war, but refused to support the inclusion in the closing G20 communiqué of the customary clear statement in favour of free trade and in opposition to protectionism.
Trump’s protectionism is a catastrophe in particular for the export-oriented German economy. In 2015, Germany achieved a record surplus of €260 billion, which corresponded to more than eight percent of its entire economic output. Trade with the US accounted for €54 billion of the surplus. In the previous year as well, the US provided the largest export market for German products, with a total value of €107 billion.
Merkel’s delegation included leading German economic representatives, who were tasked with convincing Trump of the importance of free trade. But while the German government struggles to de-escalate tensions with the US, it is simultaneously preparing retaliatory measures that are no less aggressive.
The deputy chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) parliamentary faction, Carsten Schneider, threatened capital controls.
“Ultimately, Germany is financing a large portion of the American trade deficit with its capital exports,” said Schneider. “If Trump does not relent, we must be ready to act.”
In a Friday morning interview with the German radio station Deutschlandfunk, German Economics Minister Brigitte Zypries (SPD) said:
“The other possibility is simple. We will file suit against him before the World Trade Organization. It lays down procedures. In the WTO, it is clearly specified in the agreements that you are allowed to take no more than 2.5 percent in taxes on the import of automobiles.”
“This would not be the first time that Mr. Trump failed in the courts,” the SPD politician added provocatively.
The president of the Federation of German Industry (BDI), Dieter Kempf, asked Merkel prior to her trip to present Trump with “the standpoint of a German, a European economy… with appropriate self-confidence.” Trump’s views on economic policy would simply “not work,” he insisted.
In order to counter Trump in the most effective way, Berlin is pursuing a strategy of preparation for trade war between the US and the entire European Union. The Handelsblatt newspaper quoted the former chief economist of the Economics Ministry, Jeromin Zettelmeyer, as saying that Germany needs “the backing of the rest of Europe.” He went on to state, “They will have to wage a trade war against us if possible.”
According to a report in Der Spiegel, the aim of the German government is to “isolate the Americans.” To this end, EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstörm has been tasked with negotiating trade agreements “with other countries and regions of the world.” At the EU summit the previous week, the EU states spoke out against “protectionist tendencies” in world trade and positioned the European economy against the US, Der Spiegel reported.
The EU would “continue to collaborate actively with international trading partners,” said the final resolution of the EU summit. To this end, “progress will be achieved with decisiveness in all ongoing negotiations with regard to ambitious and well-balanced free trade agreements, including with Mercosur [a sub-regional bloc that includes Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela] and Mexico.” The negotiations with Japan are “close to a conclusion soon” and “trade relations with China should be strengthened on the basis of a common understanding of mutual and reciprocal benefit.”
Berlin and Brussels are expanding their economic relationships with precisely those countries that are in the crosshairs of the US government. Trump is threatening Mexico with the termination of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and Washington is pursuing a course toward war against China with increasing openness. The conflicts between Germany and the US will continue to sharpen as a consequence.
In a significant move, Merkel spoke on the telephone with Chinese President Xi Jinping immediately before traveling to Washington. She took this opportunity to express her opposition to protectionism. According to Merkel’s government spokesperson, Steffen Seibert, Merkel and Xi affirmed that they would “promote free trade and open markets together.” In addition, the two leaders agreed to “continue their trusting collaboration, especially within the framework of the German G20 presidency.”
Meanwhile, the German media is demanding “an even clearer statement against the new US protectionism” and urging that “the majority of other countries be mobilized against Trump.” This will be “necessary” in the future, said a comment in the Reinische Post. Germany and the EU must “self-confidently oppose” Trump with “their own contrary aims, instead of letting themselves be intimidated by Washington.” The conditions for this are favourable, the newspaper said.
It went on to state that it had become clear in Baden Baden that Germany has “not only the other EU states, but also almost the entire rest of the world—above all China, Brazil and Japan—on its side regarding trade policy.”
The fundamental reasons for Trump’s aggressive behaviour toward Berlin as well as Germany’s efforts to build a coalition against the US are to be found in the insoluble contradictions of the capitalist system itself. Capitalism is incapable of overcoming the contradiction between the international character of production and the national state. As on the eve of the First and the Second World Wars, the conflicts between the imperialist powers over raw materials, export markets, zones of influence and cheap labour are once again leading to trade war and military conflict.
Copyright © Johannes Stern, World Socialist Web Site, 2017
Trump Slips into ‘Endless War’ Cycle
There was, during the course of the 2016 campaign, a small but vocal group of antiwar libertarians and conservatives who had convinced themselves that Donald Trump was preferable to Hillary Clinton because he, Trump, had made his (fictitious) opposition to the Iraq War a cornerstone of his candidacy.
Trump, some believed, was a Republican in the mold of Senator Robert Taft, someone who would turn away from neoconservative, interventionist orthodoxy.
If, as the adage suggests, we can judge a man by his enemies, a cursory look at Trump’s most vocal Republican critics would seem to confirm this judgment. Why, here’s Bill Kristol in January 2016, asking “Isn’t Donald Trump the very epitome of vulgarity?” Commentary’s John Podhoretz declared that Trump “would be, unquestionably, the worst thing to happen to the American common culture in my lifetime.” Professor Eliot A. Cohen and his merry band of think tank militarists published an open letter in opposition to Trump’s candidacy while National Review convened a symposium of anti-Trumpers for a special issue titled “Against Trump.”
Perhaps, though, Kristol, Cohen, Podhoretz, NR and the rest needn’t have worried so. Trump, it turns out, seems every bit as captive to the bipartisan foreign policy consensus as was his predecessor. Many supporters of Barack Obama held the errant hope that Obama would finally break the cycle of wars begun a quarter-century ago when George H.W. Bush launched Operation Desert Storm against Iraq and in defense of desert petro-states, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
Trump partisans may object that he’s only been in office for about two months. Give him time, they say. That’s fair enough, but it is worth reviewing Trump’s foreign policy record up to this point.
An administration’s budget is generally a reliable indicator of its priorities. Here we find, in Trump’s first budget proposal, nearly $11 billion in cuts to the U.S. Department of State, a cut of roughly 29 percent, while the Pentagon is budgeted for an additional $54 billion, an increase of 9 percent.
Afghanistan, where the U.S. has been at war for 15½ years, is by far American’s longest and perhaps most futile overseas engagement. Here the Trump administration seems intent on ratcheting up airstrikes on the Taliban in a departure from the narrower focus on anti-terrorism that characterized the late Obama administration policy.
The head of U.S. Central Command, U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week that he will recommend an increase in troops in order “to make the advise-and-assist mission more effective.” This comes on the heels of testimony by the top commander in Afghanistan, Army General John Nicholson telling Congress in February that he would need “a few thousand more” troops to carry out the mission.
Meanwhile, more troops are being deployed to Kuwait. On March 9, the Army Times reported that the U.S. is sending “an additional 2,500 ground combat troops to a staging base in Kuwait from which they could be called upon to back up coalition forces battling the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.” This is in addition to the already roughly 6,000 American troops that are currently in Syria and Iraq assisting in the fight against the Islamic State. American units are now in the northern Syrian city of Manbij and on the outskirts on Raqqa.
The latter deployment of Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit marks, according to the Washington Post, “a new escalation in the U.S. war in Syria, and puts more conventional U.S. troops in the battle.” The Post, like all other mainstream outlets, leaves out mention that this new deployment is illegal under international law, a point Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made in an interview with Chinese state media last weekend.
And then, perhaps worst of all, there is the ongoing American support for Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen. As Council on Foreign Relations analyst Micah Zenko recently pointed out, Trump has already “approved at least 36 drone strikes or raids in 45 days — one every 1.25 days.” These include, according to Zenko, “three drone strikes in Yemen on January 20, 21, and 22; the January 28 Navy SEAL raid in Yemen; one reported strike in Pakistan on March 1; more than thirty strikes in Yemen on March 2 and 3; and at least one more on March 6.” The strikes, we are told, are a necessary part of the “global war on terror” and are portrayed by military and administration spokesmen as such.
A Pentagon spokesman told longtime CNN stenographer Barbara Starr that the wave of 30 strikes on March 2 and 3 were “precision strikes in Yemen against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula” in order to “maintain pressure against the terrorists’ network and infrastructure in the region.” The U.S.-Saudi war on Yemen has predictably resulted in a humanitarian catastrophe. According to the Brookings Institution’s Bruce Reidel,
“a Yemeni child dies every 10 minutes from severe malnutrition and other problems linked to the war and the Saudi blockade of the north.”
All this on behalf of our old friends the Saudis. In the decade and a half after aiding the 9/11 hijackers, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has, with American acquiescence, embarked on a campaign to destroy Yemen because of an illusory threat posed by Iran. Yet the reason behind KSA’s aggression on the southern end of the Arabian peninsula has not a bit to do with “security” or Iranian “aggression” or fighting “terrorism”; it is a sectarian campaign waged by Saudi extremists, nothing more. What could possibly be America’s interest in assisting the Saudis in such an endeavor?
Yet, despite the heinous nature of Saudi Arabia’s anti-Houthi campaign in Yemen, its mastermind, the young Saudi Defense Minister Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was treated to lunch at the White House with the President this week. In an ominous sign of things to come, a statement from the Saudis noted that Trump and bin Salman “share the same views on the gravity of the Iranian expansionist moves in the region.”
And so, to sum up: President Trump, in the space of two months, has proposed a budget that slashes funding for diplomacy, spends lavishly on military, has committed thousands of troops, conducted dozens of airstrikes, and cemented the U.S. commitment to the wars in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, he and his team have signaled to the Saudis that they fully share the Kingdom’s obsession with Iranian “expansion.”
An Unending Cycle
What can be done to break the seemingly unending cycle of American intervention in the Middle East? What all the aforementioned interventions have in common is that they are, as the constitutional lawyer and former Justice Department official Bruce Fein has pointed out, presidential wars, which he defines as “wars in which the President decides to take the United States from a state of peace to a state of war.”
Fein, a founding member of the anti-interventionist Committee for The Republic, has written at length on what he views as the steady erosion of the congressional prerogative in matters of war and peace. Fein writes that the Founders “unanimously entrusted to Congress exclusive responsibility for taking the nation to war in Article I, section 8, clause 11 of the Constitution” because they understood “to a virtual certainty that Congress would only declare war in response to actual or perceived aggression against the United States, i.e., only in self-defense.”
Accordingly, the Committee for The Republic has embarked on a timely project aimed at having “the House pass a resolution that defines presidential wars under the Constitution going forward and declares them unconstitutional in violation of Article I, section 8, clause 11 (Declare War Clause).” Furthermore, the “End Presidential Wars” project seeks a further resolution, which would warn “the President that such wars will be deemed high crimes and misdemeanors under Article II, section 4 of the Constitution resulting in his or her impeachment, conviction, and removal from office.”
Fein points to Alexis de Tocqueville’s observation in Democracy in America that,
“All those who seek to destroy the liberties of a democratic nation ought to know that war is the surest and shortest means to accomplish it.”
Unless we come to grips with our current mania for overseas intervention and find a remedy for Congress’s abdication of its constitutional responsibilities, we are doomed to remain in the 25-year grip of endless, counterproductive and illegal military interventions in the Middle East and beyond.
James W Carden is a contributing writer for The Nation and editor of The American Committee for East-West Accord’s eastwestaccord.com. He previously served as an adviser on Russia to the Special Representative for Global Inter-governmental Affairs at the US State Department.
Copyright © James W Carden, Consortiumnews, 2017
REVEALED: How Israel Made Amnesty’s Local Branch a Front for Its Foreign Ministry
21st Century Wire says…
This latest revelation makes perfect sense when you consider the sheer scale of Israel’s brutality system of repression against the native Palestinian population, including how many Palestinian children are unlawfully imprisoned and tortured by the Israeli kangaroo justice system.
In comparison to other Amnesty cases, Israel receives a fair amount of criticism on paper with Amnesty, but very light treatment – and more the most part, totally unaccountable for its crimes in comparison to other countries. Compare this to Amnesty’s regularly scheduled over-the-top campaigns of condemnation based on fabricated reports implicating Syria – which dominate the global news cycle for days on end.
Over the years, part of Israel’s strategy, much like the US, has been to maintain some control over ‘human rights’ organizations – as is evidenced by the report below. By definition, this is controlled opposition.
“The Israeli government funded the establishment and activity of the Amnesty International branch in Israel in the 1960s and 70s. Official documents reveal that the chairman of the organization was in constant contact with the Foreign Ministry and received instructions from it.”
This intriguing chapter began for Israel after a 1969 report by Amnesty International which criticized the imprisonment and torture of Palestinians. At that point, Israel had to control the information…
At the beginning of April 1970 Police Minister Shlomo Hillel stepped up to the Knesset podium. He updated the legislators on contacts between the government of Israel and Amnesty International concerning detainees imprisoned in Israel and torture. He concluded: “We can no long trust the goodwill and fairness of the Amnesty organization.”
What the minister reported to the Knesset was that for a number of years, Israel had tried to influence the Amnesty’s activity from within. Documents collected by the Akevot Institute for Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Research and revealed here for the first time show that some of the people who headed Amnesty Israel from the end of the 1960s to the mid-1970s reported on their activity directly and in real time to the Foreign Ministry, consulted with its officials and requested instructions on how to proceed. Moreover, the Amnesty office was at the time supported by steady funding transferred to it through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: hundreds of Israeli pounds for flights abroad, per diem allowances, registration fees and dues payments to the organization’s headquarters.
The documents show that the most substantive connection was between the Foreign Ministry and Prof. Yoram Dinstein, who headed the branch between 1974 and 1976. Dinstein, an internationally renowned expert on the laws of war who later served as president of Tel Aviv University, had previously been a Foreign Ministry official and served as the Israeli consul in New York.
During his time as chairman of Amnesty Israel, years after he left the ministry, he regularly reported to his former colleagues on his activities and contacts with the international organization.
Amnesty International was founded in London in 1961 by British lawyer Peter Benenson, who, incensed over the arrests of Portuguese students, started enlisting people to petition their governments to release those who have since then been defined as “prisoners of conscience.”
Three years later, the Israeli branch of Amnesty began operations…
READ MORE AMNESTY NEWS AT: 21st Century Wire Amnesty Files