- Yesterdays nightmare, todays spoilt rotten kidz:
German soldiers are softies who lack discipline, hate responsibility and show an inadequate desire to serve their country, according to the army’s chief inspector.
General Wolfgang Schneiderhahn, the general inspector of the Bundeswehr, told the German parliament that depite their positive contribution in Afghanistan, complaints from troops about their conditions were an “embarrassment”.
“We have given a good account of ourselves in Afghanistan, but we cannot guarantee an all-round feel-good feeling for soldiers,” said the general, before going on to detail the less dignified side of the country’s armed forces.
- Afghanistan: Al-Jazeera reporters arrested, released
- Taliban buying children, transforming them into suicide bombers
He cited complaints reaching him about the quality of sleeping bags used in a deployment in the Congo.
“Are our soldiers too soft?” asked the best-selling daily German newspaperÂ Bild.
Gen Schneiderhahn told politicians in Berlin on Monday that the descendants of the country’s mighty military machines of the past needed to have “a better feeling for discipline and to show a greater readiness to serve the state”.
The Bundeswehr was formed after the Second World War. The German post-war constitution initially mandated the Bundeswehr only to serve in protection of German borders. After a 1994 ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court their remit was expanded to assist in crisis reaction and conflict prevention around the world under Nato and the United Nations.
But in Afghanistan they are not allowed at the “sharp end” of fighting with the Taliban and Berlin is under constant pressure from America and Nato to send more manpower.
Once upon a time Germany’s Spiegel was a respectable, Â necessary source for news. Â Â Nowadays you find nothing but shallow PC Â crapola.
- And of course, “Hope’n’Change’ is all the rage and the Obamessiah can do no wrong:
As US President Barack Obama presses ahead with his Middle East peace intiatives, America’s new tone and new modesty are going down well in the region. Even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is finding it hard to resist the pressure to compromise on the Palestinian question.
Whenever anyone calls his resourcefulness in difficult situations into question, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likes to recount an episode from his younger days. He was in his early twenties and was serving in the Israeli Defense Force’s elite special forces unit Sayeret Matkal, which had been chosen to gather intelligence behind enemy lines and had a tough-as-nails reputation.
Netanyahu was leading a group of soldiers up a mountain when they suddenly found their path blocked by a giant boulder. With the side of the mountain to the left and a precipice to the right, the group’s only real option was to turn around and abort the mission.
But, as Netanyahu likes to relate, he knew just what to do. Using shrubs that were growing out of the cliff, he made his way hand-over-hand around the obstacle, dangling over the abyss, and reached the path on the other side of the boulder.
Forty years later, Netanyahu is being called upon to use his imagination once again. This time, the challenges involve defusing the conflicts in the Middle East and the question of how Israel’s relationship with its protective power, the United States, will develop under President Barack Obama. The president has asked him, in no uncertain terms, to accept the possibility of the establishment of a Palestinian state, as his predecessors did.
But solving this problem isn’t as easy for Benjamin Netanyahu, who goes by the nickname Bibi, as it was to circumvent the boulder in his path when he was in his early twenties: The majority in his right-wing coalition government and in his own party rejects what Obama is asking him to do.
In aÂ keynote speech on Sunday,Â the prime minister sought to lay out his plans to address the Palestinian question. He said he was willing to accept theestablishment of a Palestinian stateÂ — but set such strict pre-conditions, including the demand that such a state is demilitarized, that there is little chance of an agreement working. He also rejected Obama’s calls for a complete halt to settlement building in the West Bank and ruled out giving East Jerusalem to the Palestinians as their capital.
Netanyahu has often talked about his vision of a peace with the Palestinians: economic development in the West Bank, which is controlled by the moderate Fatah movement under President Mahmoud Abbas, expansion of the settlements and no cooperation with radical Hamas in the Gaza Strip. He has also repeatedly described Iran as an existential threat to Israel, as well as to the region and the West.
Breaking the Cycle of Violence
Although the United States is very familiar with Netanyahu’s position, the White House does not agree with it. Obama is not satisfied with the status quo, but instead wants to change it by defusing the conflicts. For this reason, Netanyahu will hardly be able to resist showing at least a modicum of accommodation in the long term, which includes recognizing the so-called road map for peace as a guideline for Middle East policy.
The road map is a graduated plan that includes obligations for both the Palestinians and the Israelis, the goal being to break through the fatal cycle of crisis and war, intifada uprisings, suicide bombings and military operations. At its core, the plan is about renouncing violence, and its ultimate goal is the recognition of the two-state solution by both sides.
The American president is pursuing the plan, which is not without risk. The Middle East has proved time and again to be a difficult region for ambitious reformers. In the years since the 1993 Oslo framework agreement, there have been several new beginnings, but all were destined to fail. And, often enough, disappointment over breakdowns in negotiations has exploded into new violence — something former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both experienced for themselves.
And this time?
Obama set the tone in hisÂ landmark Cairo speech.Â Now the execution is up to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell.
Netanyahu initially refused to toe the Obama line, straining relations between Israel and the United States. “There were understandings on the settlement issue, but you deceived us and did not uphold them,” Mitchell said with brutal directness. He was referring to Israel’s international commitment not to build any new settlements in the West Bank. Netanyahu complained to close associates that Mitchell’s accusation and unexpected tone were “unfair.”
President Obama is picking up the pace, hoping to score a success in the Middle East — other international conflicts, such as those in Pakistan and Afghanistan, will be even more difficult to resolve and are likely to last longer. Mitchell traveled first to Jerusalem, and then to Damascus and Beirut to sound out the key players’ willingness to make concessions.
New opportunities are emerging in Damascus, where Syrian President Bashar Assad is eager to shed his status as a pariah in the region, ostracized in the West and dependent on Iran, which is seeking regional hegemony. Negotiations between Israel and Syria over the return of the Golan Heights, brokered by Turkey, had already progressed relatively far, but talks stalled when the war in Gaza erupted.
And now there is new movement in the Middle East, as the effects of Obama’s Cairo speech to the Islamic world begin to be felt. In Lebanon’s elections, the majority did not vote for the alliance of Shiites and Christians dominated by Hezbollah extremists, as had been expected. Instead, the pro-Western alliance led by Saad Hariri, the son of assassinated former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, won the election.
For now, virulent anti-Americanism no longer appears to be a reliable factor in the Middle East — a consequence of the Cairo speech, with its emphasis on mutual respect and its offer to approach conflicts in a different way.
Obama’s “Modest Approach”
Similar changes are taking place in Iran, where presidential elections have triggered anÂ astonishing wave of emotions.Â The country plunged into a furious election campaign, in which one of the issues was Iran’s position toward the United States. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was forced to listen to challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi’s public accusations that he had damaged his country’s international credibility with his tirades.
The news that Ahmadinejad had won the election triggered three days of large-scale protests in Tehran by Mousavi supporters, who claim that the election was rigged. Seven people were reported to have been killed during clashes on Monday evening between Mousavi supporters and militia loyal to Ahmadinejad.
Such events signal a beginning, even if the real balance of power in Tehran or Damascus is unlikely to change any time soon. Indeed, they reflect a new level of commitment on the part of the US, which, ironically enough, is gaining influence by taking a more modest approach than in the past.
Palestinian President Abbas’s supporters, who are dependent on the US’s good will, welcome the new tone. “We are in a position of strength vis-Ã -vis Israel for the first time,” says Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian government’s long-time chief negotiator. The Palestinians are no longer the only ones protesting against the building of settlements in the West Bank, now that even the US government is critical of the policy.
Roughly 300,000 people live in settlements near or in the West Bank cities of Hebron, Bethlehem and Ramallah, and another 200,000 live in occupied East Jerusalem. If an independent Palestinian state were established, Israel would undoubtedly keep the largest settlement blocs — with their own roads, security forces and infrastructure — effectively creating a state within the Palestinian state. In addition, the Israeli government has, for some time, taken a laissez-faire approach to new settlers who are illegally setting up their trailers with the intention of putting down roots.
Netanyahu was elected precisely because of his unwillingness to compromise. In his view, the White House is breaking its word. In a cabinet meeting, he pointed out that former President George W. Bush had agreed to accept the expansion of the settlements. Secretary of State Clinton, however, disputes Netanyahu’s version, saying that the Bush administration made no such assurances.
The settlements are important, but they are merely a symbol. The real issue is whether Israel is willing to grant the Palestinians their own state. Even ahead of Sunday’s speech, there was evidence to suggest that Netanyahu was coming around to the idea of a two-state solution
“Israel will agree to the two-state solution in the end,” Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said after a telephone conversation with Netanyahu ahead of the Israeli prime minister’s speech. Further evidence was provided by a clash during a meeting of the Likud Party’s parliamentary group. Member of parliament Danny Danon begged his prime minister not to let himself be forced to accept a Palestinian state. Netanyahu replied by asking: “Do you have an alternative?”
Another Likud Knesset member, Tzipi Hotovely, cited the “right of Jews to their Biblical land,” which right-wing, nationalist Likud traditionally supports. “But there are also Palestinians here,” Netanyahu replied. “What status should they be given? Subjects? Citizens?” His remarks were met with silence.
The Three No’s
Netanyahu was Israel’s prime minister once before, between 1996 and 1999. At the time, he became famous for his three no’s: no withdrawal from the Golan Heights, no withdrawal from East Jerusalem and no negotiations with the Palestinians under any preconditions. Today, all he has left is an awkward choice. If he distances himself too significantly from the three no’s, his right-wing coalition will likely collapse. But if he doesn’t go far enough, the pressure from Washington will only increase.
One of the new things about the Obama administration is the unified approach it is taking with its current policies. In Washington, the approach is called “public diplomacy,” a reference to the fact that the president publicly identifies the US’s national interests in the world’s major conflicts and appeals to the participating countries to contribute to finding a solution. In addition to negotiating with his peers, Obama is talking to anyone willing to listen, just as he did during his campaign. Washington’s diplomacy, in a new twist, involves including the public in its discussions about problems.
George Mitchell, Obama’s special envoy for the Middle East, is in charge of the details. The 75-year-old former senator has served as chairman of the Walt Disney Company and has also headed an international law firm. He received great recognition for his role in the Northern Ireland peace negotiations.
In a report he wrote about the Middle East in 2001, he argued that the best way to end the violence would be to contain the Jewish settlements. Mitchell has Lebanese roots and is familiar with this part of the world. With a melancholy expression on his face and speaking in his sonorous voice, he repeatedly reminded his Israeli counterparts last week that they had made commitments and are now expected to abide by them. He has a reputation for never raising his voice and never relenting.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
As in his days as a member of Israel’s elite forces, Benjamin Netanyahu is once again facing an enormous obstacle. His country and his key ally are waiting to see how he’ll make his way around it.