Joschka Fischer Gets It
February 23, 2006 - 12:57pm ET
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"I love America," said former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer last night at a forum sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies . "But when the strongest man in the world tells me that 1+1=3, I cannot agree." Fischer, of course, was talking about his official refusal to accept the conclusions of the Bush administration in the run up to the invasion of Iraq, yet it could also apply to the even larger strategic gap that threatens to permanently divide the transatlantic alliance.
Fisher, now serving as a member of the German parliament and a long-time leader of the German Green Party, was finally able to speak without the constraints of his former office. And what he said was essential for Democratic presidential aspirants to hear. That his partner on the podium, former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, echoed nearly all of Fischer's main points only underlines the importance of what he has to say.
Unfortunately, what was picked up by the Associated Press was not the most important point Fischer made last night--but in fact secondary in strategic significance. Barry Schweid, AP diplomatic writer, focused on Fischer's advice to the current White House on how to handle the nuclear confrontation with Iran. Fischer believes the situation can be resolved through the development of a "grand bargain" that would require the United States to negotiate alongside the Europeans and directly with the Iranians. We are doing the same with North Korea, indeed we have bi-lateral talks with the totalitarian regime in Pyongyang. Tehran must be no different.
This grand bargain would involve Iran trading its weapons-grade enrichment program for Washington repealing its policy of regime change and eventual normalization with the United States. Iran would end its support for internatinal terror and the U.S. would commit to a more aggressive non-proliferation regime. Ultimately, Fischer said, it is essential that America stop trying to undermine Tehran while Europe is trying to negotiate with it. Europe is ready to pay the price of such a strategy, meaning Fischer believes European leaders are prepared to suffer the higher energy prices that might arise as Iran tries to wiggle out of the bargain, but America has to get on board.
Yet even such a grand bargain is strategically short-sighted -- if not futile -- if it is detached from a longer-term transatlantic strategic consensus. That's why it was this young elder-statesman's view of the larger global challenges facing the West that was the most important for Democratic foreign policy advisors to hear.
Fischer believes there are two and a half major challenges facing the West right now. The first is how to integrate Asia peacefully into the global economy. The second is how to resolve the mess in the 'greater Middle East'. The final half is what to do about Russia's current boisterousness.
The core of the first challenge, Asia, is the region's rising demand for materials and energy. "China needs average growth of 10 percent to fix its domestic problems," making energy one of the most important challenges facing the west, Fischer said. Fischer recognizes that this is a problem with roots in our own modern economies. Therefore, Fischer believes that "a reconstruction of the West is crucial," and asks, "How will the world economy be organized so that we are not in world conflict about resources?"
Indeed, Fischer could not overestimate how important the energy question is. During the question and answer period, he chastized a member of the audience serving in the U.S. Commerce Department for attempting to place the blame on the lack of a U.S.-E.U. energy consensus on the European bureaucracy. Fischer retorted that it is America's intransigence on energy that is the major stumbling block and that the proper forum must be the Group of Eight industrialized countries -- a forum Bush has avoided engaging seriously over energy. The G8 reference only underscores Fischer's believe that this problem is rooted in resource economics within developed economies.
In the end, Fischer told America exactly where we can find a new transatlantic consensus. Where the old consensus was based on a common view of an external Soviet threat and the need for a united external policy, the next consensus must be fundamentally different. We "need a common strategic understanding," says Fischer--an understanding that in order to integrate 1.3 billion Chinese and 1.1 billion Indians into the global economy, our own economies must change, starting with energy. From that foundation, then, we can address the Middle East and Russia with confidence.
I couldn't agree more.
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