Friday, April 21, 2006

Joschka Fischer

I went to a talk by Joschka Fischer today. I was really curious about seeing the man that took the oath for German foreign minister in jeans and sneakers. As you can see these days he dresses a little bit more conservative. He had nice words for the audience, "you remind me more of university, than a successful tech company."

Either way, it was very interesting. He gave a quick introduction on his history in the German government, his positions on a variety of issues ranging from a nuclear Iran, the Iraq war, the rise of China and India, over global warming to renewable energies. He cautioned, "I'm not an expert on Internet technologies, but I am for foreign relations and issues affecting the environment." Then he opened it up for questions. A lot of issues were covered in detail, particularly the nuclear program in Iran, Fischer's fear of an arms race in the Middle East and the impact on the region, if Iran were to acquire the bomb. Scary stuff. He disagreed several times on various subjects with the policies set in Washington, DC, and had very harsh words about the Iraq war, "bad idea, poorly planned, bad execution". He outright dismissed claims by the Iranian government that their nuclear program is for civilian use, "Why do they need a closed fuel cycle? Why highly enriched Uranium? The Iranian program looks very similar to the existing Indian and Pakistani programs." Airstrikes on iranian nuclear facilities "with very high likelyhood are not going to be sufficient to destroy the program". And then there is Israel, and the rethoric of the Iranian government. Fischer managed to explain these issues concisely in terms and ways that were easy to follow and even though I'm following the news from the region, it was nice to have all the issues presented together and how they interact.

On renewable energies he considered a program started by the SPD/Greens government an economic success, "Germany is a leader in the field of solar technologies now, as well as wind energy". He talked about how all humans have the same right to fulfill their dreams as everyone in the industrialized nations.

"The developed world can't tell countries like China or India to cut back when their people are trying to go after their dreams", and then looped it back to renewable energies and cooperative world politic as the only solution for long-term prosperity. "In Europe war was the driver of change. My father went to war, my grand-father did, and his father did. War is terrible, but it's also change. You burry the dead, attend to the wounded, and then rebuild. You know where to spend the money and concentrate your efforts on the build-up. However, with the weapons available in the 21st century and the way the world-economy is interconnected, war is no longer an appropriate way to deal with the problems. "Diplomacy and cooperation between countries is the only way."

Immigration and the expansion of the European Union came up as well, particularly admitting Turkey into the EU. Fisher felt compelled to explain to his american audience (which by rough observation consisted of about 2/3 non-Americans, half of them Germans) what such a move would mean, "imagine Mexico, the Central American countries, as well as Columbia, in talks with the US to join the union. Think about the uproar this would create, what people would say".
Fischer compared immigration policy in the US to the Europe. A fairly open policy as it exists in the US would never work in countries like Germany. He explained that with the difference in attitude towards the poor. "The poor in the US are basically ignored and forgotten. If European countries had such a substantial amount of poor people as the US, they would quickly organize into a group with extremist tendencies (left or right) that could not be ignored by the government". This reminds me of the riots in France a couple months ago. It is already happening there. Probably just a matter of time until it happens in Germany.

Overall, I'm very happy I had the chance to listen to Joschka Fischer and meet him in person. This was not as impressive as seeing Michail Gorbatshev last year (or shaking his hand). However, Fischer was much more intellectually stimulating.

Shortly after the talk, the building began to rumble and shake. I went outside and saw 3 Blackhawk helicopters fly by accompanying this rather big military transport helicopter. Oh yes, President Bush is in town today, Airforce One was parked at Moffet Field, Bush probably was on his way to an invited guests only event somewhere on the Peninsula to dispense his usual nonsense. The contrast couldn't have been stronger.


Leo said...

Very impressive.
I certainly would have liked to hear Joschka's speech.

Not sure on your conclusion at the end, though, anticipating riots as seen in France also in Germany.
Nevertheless I agree that clear improvements and changes need to happen.


Bernhard said...

You are right, for Germany as a whole it's unlikely that things will escalate to the level they did in France. Berlin-Neukoelln may be an extreme example, but it scares me if schools need police protection.