Archive: Apr 2008

Will Mr. al-Maliki get it right, this time?


Nouri al-Maliki: Finally reaching out? (via pingnews, Flickr)

You can say lot of things about Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, but the least is that observers are confident about his abilities. As John Burns of the NY Times once put it: “If you were sitting on a local school board you would be worried about appointing him to be Principal of your local highschool”.

With being responsible for 30 million Iraqis, al-Maliki’s reign has been a source of constant frustration for the Bush administration. As a Shiite, he has alienated the country’s Sunnis and has not been able to diminish the influence of Shiite militias like Muqtada al-Sadr. Under immense pressure to deliver results, he personally led an attack of 30,000 Iraqi troops against Mahdi-army in Basra, but the ill-planned attack badly failed and showed that the Iraqi army (though helped by U.S. and British troops) is not yet up to the job.

Still, the symbolism of him addressing the al-Sadr-problem has earned him some positive reactions by the Kurdish and Sunni minorities; at the same time, Mr. al-Sadr (who is currently in Iran) seems to back down from openly confronting the Iraqi army and his followers, of whom a lot are under siege in Sadr-city now, seem to be divided about whether to rise up in yet another violent insurgency or to try to gain political influence in the provincial elections in October.
While the Mahdi-army is under pressure, Mr. al-Maliki is preparing to bring back together the unity government and therefore sending another signal of reconciling with the Sunnis. These steps are also important for American diplomatic efforts going on in the background, which try to bring their loyal allies in the region into supporting Iraq (Saudi Arabia, for example, sees Mr. Al-Maliki as a Shiite thug who is capable of increasing Iran’s influence in the region).

Still, Mr. al-Maliki has to face a lot of uncertainties: Another successful uprising by Mr. al-Sadr’s Madhi-army and his job will be in limbo again; his protection of other Shiite insurgent troops who are close to his political allies could backfire as soon as the Sunnis get more influence. And finally, there is another player involved: Al-Qaida in Iraq has continued to carry out suicide attacks and, if the interpretation of senior member Ayman al-Zawahri’s critique of Iran is correct, may turn against Shiites once more. It looks like Mr. al-Maliki’s legacy will be defined in the next months – but expect more violent hurdles getting in his way before the provincial elections in October.


About elitism, patriotism and winning John Doe


Barack Obama talks
No tie, but worse: No pin! (via calij brown, Flickr)

There is not a shadow of a doubt: Even if Hillary Clinton wins the Pennsylvania primary tomorrow, Barack Obama will emerge as the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Presidential election sooner or later. But his lead in delegates and at the party base might not save him from doing something that had seemed unimaginable for the Democratic party only a couple of months ago: Screwing things up and leaving the G.O.P. another four years in the White House.

Not that John McCain has become an extraordinarily strong candidate in the last couple of weeks – quite to the contrary: His U.S.”heritage” tour gave the impression of an nostalgic old uncle dropping by to visit places of the past and his economic speech has left many wondering whether the deficit George W. Bush will have left might not be the worst thing that could happen to the American budget. There are two attributes that have hurt Mr Obama’s case: Him being elitist and him being unpatriotic.

If this sounds Kerryan to you, you might be right: As John F. Kerry was depicted as a flip-flopping, windsurfing liberal in the Presidential campaign 2004. Mr. Obama’s latest remarks and his symbolism (or lack of) have become the talk of the nation – or at least of the conservative pundit nation.

First, Mr. Obama attributed his problems in getting voters in Pennsylvania to blue-collar small-town-voters whom he portrayed as narrow-minded, churchgoing gun nuts. Then, at a horribly misguided TV debate with Mrs. Clinton, he had problems explaining why he is not wearing a flag pin on his suit.

To Europeans, making these issue a problem out of this must seem crazy and far away from reason (but is it really?). Still, becoming American President requests not only stamina and a readiness to bring on populism, it also requires the ability to suggest to voters that you would be the guy to have BBQ with or to have a beer while watching football. Though you can imagine having Mr. McCain on your couch telling you old stories from Vietnam (or worse, singing “bomb Iran” after having a few beers), a lot of Americans would probably have problems to imagine Barack Obama sitting on the couch without getting political or laying out a vision for the country. But “Yes, he can” you might argue – still, Mr. Obama might be faced by a conservative media storm painting him as elitist, pointing to his Harvard law school degree and his wife’s 300,000 $ “community outreach” job.

What could be Mr Obama’s tactic then? If he wants to get the ordinary voter behind him, he might have to become less of a charismatic comet and more of an ordinary guy who can lay back. Dancing to two tunes, the visionary and the ordinary, might bring up new risks to his campaign, though: Being authentic to John Doe and not losing the visionary spark his die-hard-supporters worship him for could be the toughest challenge lying ahead for the Senator from Illinois.


BKA und Bahn: Am Bürger vorbeiregiert


Dart throw
Am Ziel vorbei: Schlechte Werfer, tolle Symbolbilder (via Batmanscamera, Flickr)

Es ist beinahe schon tragisch zu nennen, wie die schwarz-rote Koalition derzeit am Wohl der Bürger vorbeiregiert. Kaum hatte das Bundesverfassungsgericht die Gesetzeseinfälle zur Online-Durchsuchung etwas entschärft , kommt nun der (zugegeben etwas ältere Plan) eines BKA-Spähangriffs an die Öffentlichkeit. Dieser soll nicht nur das BKA in die Liga eines “deutschen FBI“, also einer polizeilichen Behörde mit geheimdienstlichen Befugnissen, katapultieren, sondern würde de-facto Artikel 13 des Grundgesetzes aushebeln.

Ganz gleich, ob das Bundesverfassungsgericht eine solche Regelung wieder einkassieren würde: Die Anstrengungen der Bundesregierung sind gefährlich und zeigen Anzeichen eines paternalistischen Staates, der die Definition der Privatsphäre jenseits von Bürgerwillen und Verfassung in die eigene Hand nimmt. Das Argument der Bekämpfung von Kriminalität und Terrorismus vermittelt durch die schwammige Definition der Überwachungs-Voraussetzungen den Eindruck eines Feigenblatts; das Resultat ist ein wachsendes Misstrauen der Bürger gegenüber dem Staat. Der bittere Aspekt ist, dass dieses Misstrauen genau bei den mündigen und informierten Bürgern auftreten wird, die bislang die Stützen der Gesellschaft waren.

Im Fall der Bahn-Privatisierung zeigt sich ein anderes Phänomen, wenn auch mit weniger drastischen Auswirkungen: Das Versickern gesellschaftlicher Debatten in inner- und zwischenparteilicher Symbolpolitik, wie aktuell im Fall der SPD. Die vorgeschlagene Privatisierungslösung ist nicht nur wirtschaftlich unsinnig: Der Maximal-Verkauf von rund 25 Prozent der Anteile wird finanzkräftige Investoren kaum ins Boot holen, weil sie auf die Unternehmensführung de facto keinen Einfluss hätten; Privatanleger werden sich nach dem Debakel mit der T-Aktie kaum um die Papiere reißen.

Doch auch für die Passagiere wird die Privatisierung keine großen Vorteile bringen: Um Investoren bei Laune zu halten und den Aktienkurs zu steigern, muss Bahn-Chef Hartmut Mehdorn Rendite erwirtschaften – und die wird im Logistikgeschäft, nicht beim Personalverkehr gemacht. Die Folge für die Reisenden, also die Bürger, die mit ihren Steuergeldern den Konzern aufgebaut haben, dürften weiter steigende Preise und ein eingeschränkter Regionalverkehr sein. Auch hier ein klassischer Fall von vorbeiregiert, bei dem die Allgemeinheit den Preis für die Vermeidung eines weiteren Koalitionsstreits zahlen wird.