Obama Rings In New Year In Hawaii, Merkel, Sarkozy And Berlusconi Favor Switzerland
  While Barack Obama will round out his last pre-presidential Hawaii vacation with the traditional New Year fireworks, several European leaders will ring in the New Year in Switzerland. According to Swiss media reports, French President Nicholas Sarkozy has booked a place in Crans-Montana. Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi are expected to vacation either in Klosters near Davos or in St. Moritz, depending on which media source you trust. Wherever they stay, there is plenty of snow to go around, which is after all one of the reasons why people go there.

Wherever you are celebrating 2009, Happy New Year to you.
Michael Knigge 31.12.2008, 20:32 # 1 Comment
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Should Obama Say Or Do Something About Gaza?
  With no sign of the violence in Gaza letting up, the pressure on President-elect Barack Obama to publicly take up the issue is growing. While Obama is in, what Tim aptly described, a holding pattern on Gaza, some critics from the left demand that he should become engaged now for Middle East Peace and speak out about the Gaza crisis. Meanwhile critics from the right argue that Obama is doing exactly what President George W. Bush has been doing and got hammered by the press – taking lengthy vacations.

I think both criticisms – from the left and from the right –are off the mark. Let's start with the easy one: There is one big difference between Obama's vacation in Hawaii and President Bush's: The latter one was in office when he was on his way to set a vacation record. Obama is not yet President. Let's see how long his vacations will last once he resides in the White House. And just for the record again: As a long vacationing European, I think even presidents deserve long vacations once in a while.

What about the demand then that "Obama and his aides should be openly counseling the Bush administration to use every diplomatic avenue to promote a ceasefire and, above all, to urge against an Israeli invasion and occupation of Gaza"?

First, it may sound like a cop-out when Obama's team insist over and over again that there is only one president at a time. But it simply is true. Second, it is probably fair to assume that Obama and his foreign policy team are in constant contact with the Bush administration about Gaza. And third, what would such a public plea to the Bush administration or a clear condemnation of Israeli air strikes in Gaza achieve on the ground? Nothing much would be my guess. After all, at this point whatever Obama could say would be just words and no action. Would that make Israel halt its pounding of Gaza? Probably not. Would that stop Hamas shelling Israeli villages? Probably not.

What it would do though is already force Obama to reveal some kind of Middle East policy at a time when he and his team may not be ready to do so. As Jon Ward analysed in the Washington Times, Obama's silence gives him time to assess the situation and his reaction. I also agree with David Corn that Obama hopes that this crisis is over before he takes office and the Middle East will persist as a serious problem, but the immediacy of it will have passed.

Corn also makes a great point I haven't heard before. Asked about Obama's foreign policy priorities, he argues that because Obama is facing so many pressing global issues he doesn't have a vertical, but a horizontal to-do list.
Michael Knigge 30.12.2008, 20:52 # 1 Comment
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Nobel Laureate Predicts Obama Will Change Economic Policy And Improve Regulation
  Nobel-winning economist Robert Solow predicts that President Barack Obama will lead U.S economic and foreign policy in a different direction: "The Obama administration in the coming four, but probably eight, years will bring real change to economic policy and foreign policy," Solow told German business daily Handelsblatt in an interview (in German). "But I don't think that the nature of American capitalism will change dramatically. But at its fringes there will be changes and it will be better regulated."

Asked whether he would accept a position as advisor to Obama, Solow, who received the Nobel prize in 1987 for his work on economic growth, said that Obama doesn't need a 84 year-old advisor. Instead, Solow added: "Obama should look for younger advisors among my students – which he has already done."

Concerning the financial crisis, Solow doesn't think the current situation is comparable to the global crisis of 1929. "Nobody believes that unemployment in the U.S. will rise to 30 percent," he said. "We are talking today about an active fiscal policy that goes in the right direction, while taxes were increased in the 1930s. Today, no one in their wildest dreams would come up with something like that. We have learned from that crisis."

Oh, if you have been trying to figure out an explanation for the financial crisis and failed to come up with a cogent one, don't fret, even a nobel laureate in economics like Solow is flummoxed: "I don't think that normal economic thinking can help explain this crisis."
Michael Knigge 29.12.2008, 19:20 # 0 Comments
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Christmas Celebration A La Obama, Merkel And Steinmeier
  Even world leaders take some time off for the holidays. If you don't know by now where and how (turkey and ham in Hawaii) President-elect Barack Obama is spending his Christmas break, you have probably chosen to observe a self-imposed media blackout for the last days.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christmas vacation usually receives less press coverage than does Obama's - which she is probably not too unhappy about. Just like last year, she travelled to the mountains to do some cross-country skiing. As we are told, the Merkel family Christmas menu featured goose, prepared by the Chancellor herself.

Foreign Minister and Social Democratic candidate for chancellor, Frank Walter Steinmeier, spent Christmas with the family in Westphalia. For dinner on Christmas eve, the Steinmeier's had Kasselerbraten with Sauerkraut. The Steimeier Christmas also features singing under the christmas tree and going to church.

Whether you are on the beach, in the mountains, or simply staying at home: Happy holidays!
Michael Knigge 25.12.2008, 21:59 # 0 Comments
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Change The Constitution For Arnie?
  Let's be honest, ever since election night we have been inunandated with everything we ever wanted to know about the President-elect Barack Obama and his upcoming administration: his foreign policy team of rivals, his economic team, the challenges he will face as of January 20th, whether or not his cabinet choices include too many Clinton holdovers, whether or not Liberals or Republicans have reasons to be happy about Obama's cabinet picks, and so on. Let's not even start to look at the more gossipy aspects of the President-elect.

So while we are all a little fatigued after six weeks of incessant news about 44, let's look beyond the next four years of the Obama presidency and enjoy some news relief straight out of the state of California. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger told 60 Minutes that he would like to be President of the United States. Problem is the Constitution would have to be changed since Arnold Schwarzenegger was born in Austria. But as he told 60 Minutes: "I think that I am always a person that looks for the next big goal. And I love challenges. I always set goals that are so high they are almost impossible to achieve."

What are the odds that an Austrian-born Governor of California could become president? A presidential betting site for 2012 has odds for lots of possible candidates including Sarah Palin, Joe Biden, Al Gore, Ron Paul and Brian Schweitzer. Arnold Schwarzenegger is not (yet) on the list.
Michael Knigge 22.12.2008, 22:05 # 0 Comments
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Wishes For President Obama
  Well, it's that time of year again. Reuters asked German analysts and fund managers what they would wish from President-elect Barack Obama if they could ask him for one thing. I gather that the response from the finance community wasn't exactly overwhelming. Here are two people who actually had a wish for Obama:

Alexandra Hartmann, fund manager at Fidelity International, hopes Obama will see to it that the current printing of money ultimately doesn't lead to high inflation. Jens Wilhelm, board member at Union Investment, expressed his wish "that Obama won't wall off the U.S. and hurt global business activity through protectionist measures. The U.S. still serves as an important role model for the global economy. Therefore it is critical that Obama throws his weight behind the global business and finance system."

Not asking for all that much, are they?

To read their wishes in German click here.
Michael Knigge 20.12.2008, 21:34 # 0 Comments
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Is Obama's Foreign Policy Team Really As Strong As It's Cracked Up To Be?
  President-elect Barack Obama has received lots of kudos, i.e. here and here, for the selection of his foreign policy team. But sometimes in order to reach a broader perspective on a topic, it is helpful to get a contrarian view. In this case, it is provided by Melvin Goodman, a professor of international security studies at the National War College who argues that Obama has actually compiled a weak national security team. Here are a few snippets of Goodman's argument:
-In keeping Robert Gates at the Pentagon, Obama has a "secretary of defense who does not support many of the foreign policy positions that the president-elect took during the campaign."
-In selecting Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, Obama made a choice based on "domestic political reasons."
- In choosing James Jones to become his national security adviser, Obama has picked a person who has "never been known as a big thinker on foreign policy issues; his appointment, moreover, places another key position in the hands of the military."
- With Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, Obama selected two key figures who voted for the war in Iraq" and with Robert Gates and James Jones key players who defended the war in Iraq.
"With these inadequacies in personnel, it will be difficult to reform the policy process and flip the switch on a series of Bush administration decisions that have harmed the interests of the United States," writes Goodman.
With the exception that Hillary Clinton was picked merely for domestic reason (one can certainly make the argument that she possesses foreign policy experience), Goodman's other points are factually correct.

The question is what would have been a better alternative? Should a president choose only people who have shown total agreement with his campaign platform? Should a president forego political experience as a factor in making cabinet decisions? Should a president ignore the political landscape and the fact that the country has been rife with partisan divide for eight years?

I think not. A president should not select positions and govern along strict partisan lines or single issue stances, but instead must at least try to practice big tent politics.
Michael Knigge 18.12.2008, 21:14 # 1 Comment
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Climate Cooperation Across The Pond
  Another sign that under President Barack Obama Germany and the U.S. may become close partners in the area of renewable energy and climate change comes out of Washington this week. Germany's Ambassador to the U.S., Klaus Scharioth, introduced The Transatlantic Climate Bridge, a initiative to foster cooperation on energy and climate issues between the U.S. and Germany. Expressing hope that the new American administration will give great emphasis to the issue, Scharioth told the AP: "I think it is no coincidence that the first video message after his election given by the president-elect was on climate change and energy."
According to the Washington Times, Scharioth stressed that by working together Germany and the U.S. could become an engine for transatlantic and global climate cooperation. You can find out more information about the project here.
Michael Knigge 17.12.2008, 20:40 # 1 Comment
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Is Kissinger The Key To Restoring U.S. Relations With Russia?
  Henry Kissinger's visit with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow last weekend went practically unnoticed by Western media. I only found a brief piece by AFP on the topic. Not so with Russian outlets. RIA Novosti and Russia Today reported on the talk between the former Secretary of State and the Russian President at Medvedev's residence outside the capital. Kissinger, according to those accounts, agreed with President Medvedev that U.S.-Russian relations could and should be improved. Coinciding with the talks, the Russian navy in a display of strength was on route to visit Cuba for the first time after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Kissinger, while pointing out that he wasn't speaking for President-elect Barack Obama, stated that he was maintaining contact with the new administration and was sure an attempt would be made to improve the relations. According to Russia Today, "Kissinger said the destinies of both countries are closely interlinked and both can contribute to peace and progress in the world."
Kissinger's visit was also the theme of a RIA Novosti editorial. In the piece, titled "Looking into Obama's eyes," Dmitry Kosyrev gives the foreign policy veteran an important role in the future of Russian-American relations. While the best and the brightest of America's foreign policy community are mulling about repairing the relations between the countries, the "Republican Kissinger is the number one magician there," writes Kosyrev and adds: "Mr. Kissinger is playing a key role in getting out of this deadlock."
Whether Henry Kissinger, who had endorsed John McCain, is in fact playing the pivotal role described in the RIA Novosti editorial is an interesting question that, unfortunately, I can't answer.
So I'll just end with the rather challenging conclusion offered by the RIA Novosti editorial: "Medvedev and Obama are not the only ones who should look into each other's eyes. Our two countries should do the same."
Michael Knigge 16.12.2008, 20:06 # 1 Comment
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Washington's Cuba Policy Due For A Facelift
  In a previous post, I wrote that under an Obama administration a change of U.S. policy towards Cuba would be in the cards. Over the last couple of days, there has been a slew of articles arguing the same case: President-elect Barack Obama has a historic opportunity to shift Washington's stance toward Cuba. In an editorial for McClatchy, Lawrence B. Wilkerson, chief of staff for former Secretary of State Colin Powell, argues that  a "new, decisive policy toward Cuba, wrought by the new "change" president, will send a clear signal to the world that America is back." To that effect, writes Wilkerson, Obama should lift the American travel ban for Cuba, amend the Helms-Burton act and temporarily lift the trade embargo to allow humanitarian aid for Cuba.
A similiar line is taken by an editorial by Florida's Charlotte Sun newspaper. "Southwest Florida historically has enjoyed a fruitful relationship with Cuba. Now, we're merely a landing spot for refugees. It's time for a policy change," states the paper and calls for an end of the travel ban, reengagement of communication with Cuba, and the establishment of a comprehensive approach to the relationship with Cuba.
Articles in the Los Angeles Times and the Christian Science Monitor conclude as well that a change in Cuba policy under President Obama is symbolically important to his change agenda and at the same time doesn't force Obama to spend too much political capital.
Michael Knigge 15.12.2008, 21:13 # 1 Comment
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Will President Obama Wake Up Solar Power's "Sleeping Giant?"
  At Across the Pond, we wrote earlier about Barack Obama's fondness for Germany's rapid development of solar energy. The President-elect may want to look into the German solar success story even in times of economic turmoil because, as Reuters reports, the sector is comparatively stable and has the potential to create lots of jobs. The question is whether the solar power's "sleeping giant," as Frank Asbeck, founder of the leading solar company SolarWorld, has called the U.S., will wake up under President Obama.  
Michael Knigge 12.12.2008, 20:55 # 0 Comments
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Did Secretary Of State Rice Vote For Obama ,And If So, Does It Matter?
  After lauding the fact the the U.S. elected its first African-American president, Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice in an interview with CBS Radio was asked whether she voted for Barack Obama. Her answer left Washington Post columnist Al Kamen who spotted the segment in the interview asking "So that's a yes?"

Rice's statement lead Toby Harnden, Washington Editor for Britain's Daily Telegraph, to conclude that the she had indeed voted for Barack Obama instead of her party's candidate John McCain. I think Harnden is right. The statement by the Secretary of State does give the impression that she voted for Obama. Question is: Does it matter if she did? And if so, should she come out and make it public as did her predecessor Colin Powell?

What do you think?
Michael Knigge 11.12.2008, 20:15 # 0 Comments
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Cool Tool V: Advice For President Barack Obama
  There are numerous reports, analyses and policy papers by think tanks, experts and policy wonks out there explaining what the next President should or should not do. Sure, you might ask, but who has the time to track them all down and decide which ones are worth reading. The answer: The Carnegie Foundation. They have compiled all the worthwhile stuff giving policy advice to President-elect Barack Obama starting with A as in ACLU to Y as in Yale School of Forestry and Environment. It is organized in five categories Defense, Fiscal Policy, Foreign Policy, Homeland Security and U.S. Economy.

It's a great tool for policy wonks, but also for everyone interested in just browsing through interesting analysis. You can find it under advicetothepresident.org.
Michael Knigge 09.12.2008, 19:26 # 0 Comments
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Supreme Court Rejects Hearing Obama Citizenship Case
  As expected, the Supreme Court decided not to review a suit claiming that Barack Obama was born a British national and therefore ineligible to become President of the United States.

Here's the link to the document (via Below the Beltway)

Even though there is at least one more case challenging Obama's eligibility undecided, it looks rather likely that it also will be rejected.

So probably everyone making travel plans for the inauguration on January 20 can go right ahead.
Michael Knigge 08.12.2008, 18:46 # 4 Comments
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Obama's Citizenship, A Topic For The Supreme Court?
  It is unimaginable. What if the Supreme Court decides that President-elect Barack Obama can't become President of the United States after all because he doesn't fulfill the requirement of having been born in the U.S.? A suit, to be reviewed by the Supreme Court, claims that Barack Obama was not born in the U.S. and therefore can't become president. 
While it is an entertaining what-if game, experts find it very unlikely that the case ever will be brought before the Supreme Court.
The Blog House by the Star Tribune thinks if Obama's Haiwaiian birth certificate is forged, as alleged in the suit, then "a U.S. senator and his presidential campaign have perpetrated a vast, long-term fraud. They have done it with conspiring officials at the Hawaii Department of Health, the Cook County (Ill.) Bureau of Vital Statistics, the Illinois Secretary of States office, the Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court of Illinois and many other government agencies. Sounds like a Vince Flynn novel."
I concur. The authenticity of Obama's birth certificate had already been a topic in the campaign and has been refuted convincingly. Here are again the links to Factcheck.org and Politifact.com who covered the issue in great detail.

For a review of what other bloggers have to say about the issue check out the Daily Intel.

Update: Readers commenting that the current case doesn't claim that Obama was born on foreign soil are correct. The claim in the current case is that Obama was a British citizen at birth. Thanks.
Michael Knigge 05.12.2008, 20:50 # 53 Comments
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Historic Window For Obama To Change U.S. Foreign Policy Toward Cuba
  Even though Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez is doing his utmost to antagonize the U.S., American policy toward his country and Latin America as a whole will not change drastically under President-elect Barack Obama, experts asked by the San Francisco Chronicle predict. Unless unforeseen events occur, the continent will remain on the foreign policy backburner for Washington compared to global hotspots such as Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.
Cuba, however, is one area where an Obama administration could alter its policy. With all the focus on Obama's foreign policy team, a major shift of opinion among Cuban-Americans went almost unnoticed. For the first time, a majority of Cuban-Americans support ending the economic embargo and restoring relations to the island. According to a new poll by Florida International University in Miami, 55 percent of those surveyed favor lifting the embargo and 65 percent favor normalizing diplomatic relations.
With the support of a majority of Cuban-Americans, Obama is in a great position to fulfill his campaign promise to lift travel restrictions to the island. His pledge to engage with leaders of unfriendly regimes, among them Cuba, also received further endorsement by the poll.
So while the big picture of U.S.-Latin American relations will probably remain unchanged, a reversal of American policy towards Cuba is definitely in the cards. 
Michael Knigge 04.12.2008, 20:56 # 0 Comments
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U.S. Ambassador To Germany: Obamas Team Of Transatlanticists Is Good News For Europe
  William Timken, U.S. Ambassador to Germany, will leave his post after three years in Berlin on December 5. In an interview with the Hamburger Abendblatt Timken, a supporter of President George W. Bush, talked about German-American relations and his view of President-elect Barack Obama's foreign policy team. Here are a few excerpts:
-Ambassador Timken on the state of German-American relations:
"As part of the transition process I have communicated President-elect Obamas team my information and my assessments. And I have said that the relations are as strong, mature, balanced and as versatile as never before."
-Ambassador Timken on what the world can expect from President-elect Obama:

"An outgoing administration should be cautious to judge about the next generation. But I will say that every change in the leadership of a country can lead to a new era. We believe that the extremly high platform of the relations between the U.S. and Germany that we have developed into a true global partnership is an excellent starting point for the new team. They won't find any problems that they have to solve."
-Ambassador Timken on the selection of veteran politicians like Hillary Clinton and James Jones to Obama's team:

"As I said, it is not up to me to judge that. But it is obvious to everyone that Senator Clinton possesses broad political experience and the future national security adviser Jones knows Europe and Germany very well. So the message is clear: Obama has nominated genuine transatlanticists to his team. That is good news for Europe."
You can read the entire interview with William Timken (in German) here.
Michael Knigge 03.12.2008, 21:38 # 0 Comments
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Rice Nomination Says To UN: U.S. Is Open For Business Again
  As expected, President-elect Barack Obama announced today that Susan Rice will become the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. What the fact that her position will be elevated to cabinet rank means is best deducted from a sentence uttered by former UN ambassador John Bolton: "It overstates the role and importance the UN should have in U.S. foreign policy," he told the International Herald Tribune. From Bolton's neoconservative stance, that is defintely true. For others, for instance Tim Wirth, the head of the United Nations Foundation, Rice's selection, as well as the elevation of her post, are an important symbol to the world that the U.S. intends to reengage with the UN again.

From an international perspective, I think Wirth is right. Under President George W. Bush, the U.S. pretty much sidelined the UN from the beginning, calling for a radical overhaul of the institution. However, under Ambassador Bolton who once said the UN could lose 10 stories of the 38 at its headquarters building without anyone missing them, one could get the distinct feeling that even if the UN agreed to change, it wouldn't be good enough. With Susan Rice, the U.S. declares that is open for business at the UN again.

While Rice, who penned an interesting piece about Bolton's nomination for UN ambassador, will be less hostile to the UN, she certainly is no pacifist and is ready to have the U.S. act unilaterally, if necessary.

By the way, for an ununsual look at Susan Rice's background and family history click here.
Michael Knigge 01.12.2008, 20:21 # 0 Comments
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