Wednesday, May 16, 2018

A "red-brown" alliance in German politics?

Alexander Reid Ross posted on his Facebook page a link to this article by Ktrtki Tkachenko, How Right is the Left? The German radical Left in the context of the ‘Ukraine crisis’ Eurozine 05/15/2018. Tkachenko argues that there is a de facto "red-brown alliance," i.e., an alliance of the far left (red) and the hardline right (brown).

Tkachenko's article left me scratching my head. A reader not at all familiar with German politics might easily conclude that there is active political cooperation between the far left and far right. But while his piece points out the overlap between far-left and far-right criticisms of Germany's and NATO's Russia policies, I'm not convinced that's anything beyond the usual politics-makes-strange-bedfellows situation. Germany has a parliamentary system at all levels. And I'm not aware of even a county or city government whether there is a coalition between the AfD and the Left Party, which are the "far right" and "far left" parties that sit in Parliament. At the national level, the Left Party has tried for years to persuade the center-left SPD to consider a "red-red-green" coalition of the SPD, the Left Party and the Greens. But there's no strategic political alliance between the AfD and the Left Party.

The German political discussion around Russia has been very different from that in the US. The German unification issue was a central one prior to 1990. The Ostpolitik of Willi Brandt's government was arguably a left-right policy, the SPD being the senior (left) partner in his governing coalition and the "classically" liberal FDP the junior (right) partner. German policy from the 1970s to 1990 was based on the idea that business, cultural, and personal interactions with the GDR (East Germany) and other Eastern bloc countries would be more likely to ease tensions and preserve peace. Even the family of Franz Josef Strauss, the embodiment of authoritarian conservatism, did profitable business in East Germany.

I followed the footnotes in Tkachenko's criticism of a claim by Sahra Wagenknecht of the Left Party about the US spending $5 billion on regime change in Ukraine. The article that he cites as a refutation is a piece by Alice Bota und Kerstin Kohlenberg from the thoroughly respectable Die Zeit. (Sahra Wagenknecht, "Die agilsten Gegner Europas sitzen heute in Brüssel" 07/07/2018; Alice Bota und Kerstin Kohlenberg, Haben die Amis den Maidan gekauft? Die USA gaben in der Ukraine über Jahrzehnte Milliarden aus. Wohin floss das Geld? Zeit Online 13.05.2015 (English version: Did Uncle Sam buy off the Maidan? The United States has spent millions on Ukraine over the past few decades. Where did the money go?)

Wagenknecht's claim that he links was, "Die USA haben 5 Milliarden Dollar in einen Regime-Change in der Ukraine investiert." ("The USA invested $5 billion in a regime change in the Ukraine.") It's legitimate to say that's an incorrect claim if it is taken to apply only to the 2014 events, as the context implies. But it was a line in a parliamentary speech in response to a heckler from the CDU. As the "Zeit" article notes, "Victoria Nuland, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, spoke of $5 billion, or €4.5 billion, for Ukraine in a call to the American ambassador in Kiev on January 28, 2014." Bota und Kohlenberg explain that Nuland's number would apply to the period from 1991 to 2014 from the State Department and USAID, including support for "civil society and NGOs" (USAID spokesperson quoted). It's not clear whether Bota und Kohlenberg are validating the $5 billion number, although that's implied. How partisan the USAID project may be is, not surprisingly, an ongoing dispute. But they note that even über-Realist John Mearshehimer regards it as at least in part as attempts to determine political/partisan outcomes.

But Tkachenko's piece leaves the impression that Wagenknecht just pulled that $5 billion number out of the air, or from some Russian bot. At least in that instance, he seemed to be trying a bit too hard to make the point. (Full disclosure: I'm very skeptical of the wisdom and practical utility of American "regime change" efforts. And I think it was reckless to expand NATO in the way we did. But I'm not a fan of Steve Bannon or the poor persecuted folks on Bari Weiss' "Intellectual Dark Web." Whether or not they might agree with me on those judgments, which they would be basing on very different criteria than mine in any case.)

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