Why not the best?

In conjunction with Scott’s post immediately below (“Red America, Blue Europe”), you might want to look at this op-ed piece in the Washington Times by Julian Knapp, a German. Knapp cites powerful evidence that German public sentiment is overwhelmingly anti-American. Germans regard China more favorably than the U.S., and consider us a greater threat to world peace than Iran and North Korea. Moreover, the main problem isn’t George Bush; Knapp finds that German anti-Americanism exists independently of Bush, and predicts that it will not be much diminished under a new administration.
Knapp doesn’t bother to tell us what the main cause of German anti-American is, but I don’t think this poses much of a mystery. Germans dislike America because (a) we are so much more successful and powerful than Germany and (b) we refuse to concede the right of Germany and its allies to curb our power through the U.N. and other organizations and instruments. Most theories of international relations would predict that, as the only superpower in the world, ambitious but less powerful countries such as Germany would deeply resent us and want to counterbalance our power. But in the case of Germany and France, it’s worse than that. They disliked us even when there were two superpowers and we were the one protecting them from the other superpower, which happened to be a brutal totalitarian state. European anti-Americanism was as pronounced in the 1960s and early 1970s as it is today. Americans who were surprised when European animosity decreased during the early Reagan years shouldn’t have been — America appeared to be in decline at that time, following the harrowing Carter presidency.
In a sense, then, Knapp’s is a dog-bites-man story. But he raises an interesting point when he complains about President Bush’s appointment of William Timken as ambassador to Germany. Timken is a highly successful Ohio businessman who, according to Knapp, speaks no German. Knapp surmises that Timken owes his appointment to his generous contributions to the Bush campaign. I don’t know whether Knapp’s snapshot of Timken is fair (Timken’s biography suggests that he’s a man of considerable distinction), but if it is, then I share Knapp’s concern.
But why, if German animosity is driven by strong historical forces rather than personalities? For two reasons. First, we still need a top notch ambassador in Germany to maximize cooperation on issues where the governments share a common interest, particularly thwarting terrorism. Second, historical forces shift. Germany is part of an experiment (the EU) that is likely to fail. If that happens, attitudes towards the U.S. might well change. They are more likely to do so (and in a positive direction) if we send quality representatives who can effectively fight the battle of ideas even when it may seem futile to do so.
My more general concern is over whether the Bush administration is paying enough attention to the quality of its low-visibility appointees. Bush has appointed mostly men and women of distinction to the top jobs, and he has done a better job than President Clinton of avoiding corrupt appointees. His appointment of John Roberts was inspired. And every president fills important diplomatic positions with rich contributors who lack diplomatic expertise. Nor is Bush the first to fill jobs like FEMA director with friends of friends who lack a strong background in relevant areas.
But we’re either at war now or we aren’t. If we are (and that’s the premise of the Bush presidency and the premise of Power Line), then we can’t settle for business as usual when it comes to political appointments to jobs with national security implications. Even though I see no persuasive evidence that the overall federal response to Katrina was not good, there really was no excuse for having a director with as weak a background as Michael Brown’s. I hope the administration understands that now.


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