Responses to Timothy Garton Ash's Guardian columns

This is an archived website, which offered an opportunity for readers of Timothy Garton Ash's book Free World and his weekly columns to exchange ideas. Updated links and new forums can be found at Timothy Garton Ash's new website,  

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Fortress America
22 July 2004

Karen Kamm, USA

I read your article "Fortress America" and I think what you fail to understand is that these monsters are trying to kill us. Osama wants to kill 4 million Americans. Who do you think we are fighting in Iraq little old ladies in tennis sneakers? They are coming to Iraq from all over the middle east to take pot shots at our soldiers. We freed 25 million people in Iraq. I don't think that is such an awful thing to do. You can't remove a dictator without some innocent people being killed. Our soldiers are taking extra risks not to kill innocents.

Saddam was a ruthless dictator. You overemphasize the Abu Ghraib scandal like many Europeans do. These people are being dealt with. They are accountable to the American people. We never claimed perfection. You don't seem to worry about American soldiers that are ambushed or blown up with car bombs by these nut cases.

What about all the other human rights problems all around the world? North Korea, Communist China, Iran you seem to be afraid of the wrong people. It seems you and many others are using us as the all purpose goat to kick around and I for one resent it. We have freed people all over the world and the nations that should appreciate us the most hate our guts. If Europe gets in trouble again the only we should help are those that helped us. We have lost many soldiers and have spent trillions defending the world and what do we get for it a kick in the pants.

I don't want to go to Europe. I rather spend my money in America. I sick of the ingrates and obnoxious behavior. What was tolerable in peace time is no longer acceptable while we are in grave danger. America is at war and Europe is acting like it did in the 1930's oblivious to the upcoming storm approaching. We are not going to wait while the Islamo-facists plot to destroy America. We are going to kill them.

Melissa Miller, USA

Dear Mr.Ash,

First of all,as an American who is a raging liberal, I apologize to you for the treatment you received at the hands of my government. Be assured that most Americans do not suffer from the acute xenophobia which seems to have this country in its suffocating grasp. Michael Moore's wonderful film summed up the atmosphere in the US since 9/11 quite accurately that the FBI, INS, CIA, White House and that fool Ashcroft have deliberately created a climate of fear and that they did so in order to keep us in line.

A friend of mine who is English was subjected to the same sort of behavior you were when she came back from holiday in Australia. Her passport apparently set off alarms in the TSA dimwit serving that day,as her name came back with the ominous information that she had been convicted of some crime twenty years ago and the charge, (false as it turned out to be), was summarily escorted into a room and interrogated by no fewer than six agents of the INS as to who she was and why she still had a UK passport,even though she has lived here for awhile.The inference I guess was, why don't you want to be an American? Seven hours later, she was released, her passport confiscated and she was ordered to appear in INS court in San Francisco and explain herself. Now,this woman is 65 and never had a traffic ticket,and hardly a terrorist. But because of the knee jerk reaction by this boneheaded administration,the real terrorists are free and the ones who aren't any trouble get stopped.

The constant "alerts" of some nebulous attack somewhere, sometime, do nothing but cause me to ignore them. So until someone can prove something might happen in the future somewhere, I am not worried. I am worried about the fact that we are intensely despised by Europeans and that our one time good standing overseas has been pretty much eliminated by the Bush administration.

Wally Ball, USA

Wow. I can't believe you actually endured such an arduous process in coming to study in America. Let's see. You had to fill out 3 whole forms, pay the price of a large pizza for passport photos, attend an interview at the U.S. Embassy, and then have a brief conversation at the airport when you arrived in the U.S. And I thought my ancestors had it difficult when they drove a wagon train across much of the U.S. to the coast of Oregon, trying to avoid being scalped along the way. You should be very proud of your perseverance, young man. Thank God you made it safely.

Now, having removed my tongue from my cheek, I'd like to say that your article about our "soft" currency being depleted due to the trials and tribulations you endured is patently absurd. I sincerely doubt these nominal travel inconveniences have anything at all to do with the state of the U.S.'s reputation in the world. I know you wanted to somehow personalize your piece with your own, rather boring, experience. However, where I come from we say "that dog don't hunt." I trust your thinking will become somewhat more "critical" post-matriculation, or else your writing career is destined to be short-lived. By the way, in closing, which of those unbelievably burdensome prerequisites to entering America would you suggest we do away with?

Let's Rock the Boat
5 August 2004

Bill Dobie, USA

Your belief that Europe would benefit from a Kerry presidency is puzzling. You seem to believe that Europe's interests are best served by Kerry, given both his liberal internationalist credentials and his support from the "better America". Unfortunately, you overlook one VERY important Kerry shortcoming: his protectionist inclinations. A President Kerry would most certainly not be in the best economic interests of Europe. Though Bush may sometimes prefer a unilateral foreign policy over consultation with our decadent European friends, he is clearly on the side of free trade, save for a few mistakes. If Europe is serious about free trade and liberalization of its sclerotic economies, then Europe should hold its nose and hope for four more years of Bush. In other words, relations between America and Europe will not improve appreciably under Kerry; in fact, given the realities of the post-September 11 world, they may even worsen.

Pat Bernstein, USA

Your recent article on John Kerry was very good. I'm not crazy over Bush, I feel his advisors Cheyney and Ashcroft to be too conservative. However, Kerry is undecisive and has not taken a firm stand on many issues. He is wooden, probably came from the same puppet shop Al Gore walked out of.
The only positive thing I can say about a Kerry win, is that it would neutralize Hillary Clinton's Presidential aspirations.

The World Election
2 September 2004

Rabbi Moshe Reiss, Israel and America

Can we be certain (relatively) about the 'swamp in which al Qaida mosquitoes breed'. The suicide bombers are neither poor nor uneducated nor irrational. Could we be dealing with an ideology of discontent such that people prefer death or heaven (which may the same to them) to this world?

C Bateman, USA

If you want to help us defeat Bush then boycott American products. Americans will vote Bush out of office if the US economy is bad. There was a drop in buying of French wines and other French products when some Americans turned against France. Reciprocate. Don't eat McDonalds hamburgers or buy Coca Cola.

Later: This is a follow up to my post advising people who oppose Bush policies to boycott some obvious American companies like McDonalds and Coca Cola. One of the reasons for the Iraqi war was to obtain oil for the wealthy who are in control of large corporations,and in America there are now the beginnings of boycotts. This is how it is done...


Some of us are organizing a Labor Day Action to inform our neighbors of some
of the destructive policies of the largest, and many say worst, private
employer currently in the U.S. There is a Wal-Mart on Rt. 25 in Centereach and one
in East Meadow on Rt. 24. Please reply by email to let me know which one you
would be willing to picket in front of and for what hours. We would like to have
coverage at both stores all day on Labor Day. Think of the workers who have
to suffer the denial of their rights both here and overseas at the hands of
this behemoth corporation who enrich the pockets of 5 of the top 10 richest
people in America. I do not think there could be a Labor Day better spent than
promoting a boycott of Wal-Mart. Please reply ASAP to set up teams to do our
demonstration. Can't you spare an hour or two on Labor Day?"

David Flandro, USA

Your recent article in the Guardian entitled "The World Election" was well written, intelligent in its scope and quite convincing. Unfortunately, like so many articles I read in European newspapers about American politics, it came off as more than a little out of touch.

First and most blaring is your assessment of the Republican characterization of the war on terror. Specifically, your argument that " . . . this whole campaign depends on projecting a grand narrative in which the US is engaged in a conventional war" is, in my view, misinformed. Had you read the entire brief on the President's (admittedly dull) web site, you would have found a detailed plan for "transforming the military" so it can fight a less "conventional" war. (Go to for details.) That most conservatives acknolwedge the unconventional nature of the threat America faces has, in fact, been a very loud, and sometimes repetitive, talking point of the Bush campaign. Also, a quick look at Kerry's web site shows that his rhetoric on "strengthening America's military", at least, is very similar to, though less specific than, the President's. (See for details.)

In addition, the opening paragraph of your article asserts that another four years of Bush will send the US on a path to "fiscal ruin". The implication is that Kerry would somehow avoid this. Perhaps in the interest of space, you never back this up. I am curious to understand your position here: Kerry plans to raise taxes only slightly (but may not be able to at all if the congress has its way) while maintaining social security benefits, expanding health care, and, according to his web site, "strengthening the military", and "protecting military families". Bush, if he really is a fiscal conservative, would use a second term to cut social security, lower medical benefits, and increase military spending while lowering taxes (Reaganomics). Both of these scenarios are potentially bad, but it isn't clear to me that one would lead to fiscal ruin and one wouldn't.

Anyway, I think that your article would be more credible to American readers if you paid attention to these issues. You should know that I do not plan to vote for Mr. Bush or Mr. Kerry in November. I wish you the best with your book.

No more Jeeves
30 September 2004

N Friedman, USA

I want to focus on two connected statements from your article "No more Jeeves," The Guardian, September 30, 2004.

You write: "Blair got two things for his support of Bush: the attempt to secure a second UN resolution, which failed, and the road map for a two-state peace settlement between Israel and Palestine, which Bush tore up in front of our prime minister's nose on the White House lawn a year later. That should have been the last straw for the Jeeves approach."

And you also write: "First, we should no longer hold back from criticising Washington in public on matters of real importance, like Israel and Palestine."

I guess I do not understand how the Arab Israeli dispute is, as you claim, a matter of such "real importance" to Britain that, as you suggest, the decision of the US government to back Sharon's unilateral withdraw ought to have been "the last straw for the Jeeves approach" so that Britain "should no longer hold back from criticising Washington in public."

What vital interest does your country have in interfering in Israel's business or the decisions of the US government regarding its relationship with Israel? In fact, your country actually has, at most, only a very limited interest in the matter. In my view, while it would surely be desirable for the Palestinians and Israelis to come to terms, world peace does not hang in the balance. And, most certainly, whatever the Palestinians and Israelis do or do not do will not affect Britain's role in the world one iota.

Which is to say, I think you confuse the amount of reporting that appears in your country's newspapers and on the BBC with the actual siginficance of the dispute to Britain.

Federico Gamberini, UK, Italy, EU

I agreed with you fully about addressing the causes of terrorism but advised against any rhetoric of the "we must fight" type. I am glad to see that you have been to Italy where the rainbow flag is much in evidence. You see, when we Italians say we are against war (and I'd like to think this is still broadly true), that is exactly what we mean. Never do we say "I'm against war, but...."

It doesn't work, you say? But then there has never been a concerted effort by the western powers consistently to apply policies of peace. THE METHODS OF WAR MUST BE REPLACED BY THE METHODS OF PEACE. I will never tire of saying this. It is no good applying double standards (with regard to empire, weapons, trade, etc.), and then having an apoplectic fit when others get restless. But always put peace first, and everything else follows. If you don't, you will always be tying yourself in knots. But of course, in order to avoid this one has consciously to make a firm commitment to peace, without fear of what others will say, and avoid saying things like "I'm against war, but...".

Your latest article was remarkably free of illusions, but again you speak too vaguely of giving Europe "some military muscle". How, and to what purpose exactly? There may well be scope for coordinating European defence, but there is no reason why this should not be limited to protecting the borders, waters, and air space of the Union. Military strength has to be proportionate to the task you have set yourself. If it is greater, you will be alarming others, provoke reactions, and be tempted to use your might just for the sake of posturing.

Scarlett must go
14 October 2004

Geoff James, USA

With respect to "Scarlett must go" and your question, "Can it really be that no one in government will take personal responsibility," you point to a problem that, while directly relevant to the great Anglo-Saxon adventure in Mesopotamia, also transcends it. The fact is that the higher one goes up the responsibility ladder, the less accountability there is. And as long as our political culture accepts the banal, empty phrases of apology mouthed by our guiding lights, that is, as long as there is no tangible, personal downside to policy decisions even where the consequences of those decisions are as deadly as they are in Iraq, the utter shamelessness of people like Bush and Blair in peddling a murderous policy based on fraud will continue to be rewarded.

In short, the answer to your question is a resounding, breathtaking yes.
As for the aiders and abetters of this nonsense who contend that it is the next election at which leaders will be held accountable, surely they do not suggest that being defeated at the polls is the equivalent of having body parts shrapnelled to a pulp on account of the geopolitical delusions spun by leaders at a safe distance. Then again, maybe they do.

Peter Dunn, UK

I thought your analysis of the Blair/Scarlett enigma in today's Guardian was superb, never better put. What worries me slightly is how commentators draw back from a central question: what is it that drives and motivates the PM to talk and behave the way he does? Last July I wrote a scrupulously-balanced - I thought so, anyway -piece for the New Statesman in which I asked a number of psychiatrists to explain why Blair behaved as he did. I had just watched him on Newsnight in the run up to the war say that he would do what he thought was right even if he was the last person in the country to believe he was doing the right thing. There was something worryingly messianic about the set of his face when he said this. I didn't get total consensus from the people I spoke to but the clearest message was that Blair was showing all the classic symptoms of the psychopathic personality - charm, deviousness, a total inablity to differentiate truth from fiction in his mind. As one of them put it "He literally doesn't see the things that tell him he's wrong." There was a lot of stuff about his confusion over his sexuality but even the NS thought that a bit too strong and we let it go.

After the piece appeared - and took off in the newspapers - the wretched Lobby dutifully reported Campbell's line that it was a Brown plot. What the psychiatrists meant, of course, was that Blair has genuinely excised the very proper reservations contained in the intelligence and then rewarded the public servants - like Scarlett - who were prepared to go along with his deluded nonsense. I believe this makes him terrifying dangerous and a very real threat - given Spain's experience - to the security of the UK in the run-up to the general election. Everyone in politics seems so frightened of him. I was watching the curious behaviour of Jack Straw sitting behind him in the Commons during the Iraq debate the other day. Straw was nodding in time to the PM's rant, and then started mouthing what he was saying with a split second time lag, like a small boy memorising a lesson. As you say, only the voters can get us out of this mess.

Geoff Smith, Sheffield, UK

Thank you for both the substance and tone of your article, 'Scarlett must go' in the Guardian on 14 October 2004. For some time I have been wondering if I was alone in being astonished that not only was John Scarlett not sacked but that he was actually promoted to be head of the Secret Intelligence Service. Words and phrases such as craven, timeserving and dereliction of duty spring to mind. It has long been blindingly obvious to anyone with any feel for the ethics of administration that he should have made it clear to Tony Blair that either the dossier was published as written by the Joint Intelligence Committee without any political 'drafting advice'or the government published a document that was explicitly its own.

It is one of the extraordinary aspects of this sorry war that many of those who were sceptical or opposed it have resigned or committed suicide whereas all the supporters remain in office. I don't suppose that John Scarlett reads the Guardian but I hope someone brings your article to his attention and that he is shamed into going.


Take two for democracy
28 October 2004

Federico Gamberini, UK, Italy, EU

Many thanks for including my comment (my name, by the way, was misspelled). I have read today's column and it was finely humorous and inspiring.


Great vote, Grisly Result
4 November 2004

Patrick Larkin, USA

Dear Timothy,
As an American living on the West Coast of the US, San Francisco CA. to be exact and where 85% of the electorate voted for Kerry, I am as sad as I can imagine possible over the results of our grisly election results. As you have noted and as it became apparent to Americans and other observers, as we saw the red and blue divisions of this country tallied up, we now occupy a single geographical body but two widely divergent & culturally separate states.
I appreciated your comments on the election results that the U.K and Europe should not abandon those Americans who are appalled by the policies of the Bush administration and who share the same basic values of internationalism and multiculturalism with the rest of a progressive Western Europe. This is an affirmation of our existence and a plea to remember that there are at least 55 million US citizens who are sad and disheartened but who are not about to give in or give up.

Eliza, America

Mr. Ash,
As an American who has been reading your splenetic anti-American columns for the past several years, I know that the Bush victory leaves you in writhing in agony.
Thank you for the exquisite pleasure this gives me.

Robert Miller, England

Dear Tim,
When you say in your article about the reelection of Bush, that despite that half of America 'thinks like us', do you mean thinks like normal people or thinks like Guardian readers?
I think we should be told, as the latter would be rather disturbing.

Karen Kamm, United States

I think the article by Timothy Garton regarding the election was way off base. America does not have a "Soweto". We have African Americans in the most important positions in the US government, The secretary of State, the national security advisor and in the dept. of education.
We have poor people in America but in America it is possible to get educated and get a good job. The poor qualify for a great deal of financial aid.
We don't have classes or castes. People move up or down based on merit. I think we have many poor people here because of the flood of immigants illegal and legal that come to the US from all over the world. Many are uneducated and have no skills. I think you will see that their children can move up the economic ladder. Some people are poor because they did not get educated, used drugs or alcohol or did not work hard.
Americans give more to charity than any other people in the world. We donate clothes, food and money to help those who need help. People all over this nation donate their time and talent to help the poor and the disabled.
My husband created a computer program to help a charity who worked with disabled children/adults to manage it's data and he has modified it for them the last ten years free of charge. I have donated my own time to them as well. I have cooked food for the poor through my church. I think you need to take a better look before you look down your nose at us. I love America and I don't believe the lies you tell about us.
Sincerely, Karen Kamm, Disgusted American

Fania Fleissig, D.C., USAc

Thank you for mentioning my home town of Washington, DC. As you probably know, while we are allowed to vote for President and for local offices we are second-class citizens, since we pay taxes but do not have full representation in Congress. (Hence our license plate motto: "Taxation without representation.")
One reason we will never be full citizens is that DC routinely votes Democratic: Overall, 90% of us voted for Kerry; no ward cast less than 78% of its votes for him.
We live here, we work here, we watch what goes on here -- do you think, just possibly, that we know more about our government than the folks in the red states?
In any case, this election brings up the famous quote from H.L. Mencken:
"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."

Einar Kr. Steffenak, Norway

I have just read your article "Great vote, grisly result". I agree with most of your views, I would have liked to see Kerry in The White House. I am not an American, neither do I belong in the UK, I am a Norwegian, and I wonder what gives you the right to talk about them (the Bush-supporters) an us (the Kerry-folks AND the Europeans). There is no common European view, not every European believe in your liberal values, there are probably an increasing number in our secular (thanks God) part of the world who are very concerned with the ever increasing number of divorces, young children having to take a stand amids fighting parents, the increasing use of drugs - and in my country - the large number (and it has been like that for a number of years) of young males who commit suicide. There is a feeling - at least among some people who are still married to the same person they met say 30 years ago, who have raised children, taken part i their activities, accepted the fact that you are not alone, that you have duties and not only rights, that you are not free do as you please whenever og wherever you feel like - that too many people do not fullfill their duties, too many people live on wellfare, too many people expect others to do the job. These were among the people who voted for Bush, and they are decent people, not religious fanatics - they also supported Bush for other reason. You do find these decent conservative (?) attitudes in Europe as well. I do not know what give you the right to talk on behalf of all Europeans. That kind of mental imperialism you can leave to the French!

Stevee, USA

Two quotes come to mind which seem apt for what this election has shown the world. Actor Tony Randall commenting on Germany in the 1930s: "Germany suffered a nervous breakdown." My own comment: Sixty years of rampaging, ravishing militarism has given the U.S. a nervous breakdown. In his book, "Hitler, A Study In Tyranny", Prof. Alan Bullock commented on the ascension of Hitler to lead Germany in January 1933: "The gutter had taken control of a modern industrial state." My comment: "The gutter, Bush 41. Richard Cheney, Condoleeza Rice. Paul Wolfowitz, et al, have taken control of the purported last remaining superpower, America. A remarkable group indeed. Only Rumsfeld ever wore an American uniform (for two years in peace time), all love a jolly war or two, or maybe more provided others than they themselves fight them. Will the next four Bush years be likened to the Titanic on its final voayage and will we Americans be then gurgling "Nearer My God to Thee" as we slowing sink as have all past empires?

J.D. Terry, U.S. of A.

We are no more divided then any other country no matter how much the liberal democRATS scream..........
You should be asking how could there be that many unAmerican voters to cast something like 55million for this idiot kerry. No matter how frauld votes were cast by: dead persons, felons and votng in more than one state and polling place, these liberals still couldn't, we are NOT divided, we are either Americans OR anti-Americans such as kerry and his party!

Billy G. Smith, Helena, Mo., USA

My name is Billy G. Smith.I am a freeborn,caucasian male over the age of 21 and most importantly,an American.Not a European American,Afro-American,Hispanic or Asian-American,I am an American,by birth,and by choice,because in this country we have the choice of going somewhere else,some other country,or anywhere in the world we want to live with out interference from our government.After the great victory of President Bush on November 2, 2004 I hope that some other Americans that feel a lot like you seem to about this country,such as Michael Moore,Alex Baldwin,Barbara Streisand to name a few would use that option and move to your country,then you could spout your elitist crap about nothing to each other and spend your time doing something humanitarian on paper instead in fact.
Very disrespectfully
Billy G. Smith

John Van, USA

Read your column "Great Vote, Grisly Result"
I enjoy your writing style. I also enjoyed your column, although I disagreed with a lot of it.
I am one of the hated "evangelicals". I am getting used to the idea that I am hated so much by the left. I don't hate anyone. It is possible for me to disagree with someone without hating them. In fact, I question someone's status as an "evangelical" if they do hate anyone.
The reasons for Kerry's defeat was not so much Kerry as it was the Democrat party. The Democrat party has no agenda. If they could articulate an agenda that resonated with just a few more people they would be in control.
I, of course, wouldn't vote for them. For me and the rest of the evangelicals the abortion issue is a huge stumling block. We could likely bend on many of the others. The next one in importance is marriage.
The Democrats need to get off the negative and put forth a positive message for America. Of course, negative politics will always be there, but you have to have a positive message to turn to. Right now the Democrats have NO message.

Patrick Gharreti, American in Spain

I ASK THAT YOU BECOME THE FIRST JOURNAL-PERSON 'to Understand' the proper meaning -- then hopefully! the first to properly use of the WORD: 'DEMOCRACY'.

Cheryl, California

Yet in our own enlightened self-interest, and that of the world, we should - though the glass of wine politely raised at a diplomatic reception will taste of bitterest bile - try to respond in kind. This is not just for ourselves, and our own vital interests. It's also a matter of keeping faith with the other America: the half, or very nearly half, who think like us. And keeping faith, too, with Sareena Brown and the other "forgotten people" you meet across the river, in the American capital's own version of Soweto. They, even more than we, need and deserve a better president - and in four years' time, I believe they'll get one. What are you? An enabler? Act in your own best interests surely--anything you do to prop up this mess is most unwelcome by the left.