The following is an excerpt from Jon Sawyer's remarks delivered to the Southeastern World Affairs Institute on July 27, 2008. Download the full address by clicking the PDF below.
When I first heard that this year's conference would focus on the state of trans-Atlantic relations, I wondered if the focus was perhaps a bit too narrow. In our speakers and topics we usually cast a more global net, and when we think of crises around the world the problems of Germany or France or the United Kingdom don't usually leap to mind first. My own organization is a case in point: We call ourselves the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. We've done some 70 reporting projects around the world – and when you look at our website Europe is the only region with no representation at all.
The speeches and conversation this weekend proved my concerns unfounded -- demonstrating that at this point of extraordinary transition here at home, with elections three months off and Americans contemplating a change in direction after eight tumultuous years, there is no better prism through which to view our status in the world than the perspective of our oldest, closest allies. I didn't doubt Klaus Becker's prescience in making this the theme of our conference – but I am impressed that he managed to make it coincide with President Bush's farewell tour of European capitals, first, and then the extraordinary spectacle of Barack Obama speaking to 200,000 Germans in Berlin.
For a weekend devoted to trans-Atlantic relations it was helpful to begin with the on-the-ground observations of Sonke Lorenz, who has served this past year as deputy consul at the German consulate in Atlanta. He usefully framed the scope of the relationship between our two countries – with Germany serving as America's biggest trading partner in Europe and America Germany's most important trading partner outside Europe. He said American hospitality and patience had helped him cope with the rigors of a southern drawl - - and reminded us of the benefits of coming from a country where mastery of foreign language is expected and where he, like many Germans, began the study of English in fifth grade. He said he had been startled by America's urban sprawl, the sameness of so many American cities, the lack of public transport, a housing stock with much less emphasis than in Europe on insulation. He suggested two reasons why: fuel prices in Europe that remain double those in the United States and a government tax structure more weighted to encouraging conservation and the use of renewable energy. Sonke reacted with amused surprise to a question about how many Germans come to the United States for medical care. Hardly any, he said, noting that to Germans it's a rip-off what American health consumers are asked to pay. But he also said he believed Germans could learn from us, when it comes to the assimilation of immigrants. "It's something we just forgot about," he said. "We thought these guest workers from Turkey and other countries would eventually leave, and we never integrated them. Now after 20 or 30 years we realize they are here to stay."