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‘We can’t take the next generation for granted’

Published: 31 Jul 2012 07:59 GMT+02:00

Long host to a vast concentration of US military power, Germany’s importance to Washington has waned in the two decades since the Berlin Wall fell. As America redeploys its armed forces towards Asia, many US bases in Germany have been slated for closure and consolidation.

Click here for the first half of The Local’s interview with Ambassador Murphy.

“You get down to the community level and there’s real dislocation, real heartache and pain,” Murphy told The Local.

However, Murphy said closing the US bases in places like Schweinfurt and Bamberg in the German state of Bavaria was unavoidable in light of changing geopolitical realities such as the end of the Cold War and the rise of China.

“This continues to be one of the great host countries for our military,” he said. “Nobody begrudges the evolution of our military posture and footprint. It’s been evolving since the early 1990s and will continue to do so.”

The ambassador said US forces were working with German officials to alleviate the detrimental economic impact on communities: “I give our military high marks for being thoughtful and caring as we transition.”

Cultural cushion

Aside from financial implications, the cutting of personal ties between Germans and the US service members, their families and support staff who are leaving, ends a form of grassroots diplomacy for the United States. Murphy hopes to offset this with regional cultural initiatives.

“We recognize we need living, breathing institutions that will attract coming generations and prevent us from growing apart,” he said. “We can’t take the next generation for granted.”

Citing the American Academy in Berlin as a good example of successful cultural diplomacy, Murphy said the Embassy supported the development of German-American initiatives around the country – especially in regions where the number of US troops is shrinking.

“We’re talking to people in the Mannheim-Heidelberg area about what creative ideas we can have,” he said.

Taxation without expat representation

However, on two issues dear to many Americans living in Germany – taxation and representation – Murphy saw no changes on the horizon.

The United States is one of the few industrialized nations to require its citizens to pay taxes on income earned globally, irking many expats each year. And a recent enforcement drive to report foreign bank accounts to the Internal Revenue Service has even caused some people to take the dramatic step of renouncing their US citizenship.

But the ambassador said he was unaware of any growing discontent among American expats.

“I don’t hear that a whole lot from folks,” he said. “I think people overseas aren’t looking to take advantage in any way nor should they be discriminated against.”

Murphy also poured cold water on the idea the United States might give its expatriates special political representation in Congress similar to how France recently elected parliamentarians for French citizens living abroad.

“The French model I looked at with interest – we’re not going that way,” he said. “We give our citizens around the world the opportunity to vote absentee and that’s the way it’s going to stay.”

Fighting intolerance

Murphy has frequently praised Germany as a great place to live, but that doesn’t mean he’s shied away from addressing more controversial issues that could make his host nation uncomfortable.

Last year, he became incensed when a black member of his staff was racially abused after a football match in Berlin. Using such undiplomatic language like “jerks,” his open letter on the incident said intolerance needed to be confronted no matter where it occurred, “whether along a country lane in America or on a sidewalk outside [Berlin’s] Olympic Stadium.”

“That really angered me,” he said. “My guidepost is [US civil rights leader] Martin Luther King. I have a dream that my four children will grow up in a country where they are not judged by the colour of their skin, but rather the content of their character.”

Saying his message applied to all forms of discrimination, Murphy made clear he would never presume to lecture Germans.

“These are universal challenges,” he said. “What it never devolves to is: ‘we’ve figured this out and you guys haven’t’. That’s just never the discussion with Germany.”

Marc Young

marc.young@thelocal.de

twitter.com/marcyoung

Related links:

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

09:15 July 31, 2012 by wenddiver
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
09:42 July 31, 2012 by rjtanston
Just another RICH puppet of his government...All he said in this "interview" was what would be expected from him.
12:13 July 31, 2012 by mos101392
If Germany can bail out Greece, Spain, Italy, and Portugal I'm confident they can bail out those German communities that have US base closures. Germany has fed off the US nipple long enough and it's time to close even more bases throughout Europe and the world. Unless those host countries can pay the bill for our presence, that's fine! The US is in recession, the biggest US budget is the defense budget and the US deficit is higher than it's ever been. I am against keeping American bases open as an excuse to funnel money into various countries in the hopes it will pacify governments and prevent them from waging war. It's simply a form of blackmail...(N.Korea, give us food and we won't make bombs), (Iraq, Afghanistan rebuild our countries so there won't be a place for terrorists to hide) ect ect! With this mentality, I can justify robbing a bank or the corner grocery if I'm hungry. If Europe and NATO have a problem with US base closures then those NATO countries should consider training on US bases for a change..I don't mean sending a few here and there..I mean at the same troop level that the US has had in Europe over the last 70+ yrs. We have plenty of bases we can reopen for those NATO countries...just bring your troops and your money! With Aircraft carriers, Jets, rockets, drones, satelites we can maintain a presence in international waters around the world without spending American tax dollars in foreign countries to give jobs to those foreign local nationals and put rent money in the pockets of foreign landlords and pay millions a year to those foreign countries to keep those US bases operational. The days of spending as if there is an endless amount of money or as if money grows on trees is coming to an end.

In closing, pass this on to your congressman, Senators, friends and families, Facebook, ect ect
18:00 July 31, 2012 by friedenstempel
It is horrible that the United States troops leave Germany. For Russia it was a strategic mistake to withdraw their troops from Central Europe. I don't think the United States is well advised to look at Asia. The conflicts over there are far too complicated for the United States, and it would be a complete waste to make impact there. Rather the Occident should unite and defend its still shining model.

The difficulty to get support for universal health care and social insurance in the United States is an indication of the sublime racism that you simply cannot ignore. Without ethnic cohesion state craft is difficult. I can't see why Germans should "embrace" ethnic diversification because it creates all these lines of conflict which undermine cohesion in society and ultimately the social solidarity.
19:45 July 31, 2012 by KamiZ
I always feel that The Local gives undue importance to the US and the UK. They should also keep in mind that there are other countries in the world as well where people speak English. Heck, more people speak English in India than the UK! The Local Germany describes itself as 'Germany's News in English' so their opinion pieces and interviews should focus on German news and society and English speaking people living in Germany no matter where they're from. Taking the interview of the US ambassador is very prejudiced as are all the news about the British Royal Family's impact in Germany.
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