When Thomas Matussek, the German Embassy's deputy chief of mission, arrived here five years ago, he wanted to develop a feel for America and its mind-set. He did not stick to books and seminars. "I traveled in the Grand Canyon for seven days and seven nights in a rubber boat with some friends, down the Colorado River. It made quite an impression on me. It gave me insight into the American way of thinking," he reminisced yesterday. "It had something to do with the New Frontier and with conquering nature. I tried to get to know as much of the country as I could."
Contrasting his homeland with this country, Matussek observed: "This is a bigger prism. What everyone can learn here from the Americans is to think big, not to get bogged down in European parochialisms. Americans think globally. There is too much historical baggage on the European continent; here, in the good sense, you have the bold stroke. It does not mean that American foreign policy does not get determined by the domestic policy; that is true of every democracy."
Matussek, who is returning home this summer, said the highlight of his professional experience here "was the way in which the United States accepted and cooperated with the new German government. [The United States] had tremendous apprehensions before they came to power. The foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, was part of the anti-Vietnam movement and a street fighter, a good old participant in the 1968 Frankfurt scene. The way [the two governments] hit it off and managed to win the [Kosovo war] together and to win the peace together was the most gratifying experience of my five years."
For Germany, he said, there is not a single foreign policy issue around the world that does not have "an America dimension," such as how to deal with rogue states, the Balkans or the Middle East peace process, as well as human rights around the world. Of course, minor irritations can occur. "We have had differences about procedure and style -- not about substance -- such as when Americans proceeded to tell us what was in our best interest," he said, declining to give specific examples.
During the Cold War, Germany and the United States had a "child-parent" relationship, he said. "It has become more mature, but vestiges of the old reflexes are sometimes there. We are too timid sometimes to articulate our interest, and the reflex on behalf of the Americans to tell us what is good for us shows up. We have to mature and grow out of it, and it will be overcome with time."
The diplomat, who served in the German army and trained as a lawyer and university administrator, said that what he will miss most about this country is its expansiveness and grand vistas. "Washington is a spacious, vast and imperial city, the open spaces, the open minds, the Mall, the Potomac. Everything is huge and wide. I will miss this vastness here and [in] the west, as well as the openness of the American people," he said.
Matussek, who has traveled the world over as chief of staff for former foreign ministers Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Klaus Kinkel, said he will become his Foreign Ministry's "director general for everything except Europe and the United States." He will be responsible for Asia, Africa, Central and South America and the Middle East and will make the historic move with his government from Bonn to Berlin that began yesterday.
"I think I have broadened my horizons here," he said. "It always helps if you look at your country from the outside. I hope that all our reporting and briefings to German politicians have contributed a little to the fact that Germany is adopting a much bigger role than it had under old East-West antagonisms."
President No Longer Wanted
The state of Massachusetts formally dropped long-standing charges against Liberian President Charles Taylor last month, according to Herman J. Cohen of the Washington-based lobbying firm Cohen and Woods International.
Taylor has been on the Massachusetts wanted list since he broke out of the Plymouth County jail in 1985 while awaiting extradition to Liberia, where he had been accused of embezzling money as an official in Samuel K. Doe's dictatorship. In late 1989, Taylor launched a civil war in Liberia that led to factional fighting and Doe's downfall, and he was elected president in 1997.
Cohen, who was President George Bush's assistant secretary of state for African affairs, was hired for $300,000 last January to help polish Taylor's image and improve Liberia's relationship with the United States. Cohen quit his job with Global Coalition for Africa, which was said to be "working on democratization issues for a group of 15 African nations," last December.
In an interview yesterday, Cohen confirmed his fees. In response to questions about Liberia's image as corrupt and abusive of human rights, he noted that after seven years of civil war, the country's infrastructure was destroyed, its courts lacked experience, and it was in need of "a lot of capacity building.
"It is not easy to ask them to correct the situation overnight. It is a slow process. There are thousands of young boys, soldiers, who have to be demobilized."