KIEP THE FAITH
Atlantik-Bruke, a Berlin-based organization that professes close ties to the United States, but in the past has associated itself with a German politician who has been accused of spouting anti-Semitic rhetoric, is sponsoring a conference in the U.S. with decidedly anti-American overtones.
According to several attendees who are traveling from New York to the Bismarck, North Dakota event later this week, the conference features sessions on such topics as "The United States of America: Hyperpower or Hyped-Up Power?"; "American Leadership: Leading Where?"; "American Power: Overstretched?"; "American Economy: On Thin Ice?"; "American Society and Politics: Too Polarized?"; and "The European Union: Ever More Perfect?"
According to a draft program distributed to attendees last week, two different CNN news producers are leading separate anti-America sessions, with another such session featuring a presentation by a professional staffer on the U.S. Senate's Foreign Relations Committee.
"I can't believe anyone in a position of influence, would commit to something like this given where our relations have been with the Germans of late," says a Republican leadership staffer in the Senate. "Regardless of who is sponsoring or where it is, we're all under orders to select these kinds of programs carefully. Perhaps they weren't aware of the programming, but depending on what is said, this could be embarrassing."
The four day event also features prominently one Walter Leisler Kiep, who spent time under house arrest for his role in a campaign finance scandal related to former German chancellor Helmut Kohl. Kiep is identified in the program as "honorary chairman" of the Atlantik-Bruke, and is the opening night speaker.
The group also prominently features several Republican guests, including a state senator and local real estate agent, Dave Weiler, and an appearance by North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven. It isn't clear that either was aware of the decidedly anti-American slant of the program in their home state, and neither is participating as a delegate. Instead, both are making one-time appearances.
Most embarrassing to U.S. officials is the participation of several mid-level military officers in the program. According to a Department of Defense ethics official, the travel to the program was approved before the agenda had been released. "We're going to have to look at this one again, I think," says the official who requested anonymity.
The American delegation runs decidedly liberal -- it features a mid-level staffer of the Democratic consulting firm, the Glover Park Group, CNN producers, a professional staffer from the United Nations, and a legislative assistant to Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), a vociferous Bush Administration critic who has called for the resignation of senior Bush adviser Karl Rove, and who opposed the recent Central American Free Trade Agreement -- but no Republican congressional or Bush administration representatives.
The anti-American slant of the program only rubs salt in the wound. Many of the delegates, according to the New York-based attendee, were asked to pay their own way to bash their country.