The Iran Deal: Consequences and Alternatives

August 14, 2015

In his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Richard Nathan Haass analyses the nuclear deal with Iran and suggests that any vote by Congress to approve the pact should be linked to legislation or a White House statement that makes clear what the United States would do if there were Iranian non-compliance, what would be intolerable in the way of Iran’s long-term nuclear growth, and what the U.S. was prepared to do to counter Iranian threats to U.S. interests and friends in the Region.

Statement by Richard Nathan Haass

President, Council on Foreign Relations

Before the Committee on Armed Services of the United States Senate on August 4, 2015

1st Session, 114th Congress

Richard Nathan Haass

Mr. Chairman: Thank you for this opportunity to speak about the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” (JCPOA) signed on July 14 by representatives of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Germany, and Iran. I want to make it clear that what you are about to hear are my personal views and should not be interpreted as representing the Council on Foreign Relations, which takes no institutional positions.

The agreement with Iran, like any agreement, is a compromise, filled with elements that are attractive from the vantage point of US national security as well as elements that are anything but.

A simple way of summarizing the pact and its consequences is that at its core the accord represents a strategic tradeoff. On one hand, the agreement places significant limits on what Iran is permitted to do in the nuclear realm for the next ten to fifteen years. But these limits, even if respected in full, come at a steep price.

The agreement almost certainly facilitates Iran’s efforts to promote its national security objectives throughout the region (many of which are inconsistent with our own) over that same period. And second, the agreement does not resolve the problems posed by Iran’s actual and potential nuclear capabilities. Many of these problems will become greater as we approach the ten year point (when restrictions on the quantity and quality of centrifuges come to an end) and its fifteen year point (when restrictions pertaining to the quality and quantity of enriched uranium also end).

I was not a participant in the negotiations; nor was I privy to its secrets. My view is that a better agreement could and should have materialized. But this debate is better left to historians. I will as a result address the agreement that exists. I would say at the outset it should be judged on its merits rather than on hopes it might lead (to borrow a term used by George Kennan in another context) to a mellowing of Iran. This is of course possible, but the agreement also could have just the opposite effect. We cannot know whether Iran will be transformed, much less how or how much. So the only things that makes sense to do now is to assess the agreement as a transaction and to predict as carefully as possible what effects it will likely have on Iran’s capabilities as opposed to its intentions.

I want to focus on three areas: on the nuclear dimension as detailed in the agreement; on the regional; and on nuclear issues over the longer term.

There is understandable concern as to whether Iran will comply with the letter and spirit of the agreement. Compliance cannot be assumed given Iran’s history of misleading the IAEA, the lack of sufficient data provided as to Iran’s nuclear past, the time permitted Iran to delay access to inspectors after site-specific concerns are raised, and the difficulty likely to be experienced in reintroducing sanctions. My own prediction is that Iran may be tempted to cut corners and engage in retail but not wholesale non-compliance lest it risk the reintroduction of sanctions and/or military attack. I should add that I come to this prediction in part because I believe that Iran benefits significantly from the accord and will likely see it in its own interest to mostly comply. But this cannot be assumed and may be wrong, meaning the United States, with as many other governments as it can persuade to go along, should both make Iran aware of the penalties for non-compliance and position itself to implement them if need be. I am assuming that the response to sustained non-compliance would be renewed sanctions and that any military action on our part would be reserved to an Iranian attempt at breaking out and fielding one or more nuclear weapons.

The regional dimension is more complex and more certain to be problem. Iran is an imperial power that seeks a major and possibly dominant role in the region. Sanctions relief will give it much greater means to pursue its goals, including helping minority and majority Shi’ite populations in neighboring countries, arming and funding proxies such as Hezbollah and Hamas, propping up the government in Damascus, and adding to sectarianism in Iraq by its unconditional support of the government and Shia militias. The agreement could well extend the Syrian civil war, as Iran will have new resources with which to back the Assad government. I hope that Iran will see that Assad’s continuation in power only fuels a conflict that provides recruiting opportunities for the Islamic State, which Iranian officials rightly see as a threat to themselves and the region. Unfortunately, such a change in thinking and policy is a long shot at best.

The United States needs to develop a policy for the region that can deal with a more capable, aggressive Iran. To be more precise, though, it is unrealistic to envision a single or comprehensive US policy for a part of the world that is and will continue to be afflicted by multiple challenges. As I have written elsewhere, the Middle East is in the early throes of what appears to be a modern day 30 Years War in which politics and religion will fuel conflict within and across boundaries for decades, resulting in a Middle East that looks very different from the one the world has grown familiar with over the past century.

I will put forward approaches for a few of these challenges. In Iraq, I would suggest the United States expand its intelligence, military, economic, and political ties with both the Kurds and Sunni tribes in the West. Over time, this has the potential to result in gradual progress in the struggle against the Islamic State.

Prospects for progress in Syria are poorer. The effort to build a viable opposition to both the government and various groups including but not limited to the Islamic State promises to be slow, difficult, anything but assured of success. A diplomatic push designed to produce a viable successor government to the Assad regime is worth exploring and, if possible, implementing. European governments likely would be supportive; the first test will be to determine Russian receptivity. If this is forthcoming, then a Joint approach to Iran would be called for.

I want to make two points here. First, as important as it would be to see the Assad regime ousted, there must be high confidence in the viability of its successor. Not only would Russia and Iran insist on it, but the United States should as well. Only with a viable successor can there be confidence the situation would not be exploited by the Islamic State and result in the establishment of a caliphate headquartered in Damascus and a massacre of Alawites and Christians. Some sort of a multinational force may well be essential.

Second, such a scenario assumes a diplomatic approach to Iran. This should cause no problems here or elsewhere. Differences with Iran in the nuclear and other realms should not preclude diplomatic explorations and cooperation where it can materialize because interests are aligned. Syria is one such possibility, as is Afghanistan. But such diplomatic overtures should not stop the United States acting, be it to interdict arms shipments from Iran to governments or non-state actors; nor should diplomatic outreach in any way constrain the United States from speaking out in reaction to internal political developments within Iran. New sanctions should also be considered when Iran takes steps outside the nuclear realms but still judged to be detrimental to other US interests.

Close consultations will be required with Saudi Arabia over any number of policies, including Syria. But three subjects in particular should figure in US-Saudi talks. First, the United States needs to work to discourage Saudi Arabia and others developing a nuclear option to hedge against what Iran might do down the road. A Middle East with nuclear materials in the hands of warring, potentially unstable regimes would be a nightmare. This could involve assurances as to what will not be tolerated (say, enrichment above a specified level) when it comes to Iran as well as calibrated security guarantees to Saudi Arabia and others.

Second, the Saudis should be encouraged to reconsider their current ambitious policy in Yemen, which seems destined to be a costly and unsuccessful distraction. The Saudi government would be wiser to concentrate on contending with internal threats to its security. And thirdly, Washington and Riyadh should maintain a close dialogue on energy issues as lower oil prices offer one way of limiting Iran’s capacity to pursue programs and policies detrimental to US and Saudi interests.

The agreement with Iran does not alter the reality that Egypt is pursuing a political trajectory unlikely to result in sustained stability or that Jordan will need help in coping with a massive refugee burden. Reestablishing strategic trust with Israel is a must, as is making sure it as well as other friends in the region have what they need to deal with threats to their security. (It matters not whether the threats come from Iran, the Islamic State, or elsewhere.) The United States should also step up its criticism of Turkey for both attacking the Kurds and for allowing its territory to be used as a pipeline for recruits to reach Syria and join the Islamic State.

The third area of concern linked to the nuclear pact with Iran stems from its medium and long-term capabilities in the nuclear realm. It is necessary but not sufficient that Iran not be permitted to assemble one or more nuclear bombs. It is also necessary that it not be allowed to develop the ability to field a large arsenal of weapons with little or no warning. This calls for consultations with European and regional governments to begin sooner rather than later on a follow-on agreement to the current JCPOA. The use of sanctions, covert action, and military force should also be addressed in this context.

I am aware that members of Congress have the responsibility to vote on the Iran agreement. As I have said, it is a flawed agreement. But the issue before the Congress is not whether the agreement is good or bad but whether from this point on the United States is better or worse off with it. It needs to be recognized that passage of a resolution of disapproval (presumably overriding a presidential veto) entails several Major drawbacks.

First, it would allow Iran to resume nuclear activity in an unconstrained manner, increasing the odds the United States would be faced with a decision – possibly as soon as this year or next – as to whether to tolerate the emergence of a threshold or actual nuclear weapons state or use military force against it.

Second, by acting unilaterally at this point, the United States would make itself rather than Iran the issue. In this vein, imposing unilateral sanctions would hurt Iran but not enough to make it alter the basics of ist nuclear program. Third, voting the agreement down and calling for a reopening of negotiations with the aim of producing a better agreement is not a real option as there would insufficient international support for so doing. Here, again, the United States would likely isolate itself, not Iran. And fourth, voting down the agreement would reinforce questions and doubts around the world as to American political divisions and dysfunction. Reliability and predictability are essential attributes for a great power that must at one and the same time both reassure and deter.

The alternative to voting against the agreement is obviously to vote for it. The problem with a simple vote that defeats a resolution of disapproval and that expresses unconditional support of the JCPOA is that it does not address the serious problems the agreement either exacerbated or failed to resolve.

So let me suggest a third path. What I would encourage members to explore is whether a vote for the pact (against a resolution of disapproval) could be associated or linked with policies designed to address and compensate for the weaknesses and likely adverse consequences of the agreement. I can imagine such assurances in the form of legislation voted on by the Congress and signed by the president or a communication from the president to the Congress, possibly followed up by a joint resolution. Whatever the form, it would have to deal with either what the United States would not tolerate or what the United States would do in the face of Iranian non-compliance with the recent agreement, Iran’s long-term nuclear growth, and Iranian regional activities.

Mr. Chairman, thank you again for asking me to meet with you and your colleagues here today. I of course look forward to any questions or comments you may have.


Desert Storm, the Last Classic War

August 7, 2015

Last Sunday marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the start of the Gulf War. Fought swiftly and successfully, today it looks like something of an anomaly, but its lessons remain valuable.

An Op-Ed by Richard Nathan Haass

Former Director of Policy Planning for the United States Department of State and advisor to Secretary of State Colin Powell

Richard Nathan Haass

Richard Nathan Haass

It was mid-July 1990, and for several days the U.S. intelligence community had been watching Saddam Hussein mass his forces along Iraq’s border with Kuwait. Most of us in the administration of President George H.W. Bush—I was then the top Middle East specialist on the National Security Council—believed that this was little more than a late-20th-century version of gunboat diplomacy. We figured that Saddam was bluffing to pressure his wealthy but weak neighbor to the south into reducing its oil output.

Iraq was desperate for higher oil prices, given the enormous cost of the just-concluded decadelong war with Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran and Saddam’s own ambitions for regional primacy. Saddam’s fellow Arab leaders, for their part, were advising the Bush administration to stay calm and let things play out to the peaceful outcome they expected. In late July, Saddam met for the first time with April Glaspie, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, and her cable back to Washington reinforced the view that this was all an elaborate bit of geopolitical theater.

But by Aug. 1—25 years ago this week—it had become apparent that Saddam was amassing far more military forces than he would need simply to intimidate Kuwait. The White House hastily assembled senior staff from the intelligence community and the Departments of State and Defense. After hours of inconclusive talk, we agreed that the best chance for avoiding some sort of Iraqi military action would be for President Bush to call Saddam. I was asked to pitch this idea to my boss, National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, and the president.

I rushed over to Gen. Scowcroft’s small West Wing office and brought him up to speed on the deliberations. The two of us then walked over to the East Wing, the living quarters of the White House (as opposed to the working part). President Bush was in the sick bay, getting a sore shoulder tended to after hitting a bucket of golf balls. I briefed him on the latest intelligence and diplomacy, as well the recommendation that he reach out to Saddam.

We were all skeptical that it would work but figured that it couldn’t hurt to try. The conversation shifted to how best to reach the Iraqi leader—a more complicated task than one might think since it was 2 a.m. on Aug. 2 in Baghdad.

We were going through the options when the phone rang. It wasRobert Kimmitt, the acting secretary of state, saying that his department had just received word from the U.S. ambassador in Kuwait that an Iraqi invasion was under way. “So much for calling Saddam,” said the president grimly.

We didn’t know it at the time, but the first major crisis of the post-Cold War world had begun. Looking back on that conflict, which stretched out over the better part of the following year, it now has a classic feel to it—very much at odds with the decidedly nonclassic era unfolding in today’s Middle East. But the Gulf War is still worth remembering, not only because its outcome got the post-Cold War era off to a good start but also because it drove home a number of lessons that remain as relevant as ever.

Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait had taken us by surprise, and it took a few days for the administration to find its bearings. The first National Security Council meeting chaired by the president on Aug. 2—the day of the invasion—was disheartening since the cabinet-level officials couldn’t reach a consensus on what to do. To make matters worse, the president said publicly that military intervention wasn’t being considered. He meant it only in the most literal sense—i.e., that it was premature to start going down that path—but the press interpreted him to mean that he had taken a military response off the table. He hadn’t.

As the meeting ended, I went over to Gen. Scowcroft, who looked at least as worried and unhappy as I did. We quickly agreed that the meeting had been a debacle. He and the president were about to board Air Force One for Aspen, where the president was to give a long-scheduled speech on nuclear weapons and meet with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Gen. Scowcroft asked me to produce a memo for himself and the president outlining the stakes and the potential courses of action, including a U.S.-led military response. I returned to my office and typed away. “I am [as] aware as you are of just how costly and risky such a conflict would prove to be,” I wrote. “But so too would be accepting this new status quo. We would be setting a terrible precedent—one that would only accelerate violent centrifugal tendencies—in this emerging post-Cold War era.”

A second NSC meeting was held when the president returned the next day. It was as focused and good as the first one had been inchoate and bad. The president wanted to lead off the session to make clear that the U.S. response to this crisis would not be business as usual, but Gen. Scowcroft, Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger (filling in for James Baker, who happened to be in Siberia with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze) and Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney all argued that once the commander in chief spoke, it would be impossible to have an open and honest exchange.

The president reluctantly agreed to hold back. Instead, those three top advisers opened the meeting by making the strategic and economic case that Saddam couldn’t be allowed to get away with the conquest of Kuwait. Nobody dissented. A policy was coming into focus.

The next day (Saturday, Aug. 4), much the same group (now including Secretary Baker) met at Camp David for the first detailed discussion of military options. Gen. Colin Powell, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, led off, after which Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf (who oversaw U.S. Central Command) gave a detailed assessment of Iraq’s military strengths and weaknesses, along with some initial thoughts about what the U.S. could do quickly. What emerged was a consensus around introducing U.S. forces into Saudi Arabia to prevent a bad situation from getting far worse—and to deter Saddam from attacking another oil-rich neighbor. A delegation headed by Mr. Cheney and Deputy National Security Adviser Robert Gates would go to Saudi Arabia to make the arrangements.

The U.S. had already put economic sanctions in place and frozen the assets of both Iraq and Kuwait (in the latter case, to ensure that they wouldn’t be looted). The U.N. Security Council—including China and the Soviet Union, with their vetoes—had called for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Iraqi forces from all of Kuwait.

After the meeting at Camp David, everyone but the president hustled back to Washington. He didn’t return until the next afternoon. Gen. Scowcroft called to tell me that he couldn’t be there when the president’s helicopter touched down and asked me to meet Marine One and let the president know what was going on. I hurriedly summarized the latest on a single page and borrowed a navy blazer, arriving on the South Lawn just moments before the president.

Once on the ground, President Bush motioned me over and read my update on the military and diplomatic state of play. He scowled as we huddled. Saddam was showing no signs of backing off, and the president had grown tired of assurances from Arab leaders that they could work things out diplomatically if just given the chance. The president was also frustrated with press criticism that the administration wasn’t doing enough. After our brief discussion, he stalked over to the eagerly waiting White House press corps and unloaded with one of the most memorable phrases of his presidency: “This will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait.”

The stage was thus set for the next six months. Diplomacy and economic sanctions failed to dislodge Saddam. In mid-January, Operation Desert Shield—the deployment of some 500,000 U.S. troops, along with their equipment, to the region to protect Saudi Arabia and prepare to oust Iraqi forces from Kuwait—gave way to Operation Desert Storm. The administration not only won U.N. assent for its bold course but also assembled a global coalition, stretching from Australia to Syria, for the military effort. In the end, it took six weeks of air power and four days of land war to free Kuwait and restore the status quo that had prevailed before Saddam’s invasion.

Those days seem distant from what we now face in the Middle East, with virtual anarchy in much of the region and jihadist extremists holding large stretches of territory. But the Gulf War is not just ancient history. Its main lessons are still well worth heeding.

Economic sanctions can only do so much. Even sweeping sanctions supported by much of the world couldn’t persuade Saddam to vacate Kuwait—any more than they have persuaded Russia, Iran or North Korea to reverse major policies of their own in recent years. Moreover, sanctions against Iraq and Cuba demonstrate that sanctions can have the unintended consequence of increasing government domination of an economy.

Assumptions are dangerous things. The administration of George H.W. Bush (myself included) was late in realizing that Saddam would actually invade Kuwait—and too optimistic in predicting that he would be unable to survive his defeat in Kuwait. Just over a decade later, several assumptions made by a second Bush administration proved terribly costly in Iraq. So did later rosy assumptions made by the Obama administration as it pulled out of Iraq, staged a limited intervention in Libya, encouraged the ouster of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and called for regime change in Syria.

Multilateralism constrains the U.S., but it can yield big dividends.Broad participation ensures a degree of burden-sharing. Due to contributions from the Gulf states and Japan, the Gulf War ended up costing the U.S. little or nothing financially. Multilateralism—in this case, the support of the U.N. Security Council—can also generate political support within the U.S. and around the world; it supplies a source of legitimacy often judged missing when the U.S. acts alone.

Even successful policies can have unforeseen negative consequences. Our one-sided military victory in the Gulf War may have persuaded others to avoid conventional battlefield confrontations with the U.S. Instead, urban terrorism has become the approach of choice for many in the Middle East, while other enemies (such as North Korea) have opted for nuclear deterrence to ensure that they stay in power.

Limited goals are often wise. They may not transform a situation, but they have the advantage of being desirable, doable and affordable. Ambitious goals may promise more, but delivering on them can prove impossible. The U.S. got into trouble in Korea in 1950 when it was not content with liberating the south and marched north of the 38th parallel in an expensive and unsuccessful attempt to reunify the peninsula by force.

In the Gulf War, President Bush was often criticized for limiting U.S. objectives to what the U.N. Security Council and Congress had signed up for: kicking Saddam out of Kuwait. Many argued that we should have “gone on to Baghdad.” But as the U.S. learned the hard way a decade later in Afghanistan and Iraq, getting rid of a bad regime is easy compared with building a better, enduring alternative. In foreign lands, modest goals can be ambitious enough. Local realities almost always trump inside-the-Beltway abstractions.

There is no substitute for U.S. leadership. The world is not self-organizing; no invisible hand creates order in the geopolitical marketplace. The Gulf War demonstrated that it takes the visible hand of the U.S. to galvanize world action.

Similarly, there is no substitute for presidential leadership. The Senate nearly voted against going to war with Iraq 25 years ago—even though the U.S. was implementing U.N. resolutions that the Senate had sought. The country cannot have 535 secretaries of state or defense if it hopes to lead.

Be wary of wars of choice. The 1991 Gulf War—unlike the 2003 Iraq war—was a war of necessity. Vital U.S. interests were at stake, and after multilateral sanctions and intensive diplomacy came up short, only the military option remained. But most future U.S. wars are likely to be wars of choice: The interests at stake will tend to be important but not vital, or policy makers will have options besides military force. Such decisions about the discretionary use of force tend to be far harder to make—and far harder to defend if, as is often the case, the war and its aftermath turn out to be more costly and less successful than its architects predict.

The historical impact of the Gulf War turned out to be smaller than many imagined at the time—including President Bush, who hoped that the war would usher in a new age of global cooperation after the collapse of the Soviet empire. The U.S. enjoyed a degree of pre-eminence that couldn’t last. China’s rise, post-Soviet Russia’s alienation, technological innovation, American political dysfunction, two draining wars in the wake of 9/11—all contributed to the emergence of a world in which power is more widely distributed and decision-making more decentralized.

The Gulf War looks today like something of an anomaly: short and sharp, with a clear start and finish; focused on resisting external aggression, not nation-building; and fought on battlefields with combined arms, not in cities by special forces and irregulars. Most unusual of all in light of what would follow, the war was multilateral, inexpensive and successful. Even the principle for which the Gulf War was fought—the inadmissibility of acquiring territory by military means—has been drawn into question recently by the international community’s passivity in the face of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.

It is a stretch to tie the events of 1990-91 to the mayhem that is the Middle East today. The pathologies of the region—along with the 2003 Iraq war and the mishandling of its aftermath, the subsequent pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq, the 2011 Libya intervention and the continuing U.S. failure to act in Syria—all do more to explain the mess.

The Gulf War was a signal success of American foreign policy. It avoided what clearly would have been a terrible outcome—letting Saddam get away with a blatant act of territorial acquisition and perhaps come to dominate much of the Middle East. But it was a short-lived triumph, and it could neither usher in a “new world order,” as President Bush hoped, nor save the Middle East from itself.

This article appears in full in The Wall Street Journal by permission of its original publisher.


Das Biblikon-Projekt – Die Entschlüsselung des Bibel-Codes

December 3, 2013

Gut ein halbes Jahrzehnt hat sich der Politikwissenschaftler und Historiker Tomas Michael Spahn neben seinen beruflichen Aufgaben als Berater für politische Kommunikation und Analytik dem Alten Testament der christlichen Bibel – dem Tanach der Juden – gewidmet.

Was als der Versuch eines kurzen Essays über die Lebenswirklichkeit des biblischen Königs Josia begann, wurde zu einer Analyse dieses Werks, die mittlerweile ziemlich genau 1.350 gedruckte Seiten umfasst und die Spahn jetzt unter dem Titel „Das Biblikon-Projekt – Die Entschlüsselung des Bibel-Codes“ veröffentlicht hat.

Die Ergebnisse dieser Analyse sind – zurückhaltend formuliert – sensationell. Denn im Grunde stellt Spahn 2.500 Jahre gelebte Menschheitsgeschichte auf den Kopf und entlarvt die Wirklichkeit der Religion als etwas, das er als “sacred fiction” – heilige Fiktion – bezeichnet.

„Schon Gandhi erkannte: Das Grundproblem bei jeglicher Betrachtung menschlicher Interaktionen und historischer Vorgänge ist die Unterscheidung zwischen Wahrheit und Wirklichkeit“, sagt der frühere Leiter der Öffentlichkeitsarbeit einer Berliner Landesbehörde und Ressortleiter einer deutschen Tageszeitung.

“Wahrheit ist das, was war oder ist – was tatsächlich war oder ist. Nicht das, was gewesen sein soll oder sein könnte oder von dem wir glauben, dass es war oder ist. Sobald wir letzteres jedoch zu unserer persönlichen Scheinwahrheit machen, wird es zur Wirklichkeit. Wirklichkeit kann also sein, ohne auf Wahrheit zu beruhen – und gleichwohl unterstellen wir, dass es so sei.“

Wer in dreißig Berufsjahren als politischer Redakteur und als Kommunikationsverantwortlicher in Unternehmen und Verwaltung tätig war, lerne den Unterschied zwischen Wahrheit und Wirklichkeit zu erkennen, meint Spahn. Als Redakteur sei es seine Aufgabe gewesen, die ihm präsentierte Wirklichkeit auf ihren Wahrheitskern zurück zu führen. Als Öffentlichkeitsarbeiter hingegen habe er das genaue Gegenteil gemacht: Aus der Sache wurde eine Wirklichkeit für die Öffentlichkeit, die mit der Wahrheit nicht immer etwas zu tun haben musste.

Damit schließt sich für den Analytiker der Kreis zur Bibel. Eines der faszinierendsten Phänomene der gelebten Wirklichkeit sei es, dass selbst in den renommiertesten, historischen Fachbüchern die im Tanach geschilderte Geschichte als historischer Tatsachenbericht eingeflossen ist.

Spahn: “Sachlich betrachtet hat die Bibel erst einmal nicht mehr historischen Wahrheitsgehalt als beispielsweise die Ilias oder das Siegfried-Lied. Kein Historiker würde auf die Idee kommen, diese literarischen Werke ungeprüft als geschichtliche Wahrheit in seine Werke zu schreiben.“

Ganz anders bei den Erzählungen zum Ursprung des Monotheismus: Jenseits jeglicher Fremdquelle, die die Geschichten belegen könnte, seien die biblischen Darstellungen als vorgebliche Wahrheit in die Geschichtsschreibung eingeflossen und fänden sich dort bis heute. Für Spahn ist dieses der trotz abendländischer Aufklärung nachwirkende Wahrheitsanspruch der Kirche, der “als Wirklichkeit derart tief in unserem kollektiven Bewusstsein verankert ist, dass sich kaum einer traut, ihn als das zu bezeichnen, was er ist: Eine Fabel, deren Wahrheitsnachweis bislang ausgeblieben ist.”

Als der Publizist und Nahostkenner begann, sich intensiv mit den Geschichten des Alten Testaments zu beschäftigen, stieß er schnell auf Ungereimtheiten, die seit geraumer Zeit die historische Wissenschaft zu Korrekturen hätten bewegen müssen. “Eine der grundsätzlichen Fragen ist es, in welcher Schrift der eine Gott seine zehn Gebote in den Fels des Berges Sinai geschrieben hat”, befindet Spahn. Laut biblischer Darstellung habe sich dieser Vorgang auf der Flucht der Hebräer, die korrekt als „Seitenwechsler“ zu übersetzen seien, aus Ägypten ereignet – und damit viele Jahrhunderte, bevor die legendären Könige David und Salomo das Großreich Israel gegründet hätten.

“Wenn es so ist, wie der Tanach es darstellt, stehen wir vor einem Problem. Die Wissenschaft weiß heute, dass die hebräischen Schriftzeichen sich keinesfalls vor der letzten vorchristlichen Jahrtausendwende entwickeln haben. In welcher Schrift also schrieb der Gott Jahuah Jahrhunderte vor dieser Zeit seine Gebote in den Sinai?” Hinzu käme, dass auch die Geschichte von der gewaltsamen Übernahme des “Landes Kanaan” – und damit der gesamte Komplex der fünf Bücher Mose sowie die Josua-Geschichte -zumindest dann nicht in Ivrit geschrieben worden sein können, wenn sie als Tatsachenberichte zum Zeitpunkt des geschilderten Geschehens verfasst wurden. Diesen Eindruck jedoch vermittelten diese Geschichten – und da nicht sein kann, was nachweislich nicht möglich ist, müsse es sich bei diesen sechs Büchern um deutlich später schriftlich verfasste Erzählungen handeln.

Damit jedoch müssten ihre Inhalte nicht zwingend unrichtig sein. Sie könnten immer noch auf tatsächlichem Geschehen beruhen. Wenn sie allerdings, wie der israelische Archäologe Israel Finkelstein nachgewiesen hat, eine Welt des achten oder siebten vorchristlichen Jahrhunderts beschreiben, dann haben sie in etwa den gleichen historischen Wert wie jene mittelalterlichen Kunstwerke, die die Juden zur Zeit Christi in der Garderobe der mittelalterlichen Ghettos zeigen. Von einem wäre in diesem Falle jedoch zwingend auszugehen: Eine möglicherweise wahre Geschichte hätte über die Jahrhunderte zahllose Veränderungen erfahren können, wäre erweitert und glorifiziert worden. Insofern bliebe vielleicht ein Kern an Wahrheit.

Die Frage sei dann jedoch: Welches ist dieser Kern. Denn es gibt auch andere Ungereimtheiten, die nicht passen wollen. So kauft der aus Mesopotamien zugewanderte Urvater Abraham einem Hethiter ein Grundstück ab. Das Problem: Die Hethiter waren erst deutlich später in der Region anzutreffen, als zu jenem Zeitraum, in dem die Abraham-Geschichte historisch zu verorten ist. Andererseits waren “chét”, wie die Hethiter im Original heißen, eine gängige Bezeichnung der assyrischen Herrscher in Ninive für die Bewohner der Region zwischen Jerusalem und Anatolien. Die assyrischen Konflikte mit diesen Chét wiederum fallen in die Zeit des achten und siebten vorchristlichen Jahrhunderts und stützen so die Erkenntnis Finkelsteins, dass wesentliche Teile des Tanach nicht vor dieser Zeit verfasst wurden.

Der Kommunikationsexperte Spahn wandte sich in einem weiteren Schritt konkreten Fragen der Sprache und des erzählerischen Aufbaus des Alten Testaments zu. Dabei kommt er neben zahlreichen anderen neuen Erkenntnissen zu der Feststellung, dass die Autoren der Bibel, vergleichbar den Kolportage-Autoren des 19. Jahrhunderts, über Master-Stories verfügten, die mit unterschiedlicher Besetzung zu unterschiedlichen Zeiten in das Gesamtwerk einfließen. Beispielhaft wird dieses aufgezeigt an der Erzählung von der verschacherten Ehefrau, deren Muster sich dreimal findet und die sich am Ende als Lagerfeuer-Erzählung der Nomaden erklärt, in der diese den Reiz ihrer Frauen und die Dummheit der von ihnen verachteten Städter feiern.

Werkzeuge der Statistik halfen, einzelne Erzählkomplexe bestimmten – bis heute weitgehend unbekannten – Autoren zuzuweisen.

Spahn: “Autoren sind oftmals daran zu erkennen, dass in ihren Texten spezifische Begriffe und Floskeln Verwendung finden, die bei anderen Autoren und zu anderen Zeiten nicht zum Einsatz kommen. So können wir beispielsweise davon ausgehen, dass ein deutschsprachiger Text, in dem eine Häufung des Begriffes ‘Nachhaltigkeit’ auffällt, keinesfalls vor den achtziger Jahren des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts verfasst worden sein kann. Umgekehrt finden wir beispielsweise in den Originalen der Romane der Volkschriftsteller May und Gerstäcker Begriffe, die schon einhundert Jahre später kein normal gebildeter Leser mehr kennt. Eine lebendige Sprache unterliegt einem permanenten Wandel. Begriffe, die keinen Nutzwert mehr haben, verschwinden, werden durch neue abgelöst. Andere Begriffe wandeln die mit ihnen verbundene Assoziation und können so – durch spätere Generationen gelesen – zu gänzlich falschen Interpretationen des geschriebenen Wortes führen.”

Wenn dieses heute so sei, fügt der Autor hinzu, dann sei dieses auch in der Antike nicht anders gewesen. Und so stelle sich die Frage, ob das, was wir heute in der Bibel selbst dann lesen, wenn wir auf den Aleppo-Codex des Tanach als älteste verfügbare Quelle in Ivrit zurückgreifen, tatsächlich so darin gestanden habe, wie wir es heute verstehen wollen oder sollen.

Nach diesen grundsätzlichen Fragestellungen richtete Spahn sein Augenmerk erneut auf den ursprünglichen Untersuchungsgegenstand: Dem König oder Mélék Josia, der in der hebräischen Originalschrift Jéáshéjah, der das Feuer des/von Jah ist, heißt. Die Bibel schreibt diesem einzigen Herrscher von Jahudah, dessen Erscheinen im Tanach prophezeit wird, zahlreiche Leistungen zu. Obgleich als Heidenkind – also Anhänger der assyrischen Götterwelt – aufgewachsen, bekehrt er sich zu dem einen Gott Jahuah, lässt dessen Tempel in Jerusalem renovieren und anschließend in einer großangelegten Aktion das Land von allen Stätten der Nicht-Jahuahisten “reinigen”. Bei der Renovierung des Tempels wird zufällig ein antikes Textwerk gefunden: Das Gesetzbuch des Mose. Und hier beginnen für Spahn die ebenso offensichtlichen wie bis heute verdrängten Ungereimtheiten. Denn das Buch Mose ist weder dem Herrscher noch seinen Getreuen als mosaisches Basiswerk bekannt. Theatralisch zerreißt Josia seine Kleider, klagt: „Wenn wir das gewusst hätten …!“

Wenn nun aber dem vorgeblich mosaischen Josia das Buch Mose nicht bekannt war – wäre das nicht ungefähr so, als wenn der katholische Papst ohne Evangelium oder der Ayatollah Chamenei seine klerikale Funktion ohne den Quran leben würde? Was also kann das für ein jüdischer Glaube gewesen sein, dem dieser Mélék vor dem Fund des mosaischen Gesetzes anhing?

Es ist nicht die einzige Ungereimtheit in diesem Text, die Spahn aufzeigt. Am Ende seiner Auseinandersetzung mit dieser Person und ihrem Umfeld steht für ihn fest, dass es “einen jüdischen Glauben in der Form, wie wir ihn heute kennen, vor 622 vor Christus nicht gegeben haben kann”. Seine in umfassender Analyse erarbeitete Darstellung der nahöstlichen Geschichte zwischen 630 und 580 liest sich dann auch gänzlich anders, als in allen Geschichtsbüchern und theologischen Werken beschrieben.

Spahn geht davon aus, dass es ein wirklich unabhängiges Königreich in Jahudah vor und nach Josia nicht gegeben hat. Die im Tanach beschriebenen “Könige” waren in aller Regel nichts anderes als Statthalter der jeweiligen Hegemonialmächte Ägypten, Assyrien und Babylon. Vor allem waren sie eines nicht: Genetische Nachfahren eines legendären David. Sie entstammten aus den führenden Familien Jerusalems – und “Söhne Davids” wurden sie nur deshalb, weil die Königschroniken zu jener Zeit von Indus bis Nil den jeweiligen Nachfolger im Amt als “Sohn” bezeichneten. Leibliche Söhne – so wird unter anderem anhand der Königschronik des assyrischen Herrschers Sanherib nachgewiesen – erhielten den Hinweis auf die Zeugung “aus meinen Lenden”, der sich in ähnlicher Form gelegentlich auch im Tanach findet.

Als Josia – vermutlich in Folge einer priesterlichen Intrige – an die Macht kommt, hat die vom Nil bis zum Tigris ausgedehnte Macht der Assyrer ihren Zenit bereits überschritten. Im fernen Babylon erhebt sich ein ehemaliger Offizier, dessen leiblicher Sohn Nebukadnezar dereinst zum Herrscher der damals bekannten Welt aufsteigen sollte. Nachweislich ist der Babylonier mit den Medern verbündet. Spahn geht davon aus – und findet dafür eine plausible Beweiskette – dass auch der assyrische Vasallenkönig Josia zu den Verschwörern gehörte. Um 626 vc stieß er zu den Aufrührern, schloss mit ihnen einen Geheimvertrag, den der Tanach als den “Bund des Jah” in zahlreichen Details beschreibt. Dem Jahudahi wurde unter dem Dach des künftigen Herrschers in Babylon absolute Selbstverwaltung garantiert. Das Land solle ihm auf alle Ewigkeit gehören, das Volk von Jahudah – im Gegensatz zu den gewaltsam unterworfenen Stämmen – als “sein Volk” im Reich eine privilegierte Stellung unter dem allmächtigen Herrscher am Euphrat erhalten. Mehr noch: Die damals als Handelszentrum aufblühende Metropole Jerusalem solle künftig der Hauptverwaltungssitz des zu schaffenden Großreichs für den Westen des Reichs werden. Dorthin hätten die Völker zu pilgern, ihre Abgaben zu entrichten und dem fernen Herrscher der Welt zu huldigen. Der Wohlstand der Region wäre damit langfristig gesichert gewesen, die Jahudahim von ewigen Vasallen zu Mitherrschern aufgestiegen.

Da es auf dieser Welt nichts umsonst gibt, erwartete der Rebell im fernen Babylon allerdings auch eine Gegenleistung. Josia sollte die Herrschaft der Assyrer in Jahudah und in den angrenzenden Ländern Israel – das niemals zuvor Teil eines jüdischen Reiches gewesen war und das die Jahudahim als Kénéýn (Kanaan) bezeichneten – und in der Mittelmeerküstenregion – dem assyrischen Land Chét, das für die Semiten auch das Land der Féléshétjm (korrekt übersetzt als “Eindringlinge”) ist – übernehmen.

Die Verbündeten gegen Assyrien verfolgen damit ein doppeltes Ziel: Zum einen sollten die Jahudahim eine zweite Front im Südwesten eröffnen. Die alliierten Babylonier und Meder drangen im Osten gegen die langjährige Hegemonialmacht vor. Josia sollte Kräfte binden, damit die Eroberung des assyrischen Kernlandes erleichtert werden konnte. Wichtiger noch aber war es, die damals ebenfalls zu Assyrien gehörenden Ägypter daran zu hindern, die Zentralmacht mit Nachschub und militärischen Kräften zu unterstützen.

“Jahudahs Hauptgegner in diesem Konflikt sind nicht die Assyrer, denn diese sind durch ihren Abwehrkampf gegen Babylon und Medien gebunden, sondern die Ägypter”, erläutert Spahn. Tatsächlich wird Josia seinen vertraglichen Verpflichtungen gerecht. Er schaltet das ehedem assyrische Jahudah gleich, erobert weite Teile der assyrischen Provinz Samaria (Shémérunah) – dem Israel des Tanach – und stellt sich dem ägyptischen Heer entgegen, als dieses im Jahr 609 vc entlang der Küste nach Norden zieht, um die zwischenzeitlich nach Haran geflohene assyrische Regierung zu entsetzen.

Damit dann allerdings endet der jahudahische Ausflug in die Weltgeschichte keine zwanzig Jahre, nachdem er begonnen hat. Bei seinem Versuch, sich dem Pharao, der zuvor noch in Unkenntnis des Geheimabkommens eine Neutralitätserklärung für das Reich des Josia abgibt, in den Weg zu stellen, wird der Herrscher Jerusalems getötet oder zumindest tödlich verwundet – womit der Tanach Jahuah ungewollt einer Lüge überführt, denn zuvor hatte der eine Gott seinem Anhänger einen friedlichen Tod voraussagen lassen. Das ägyptische Heer zieht weiter nach Norden, unterliegt dort jedoch militärisch den babylonischen Alliierten. Auf seinem Rückzug an den Nil besetzt der Pharao dennoch das geschwächte Jerusalem und setzt dort einen Statthalter ein, den der Tanach in seiner Legendenbildung ebenfalls zu einem davidischen König macht. Im Jahr 605 vc ist Babylon stark genug, nach Süden gegen Ägypten vorzugehen. Nun sind es die Babylonier, die Jerusalem übernehmen und dort Statthalter etablieren.

“Bemerkenswert dabei ist, dass Nebukadnezar sich immer noch der Verdienste der Jahudahim im Befreiungskampf erinnert. Der von Ägypten eingesetzte Statthalter ist der Spross eines der Männer, die maßgeblich am Zustandekommen des Geheimbundes mitgewirkt haben. Als dieser sich nun dem Babylonier unterwirft und Nebukadnezar in Babylon als seinen Allmächtigen anerkennt, darf er sein Amt – nunmehr von Babylons Gnaden – weiter ausüben”, so Spahn.

Doch die Nachfolger des Josia verspielen ihre Chance. Sie konspirieren weiter mit Ägypten und provozieren damit zwei Strafexpeditionen der Babylonier. 598 vc wird das abtrünnige Jerusalem erneut besetzt. Nebukadnezar sieht abermals von einem Strafgericht ab und setzt einen anderen Spross aus der jahudahischen Elite zum Statthalter ein. Auch dieser konspiriert mit Ägypten – 586 vc wird die Metropole erneut erobert und nunmehr zerstört. Nicht allerdings ohne dass die Babylonier zuvor mehrfach den Versuch unternommen hätten, über den im Tanach als “Jahuah Zébaut” bezeichneten, babylonischen Militärbefehlshaber und Gouverneur über die babylonische Provinz Israel die belagerten Jahudahim mit zahlreichen Zusicherungen für Leib und Leben zur freiwilligen Übergabe zu bewegen. Doch der vorgeblich letzte Mélék von Jahudah, der von Nebukadnezar mit der Bezeichnung Zedekia (Zédéqéjah – der Gerechte des/von Jah) eingesetzt worden war, ist längst nicht mehr Herr des Geschehens. Der Kampf wird von einer Militärjunta geführt – Zedekia ist nur noch ein Marionettenkönig.

“Mir ist bewusst, dass diese Version der Geschichte allem widerspricht, was für die Menschheit seit Jahrtausenden als Wirklichkeit gilt”, stellt Spahn fest. “Aber”, so fügt er hinzu, “die Analyse des Quelltextes und der Abgleich mit historischen Quellen lässt nur diese eine einzige Version als plausibel erkennen.”

Wie nun aber sind in diesem Kontext all die biblischen Erzählungen einzuordnen, die von früheren, monotheistischen Herrschern in Jerusalem zu berichten wissen?

Spahn hat auch dafür nachvollziehbare Erklärungen, die er mit Texten des Tanach und Fremdquellen belegen kann: “Die Bücher Mose – vielleicht nicht alle, aber deren Kernelemente – entstanden zwischen 626 und 622 vc als Arbeit einer kleinen, im Geheimen agierenden Schriftstellergruppe unter Leitung des Josia-Getreuen Chéléqéjah, den die Griechen als Hilkia übersetzt haben. Er, der ursprünglich ein Priester der weiblichen Regionalgottheit Ýnét (Anat) war und zum ersten Hohepriester des Jah wird, ist der eigentliche Strippenzieher im Hintergrund. Er macht das Kind Josia zum Mélék, er organisiert den Geheimbund des Jah mit den Babyloniern. Er leitet die aus Spenden der polytheistischen Bevölkerung finanzierte Renovierung des großen Tempels in Jerusalem, der zu diesem Zeitpunkt wie seit eh und je ein Tempel der weiblichen Gottheit Ashera gewesen ist. Er sorgt dafür, dass sich die Assyrien-treue Priesterelite arglos im Baals-Tempels zu Jerusalem trifft, um sich dort auf die Einsegnung des frisch renovierten Tempels der Ashera vorzubereiten. Er hat das Konzept entwickelt, die Elite des assyrischen Glaubens dort durch das königstreue Militär niedermetzeln und anschließend alle Stätten der Polytheisten niederbrennen zu lassen. Die Ausführung überlässt er dem Feuer des Jah – seinem Produkt Josia. Und Hilkia ist es auch, der im Geheimen das Gesetzbuch des Mose formulieren lässt, das der Bevölkerung als Glaubenskonzept des einen Gottes, der ausschließlich für das Volk von Jahudah zuständig ist, präsentiert wird und das die Initialzündung für den Befreiungskampf gegen Assyrien und Ägypten liefert.”

Deshalb, so der Politikwissenschaftler, muss beispielsweise Abraham aus Mesopotamien kommen. Die Babylonier werden so von einem fernen Stamm zu nahen Verwandten. Deshalb führt Abrahams Weg über Haran, das zu diesem Zeitpunkt Regierungssitz der Assyrer ist.

“So schreibt der Tanach den Anspruch fest, auch gegen Haran militärisch vorgehen zu können und die Illegalität der assyrischen Regierung darzulegen”, ist sich Spahn sicher. Deshalb auch werden die Ägypter, die Palästina seit Urzeiten als ihren Vorgarten betrachten, im Tanach zum Hauptfeind erklärt. Das Volk von Jahudah soll darauf vorbereitet werden, sich im äußersten Notfall gegen die Nachbarn vom Nil zu rüsten.

Nach dem dennoch durch falsche Einschätzung der weltpolitischen Lage unvermeidbaren Untergang Jerusalems setzt der entgegen seinem Bild in der Geschichtsschreibung für seine Zeit überaus humane und bedachte Herrscher der Welt, Nebukadnezar, mit Gedelja einen weiteren Spross aus befreundetem, Jerusalemer Hause ein. Der wird von seinem Jugendfreund Ismael als Verräter ermordet – und Judäa wird abschließend zum Teil der babylonischen Provinz Israel. Die überlebende städtische Elite der Jahudahim zieht es nach Babylon, wo die Männer Karriere machen und die kurze Geschichte ihres Staates mit Billigung der babylonischen Staatsmacht in ein religiöses Manifest verwandeln. Die pro-ägyptische Militärelite zieht es – begleitet von einem langjährigen Agenten und Propagandisten Babylons, den die christliche Bibel unter dem Namen Jeremia kennt – nach Ägypten, wo sich ihre Spur verliert. Im Land selbst verbleiben die sogenannten kleinen Leute. Ihre Herkunft ist teilweise semitisch, teilweise anatolisch, teilweise griechisch, teilweise vielleicht sogar kurdisch. Ihnen gemein ist, dass sie nach wie vor an ihre polytheistische Götterwelt glauben und sich in der aramäischen Sprache der Assyrer verständigen.

“All dieses steht – wenn auch verklausuliert – im Tanach. Die Bücher Josua und Könige werden im Wesentlichen in Josias Herrschaftsjahren zwischen 622 und 609 vc verfasst worden sein. Sie schaffen mit einer großartig angelegten Gründungslegende den politischen Anspruch auf die Herrschaft über die Region zwischen Mittelmeer und hinaus über den Jordan, zwischen dem östlichen Mündungsarm des Nils und Haran. Sie greifen wie die späteren Werke des Buches Jesaja, eines Propheten, den es nie gegeben hat und der ein literarisches alter ego des Hilkia ist, und die Chronik auf zeitgenössische Königsannalen anderer Archive zurück, wenn beispielsweise der Mélék Hiskia, der als chéßéqéjah niemand anderes als ein Starker des beziehungsweise von Jah ist und sich mit Sanherib anlegte, zu einem Vorläufer des Josia verklärt wird oder dem ebenfalls dokumentierten assyrischen Vasall Jehu die tatsächliche Vorgehensweise bei der Vernichtung der polytheistischen Elite zugeschrieben wird.

Die Judäababylonier, Männer wie der Schriftgelehrte Esra und die Bruderschaft der Leviten, welche sich unmittelbar aus jener geheimen Kerngruppe um Hilkia entwickelte, sind die eigentlichen Väter der jüdischen Religion. Ohne sie wäre das aus propagandistischen Gründen klerikal verbrämte, machtpolitische Projekt des Josia nach dessen Tode im Sande verlaufen. Eigentlicher Gründervater dessen, aus dem sich das moderne Judentum entwickelte, ist ausgerechnet ein Perser. Es war ein persischer Nachfolger auf dem Thron des Nebukadnezar, der sich von den Judäababyloniern von dem Konzept einer wehrhaften, anti-ägyptischen Kommune im nach wie vor assyrisch geprägten Palästina überzeugen ließ und die Mittel bereit stellte, um seinen Siedlern, die sich zu einem Großteil aus den Nachfahren unter Sanherib verschleppter Israeli rekrutierten, mit einem zentralen Tempel in Jerusalem das Zentrum einer gemeinsamen Identität zu geben, die die jüdische mit der israelischen zusammenführt. Es war dieses der erste Tempel in der Heiligen Stadt, der zu Ehren eines Gottes Jahuah errichtet wurde. Er stand, bis die Römer ihn im Jahr 70 als Reaktion auf einen Aufstand der Juden zerstörten.“

Spahn hat all diese Überlegungen, die für ihn keine Gedankenspiele, sondern die Basis der historischen Wahrheit sind, in vier Bänden veröffentlicht. Und ihm ist bewusst, dass er damit die theologischen Fundamente dreier Weltreligionen berührt.

„Je länger ich mich mit meinen Analysen beschäftigte, desto deutlicher wurde mir, dass die Ergebnisse im Zweifel auch politisch missbraucht werden könnten. Denn sie machen beispielsweise deutlich, dass es einen Glaubensjuden namens David, auf den sich der gegenwärtige Premierminister Israels gern zur Begründung seines Handelns beruft, nie gegeben hat. Sie machen auch deutlich, dass die Urväter Abraham, Ismael und Isaak, auf die sich drei Weltreligionen berufen, nichts anderes als Sagengestalten sind, die aus politischen Gründen Einzug in das religiöse Basiswerk finden mussten. Aber rechtfertigt das, die Ergebnisse der Untersuchung der Menschheit vorzuenthalten? Die Religionen werden nicht daran zu Grunde gehen, wenn sie sich mit einer Geschichte ihres Ursprungs beschäftigen, die anders aussieht, als sie es in ihre Heiligen Bücher hineininterpretiert haben.

Vielleicht aber auch mögen die Ergebnisse meiner Untersuchung ein Anstoß dazu sein, die eigentliche Funktion von Religion in das rechte Licht zu rücken. Den Glaube ist nichts anderes als die Wahrheitsunterstellung einer nicht beweisbaren Annahme. Er bedarf weder der Historizität noch scheinhistorischer Begründungen. Glaube ruht in uns – nicht in der historischen Wahrheit. Das Konzept des Josia war ein politisch motivierter, gemeinsam mit mächtigen Verbündeten perfekt erdachter Masterplan, um sich und das eigene Volk von einer im Bewusstsein der Betroffenen schon ewig währenden Fremdherrschaft zu befreien. Es musste ein religiöses werden, weil es damit für die Zeitgenossen unangreifbar wurde.“

Schon vor dem selbstverschuldeten Untergang Jerusalems sei aus dem Bündnispartner erst eine Figur geworden, die die in der griechischen Übersetzung zu Propheten mutierenden, babylonischen Verbindungsleute wie Jeremia und Hesekiel in ihren Unterlagen mit den hebräischen Buchstaben für J-H-W-H abkürzten. Über den Weg der in babylonischen Archiven wirkenden Schriftgelehrten wurde der allmächtige Herrscher der Welt namens Nebukadnezar zu dem Gott, den Juden, Christen und Muslime bis heute als himmlisches Wesen verehren – und der als historische Person auch gerade deshalb zutiefst diffamiert wurde.

Spahn: „Der Tanach ist ein auch nach heutigen Maßstäben perfekt verfasstes Propagandastück mit dem ausschließlichen Ziel politischer Weltveränderung. Dass es dabei die lebenslustige Vielfalt des sehr menschlichen, polytheistischen Götterhimmels durch einen einzigen autoritären Allmächtigen ersetzte und die bis dahin in der Religion gleichberechtigte Frau in die gesellschaftliche Bedeutungslosigkeit schob, war durchaus gewollt. Die stammesdemokratischen Elemente, über die selbst der Tanach zu berichten weiß, gehörten abgeschafft, um einen aus der Sicht der Mächtigen effektiven Staat zu schaffen. Und die Frau? Sie fand sich bis zum Zeitpunkt des Staatsrevolution des Josia als ‚die Gebährende‘ in der Stellvertretung der Ashera in Jerusalem als höchste klerikale Instanz wieder. Mächtiger noch als der Mélék selbst. Deswegen machten die Autoren des Tanach sie einerseits zur Prophetin, andererseits erniedrigten sie die Dame hintersinnig mit nur einem Federstrich zu einem gebärfreudigen Nager. Aus der h‘lédah, der für Fruchtbarkeit stehenden Leda der Polytheisten, wurde chélédah, das gebärfreudige Nagetier. Kennern der griechischen Bibel ist sie als Hulda bekannt. Pointierter konnten die antiken Autoren vom Männerbund der Leviten ihre Verachtung für die Frau nicht dokumentieren.“

Tomas M. Spahn: Das Biblikon-Projekt – Die Entschlüsselung des Bibel-Codes

Band 1 – Von Adam zu Mose, ISBN 978-3-943726-01-5 (EP 17,80 €)

Band 2 – Das Feuer des Jah, ISBN 978-3-943726-02-2 (EP 17,80 €)

Band 3 – Der Erhabene des Jah, ISBN 978-3-943726-03-9 (EP 19,80 €)

Band 4 – Demokratie oder Gottesstaat, ISBN 978-3-943726-04-6 (EP 22,80 €)


American Jewish Committee begrüßt Stellenwert Israels im Koalitionsvertrag: „Sicherheit Israels für uns nicht verhandelbar“.

December 2, 2013

Pressemitteilung

Berlin, den 02.12.2013

Das American Jewish Committee (AJC) begrüßt das deutliche Bekenntnis zu Deutschlands Verantwortung für die Sicherheit Israels im Koalitionsvertrag und wertet die Aussagen als wichtiges Fundament für den Ausbau der deutsch-israelischen Beziehungen. Zugleich mahnt das AJC vor dem Hintergrund der jüngsten EU-Antisemitismusstudie die zügige Umsetzung des Bundestags-Maßnahmenbeschlusses an.

„Dass in diesem Koalitionsvertrag noch stärker als in der vergangenen Vereinbarung von 2009 die besondere Verpflichtung Deutschlands für den Schutz der Sicherheit Israels betont wird, zeigt den besonderen Stellenwert der deutsch-israelischen Beziehungen auf. Wir begrüßen zudem, dass die Feierlichkeiten zum 50-jährigen Jubiläum der Aufnahme diplomatischer Beziehungen zwischen Deutschland und Israel für das Jahr 2015 im Koalitionsvertrag hervorgehoben werden und das deutsch-israelische Verhältnis dadurch eine besondere Würdigung erhält“, so Deidre Berger, Direktorin des AJC Berlin Ramer Institute for German-Jewish Relations.

Im Koalitionsvertrag heißt es: „Wir bekennen uns zu der besonderen Verantwortung Deutschlands gegenüber Israel als jüdischem und demokratischem Staat und dessen Sicherheit. Das Existenzrecht und die Sicherheit Israels sind für uns nicht verhandelbar. 2015 feiern wir das 50-jährige Jubiläum der Aufnahme diplomatischer Beziehungen zum Staat Israel. Dieses Jubiläum wird die Bundesregierung angemessen würdigen.“

Auch die transatlantischen Beziehungen werden im Vertrag besonders betont.

„Ein wichtiges Signal angesichts der jüngsten Spionage-Diskussionen“, sagte Berger weiter.

Beim Thema Antisemitismus und Rechtsextremismus wollen CDU/CSU und SPD zivilgesellschaftliche Initiativen und Programme verstetigen. Weitergehende Umsetzungsstrategien zum Thema Antisemitismus finden sich im Koalitionsvertrag jedoch nicht. Erst am 13. Juni beschloss der Deutsche Bundestag einen fraktionsübergreifenden Antrag zum Thema Antisemitismus. Die Resolution forderte die Bundesregierung dazu auf, den Maßnahmen-Katalog zur Bekämpfung des Antisemitismus umzusetzen.

„Die Ergebnisse der jüngsten EU-Studie, wonach mehr als 63% der deutschen Juden angaben, das Tragen jüdischer Symbole aus Angst vor Antisemitismus zu vermeiden, erhöhen den Handlungsdruck. Es braucht nun einen Umsetzungsplan der beschlossenen Maßnahmen, auch damit die Bekämpfung des Antisemitismus verbindlicher und kontinuierlicher erfolgen kann“, sagte Berger weiter.

Der Bundestags-Beschluss vom 13. Juni sieht unter anderem Förderprogramme zum deutsch-israelischen Austausch, Maßnahmen zur Unterstützung von Holocaust-Überlebenden durch deutsche Jugendliche und eine bessere Darstellung jüdischen Lebens im deutschen Schulunterricht vor.

Zum Thema Ghettorente vereinbarten CDU/CSU und SPD, dass „den berechtigten Interessen der Holocaust-Überlebenden nach einer angemessenen Entschädigung für die in einem Ghetto geleistete Arbeit Rechnung getragen wird“.

„Es ist wichtig, dass die zukünftigen Koalitionsparteien endlich eine Lösung beim Thema Ghettorenten erzielen wollen. Nun kommt es darauf an, dass CDU/CSU und SPD in den nächsten drei Monaten einen Umsetzungsplan für das Thema Ghettorenten vorlegen. Die noch wenigen Überlebenden können nicht noch länger warten, um verspätete Entschädigungszahlungen zu bekommen“, so Berger abschließend.

Pressekontakt

Deidre Berger, Director

Email: berlin@ajc.org

American Jewish Committee (AJC) Berlin Office

Leipziger Platz 15, Mosse Palais

10117 Berlin

Tel.: +49 (0)30 22 65 94-0

Fax: +49 (0)30 22 65 94-14


Earl Shugerman’s Corner: Passover and Freedom in the Middle East

April 1, 2011

Earl Shugerman brings every week a serie of stories about Anglo-Saxon immigrants to Israel. This project is aimed to promote a more realistic view of life in Israel.

Passover is a predominantly Jewish holiday and festival. It commemorates the story of the flight for freedom of the Jewish people from the days of Moses. I feel that Passover of 2011 is especially significant due to the struggle for freedom of both Israel and many of Israel’s neighbours.

Festive Seder table with wine, matza and Seder plate.

Festive Seder table with wine, matza and Seder plate.

Many of our neighbours are struggling to replace monarchies and dictatorships with democracy. It commemorates the story of the Exodus, in which the ancient Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt. Passover begins on the 15th day of the month of Nisan, which is spring in the Northern Hemisphere, and is celebrated for seven or eight days. It is one of the most widely observed Jewish holidays.

In the narrative of the Exodus, the Bible tells that God helped the Children of Israel escape slavery in Egypt by inflicting ten plagues upon the Egyptians before Pharaoh would release his Israelite slaves; the tenth and worst of the plagues was the slaughter of the first-born. The Israelites were instructed to mark the doorposts of their homes with the blood of a spring lamb and, upon seeing this, the spirit of the Lord passed over these homes, hence the term “Passover”. When Pharaoh freed the Israelites, it is said that they left in such a hurry that they could not wait for bread to rise. In commemoration, for the duration of Passover no leavened bread is eaten, for which reason it is called “The Festival of the Unleavened Bread”(flat unleavened bread) is the primary symbol of the holiday.

The Jewish people experienced a second historical Exodus following the horrors of the Holocaust.  The survivors of history’s greatest injustice and Jews throughout the world claimed the right to return to “Eretz Israel”. History has taught the people of the book that a national homeland is a necessity for survival.

Palestine was a British colony. The Jews, Christians, and Muslims were refused freedom and justice by the leaders of Great Britain. The United Nations Partition for Palestine in 1947 established both a Jewish and a Palestinian homeland. The members of the Arab League refused to accept the plan and invaded both Israel and Palestine in 1948. Many of those nations- which included: Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia- led the Arab invasion.  These were nations whose citizens never enjoyed democracy and true freedom and refused to give that right to their neighbours.

Sixty two years later these same nations refuse to grant their citizens with freedom and equality. Today, the citizens of these countries are fighting to obtain a democratic lifestyle that they have only learned about from observing Western Nations. They have chosen to fight for the unknown- a life of democracy- even though they know that their life could be lost in the battle.

Most of us cannot imagine what it is like to be a citizen in many of these countries. Marshal Law has ruled the regime in Syria for thirty years? Saudi Arabia is feudal monarchy where people lose their limbs for stealing a loaf of bread. Egypt was ruled by a dictatorship for the past forty years. Egypt’s citizens were not granted civil rights and most in live extreme poverty.

This year in Israel we are celebrating the sixty second Passover in the modern Jewish state. Many of us celebrating here place emphasis on the fact that Moses and the ancient Israelites wondered the dessert for forty years before they entered the land of Canaan. Yahu wanted our people to think as free people- not as slaves- before they were given their own nation.

Seeing as we are a considerably new country, we do our best to maintain that state of mind. Let us hope that the people in Syria, Libya, Egypt and Yemen obtain and enjoy freedom now.

About the author: Earl Shugerman is a retired American Government public relations specialist,  currently spokesman in Haifa for The Jewish Agency and a writer specializing in interfaith relations. He has worked together with the Catholic and Southern Baptist Movements, the Reformed Jewish Movement and Muslim groups in interfaith activities.


Osama Bin Laden – A New Book by Michael Scheuer

February 14, 2011

In Osama bin Laden, Michael Scheuer, former chief of the CIA’s bin Laden Unit and author of the bestseller Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, provides an objective and authoritative portrait of bin Laden that shows him to be devout, talented, patient, and ruthless. Scheuer delivers a hard-headed, closely reasoned portrait of America’s most implacable enemy.

"No American knows bin Laden better than Scheuer." (Craig Whitlock, National Security Correspondent, The Washington Post)
“No American knows bin Laden better than Scheuer.” (Craig Whitlock, The Washington Post)

To purchase this book, please click here.


Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address 2011

January 26, 2011

In his State of the Union address on January 25, 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama mentioned a plan for investment in crucial areas like education, high-speed rail, and green technology, as well as reforming the tax code to help the United States meet the challenge of globalization amid relentless competition from rising economies such as China and India.

A Member of Congress reads along as President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 25, 2011. (Photo by Pete Souza)
A Member of Congress reads along as President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber, January 25, 2011. (Photo by Pete Souza)

“We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world,” he said in his speech (see full transcript below). At the same time, Obama, who is facing massive deficits, did not call for new programs. Instead, he promised a five-year budget freeze on non-defense discretionary spending, which he said had the prospective to reduce the deficit by $400 billion over ten years.

When Obama did address U.S. foreign policy, he mainly focused on his latest successes – such as ratifying the new START arms control treaty with Russia and the trade agreement with South Korea, and concealed critical issues like drug violence in Mexico, instability in Pakistan, and climate change.

In an op-ed in The New York Times Chief Washington Correspondent David E. Sanger argues that one of President Barack Obama’s “subtexts on Tuesday night was that doing big things these days may require a bit more humility, a lot more work, and some international partners that Americans rarely thought about twenty years ago but whose competition they have now grown to fear.”

Read full story.

Nota bene: for full coverage of the Union Address 2011 and more insight, check out also The Wall Street Journal.

***

Remarks by the President in State of Union Address
United States Capitol, Washington, D.C.

January 25, 2011 – 9:12 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow Americans:

Tonight I want to begin by congratulating the men and women of the 112th Congress, as well as your new Speaker, John Boehner. (Applause.) And as we mark this occasion, we’re also mindful of the empty chair in this chamber, and we pray for the health of our colleague — and our friend -– Gabby Giffords. (Applause.)

It’s no secret that those of us here tonight have had our differences over the last two years. The debates have been contentious; we have fought fiercely for our beliefs.  And that’s a good thing. That’s what a robust democracy demands. That’s what helps set us apart as a nation.

But there’s a reason the tragedy in Tucson gave us pause. Amid all the noise and passion and rancor of our public debate, Tucson reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater -– something more consequential than party or political preference.

We are part of the American family.  We believe that in a country where every race and faith and point of view can be found, we are still bound together as one people; that we share common hopes and a common creed; that the dreams of a little girl in Tucson are not so different than those of our own children, and that they all deserve the chance to be fulfilled.

That, too, is what sets us apart as a nation.  (Applause.)

Now, by itself, this simple recognition won’t usher in a new era of cooperation.  What comes of this moment is up to us.  What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow.  (Applause.)

I believe we can.  And I believe we must.  That’s what the people who sent us here expect of us. With their votes, they’ve determined that governing will now be a shared responsibility between parties.  New laws will only pass with support from Democrats and Republicans.  We will move forward together, or not at all -– for the challenges we face are bigger than party, and bigger than politics.

At stake right now is not who wins the next election -– after all, we just had an election. At stake is whether new jobs and industries take root in this country, or somewhere else.  It’s whether the hard work and industry of our people is rewarded.  It’s whether we sustain the leadership that has made America not just a place on a map, but the light to the world.

We are poised for progress.  Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back.  Corporate profits are up.  The economy is growing again.

But we have never measured progress by these yardsticks alone.  We measure progress by the success of our people.  By the jobs they can find and the quality of life those jobs offer.  By the prospects of a small business owner who dreams of turning a good idea into a thriving enterprise. By the opportunities for a better life that we pass on to our children.

That’s the project the American people want us to work on.Together. (Applause.)

We did that in December. Thanks to the tax cuts we passed, Americans’ paychecks are a little bigger today.  Every business can write off the full cost of new investments that they make this year. And these steps, taken by Democrats and Republicans, will grow the economy and add to the more than one million private sector jobs created last year.

But we have to do more. These steps we’ve taken over the last two years may have broken the back of this recession, but to win the future, we’ll need to take on challenges that have been decades in the making.

 Many people watching tonight can probably remember a time when finding a good job meant showing up at a nearby factory or a business downtown. You didn’t always need a degree, and your competition was pretty much limited to your neighbors.  If you worked hard, chances are you’d have a job for life, with a decent paycheck and good benefits and the occasional promotion. Maybe you’d even have the pride of seeing your kids work at the same company.

That world has changed. And for many, the change has been painful. I’ve seen it in the shuttered windows of once booming factories, and the vacant storefronts on once busy Main Streets. I’ve heard it in the frustrations of Americans who’ve seen their paychecks dwindle or their jobs disappear -– proud men and women who feel like the rules have been changed in the middle of the game.

They’re right. The rules have changed.  In a single generation, revolutions in technology have transformed the way we live, work and do business. Steel mills that once needed 1,000 workers can now do the same work with 100. Today, just about any company can set up shop, hire workers, and sell their products wherever there’s an Internet connection.

Meanwhile, nations like China and India realized that with some changes of their own, they could compete in this new world. And so they started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science. They’re investing in research and new technologies. Just recently, China became the home to the world’s largest private solar research facility, and the world’s fastest computer.

So, yes, the world has changed. The competition for jobs is real.  But this shouldn’t discourage us.  It should challenge us. Remember -– for all the hits we’ve taken these last few years, for all the naysayers predicting our decline, America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world.  (Applause.) No workers — no workers are more productive than ours. No country has more successful companies, or grants more patents to inventors and entrepreneurs. We’re the home to the world’s best colleges and universities, where more students come to study than any place on Earth.

What’s more, we are the first nation to be founded for the sake of an idea -– the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our own destiny. That’s why centuries of pioneers and immigrants have risked everything to come here. It’s why our students don’t just memorize equations, but answer questions like “What do you think of that idea?  What would you change about the world? What do you want to be when you grow up?”

The future is ours to win. But to get there, we can’t just stand still.  As Robert Kennedy told us, “The future is not a gift. It is an achievement.”  Sustaining the American Dream has never been about standing pat. It has required each generation to sacrifice, and struggle, and meet the demands of a new age.

And now it’s our turn.  We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries of our time.  We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.  (Applause.)  We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business.  We need to take responsibility for our deficit and reform our government.  That’s how our people will prosper.  That’s how we’ll win the future.  (Applause.)  And tonight, I’d like to talk about how we get there.

The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation.  None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will be or where the new jobs will come from.  Thirty years ago, we couldn’t know that something called the Internet would lead to an economic revolution.  What we can do — what America does better than anyone else — is spark the creativity and imagination of our people.  We’re the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook.  In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives.  It is how we make our living.  (Applause.)

Our free enterprise system is what drives innovation.  But because it’s not always profitable for companies to invest in basic research, throughout our history, our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they need.  That’s what planted the seeds for the Internet.  That’s what helped make possible things like computer chips and GPS.  Just think of all the good jobs — from manufacturing to retail — that have come from these breakthroughs.

Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik, we had no idea how we would beat them to the moon.  The science wasn’t even there yet.  NASA didn’t exist.  But after investing in better research and education, we didn’t just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs.

This is our generation’s Sputnik moment.  Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race.  And in a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal.  We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology -– (applause) — an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.

Already, we’re seeing the promise of renewable energy.  Robert and Gary Allen are brothers who run a small Michigan roofing company.  After September 11th, they volunteered their best roofers to help repair the Pentagon.  But half of their factory went unused, and the recession hit them hard.  Today, with the help of a government loan, that empty space is being used to manufacture solar shingles that are being sold all across the country.  In Robert’s words, “We reinvented ourselves.”

That’s what Americans have done for over 200 years: reinvented ourselves.  And to spur on more success stories like the Allen Brothers, we’ve begun to reinvent our energy policy. We’re not just handing out money.  We’re issuing a challenge.  We’re telling America’s scientists and engineers that if they assemble teams of the best minds in their fields, and focus on the hardest problems in clean energy, we’ll fund the Apollo projects of our time.

At the California Institute of Technology, they’re developing a way to turn sunlight and water into fuel for our cars.  At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, they’re using supercomputers to get a lot more power out of our nuclear facilities.  With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.  (Applause.)

We need to get behind this innovation.  And to help pay for it, I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies.  (Applause.)  I don’t know if — I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own.  (Laughter.)  So instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s.

Now, clean energy breakthroughs will only translate into clean energy jobs if businesses know there will be a market for what they’re selling.  So tonight, I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal:  By 2035, 80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources.  (Applause.)

Some folks want wind and solar.  Others want nuclear, clean coal and natural gas.  To meet this goal, we will need them all — and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen.  (Applause.)

 Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America’s success.  But if we want to win the future -– if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas -– then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.

Think about it.  Over the next 10 years, nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school education.  And yet, as many as a quarter of our students aren’t even finishing high school.  The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations.  America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree.  And so the question is whether all of us –- as citizens, and as parents –- are willing to do what’s necessary to give every child a chance to succeed.

That responsibility begins not in our classrooms, but in our homes and communities.  It’s family that first instills the love of learning in a child.  Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done.  We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair.  (Applause.)  We need to teach them that success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and discipline.

Our schools share this responsibility.  When a child walks into a classroom, it should be a place of high expectations and high performance.  But too many schools don’t meet this test. That’s why instead of just pouring money into a system that’s not working, we launched a competition called Race to the Top.  To all 50 states, we said, “If you show us the most innovative plans to improve teacher quality and student achievement, we’ll show you the money.”

Race to the Top is the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation.  For less than 1 percent of what we spend on education each year, it has led over 40 states to raise their standards for teaching and learning.  And these standards were developed, by the way, not by Washington, but by Republican and Democratic governors throughout the country.  And Race to the Top should be the approach we follow this year as we replace No Child Left Behind with a law that’s more flexible and focused on what’s best for our kids.  (Applause.)

You see, we know what’s possible from our children when reform isn’t just a top-down mandate, but the work of local teachers and principals, school boards and communities.  Take a school like Bruce Randolph in Denver.  Three years ago, it was rated one of the worst schools in Colorado — located on turf between two rival gangs.  But last May, 97 percent of the seniors received their diploma.  Most will be the first in their families to go to college.  And after the first year of the school’s transformation, the principal who made it possible wiped away tears when a student said, “Thank you, Ms. Waters, for showing that we are smart and we can make it.”  (Applause.)  That’s what good schools can do, and we want good schools all across the country.

Let’s also remember that after parents, the biggest impact on a child’s success comes from the man or woman at the front of the classroom.  In South Korea, teachers are known as “nation builders.”  Here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect.  (Applause.)  We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones.  (Applause.)  And over the next 10 years, with so many baby boomers retiring from our classrooms, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science and technology and engineering and math.  (Applause.)

In fact, to every young person listening tonight who’s contemplating their career choice:  If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child — become a teacher.  Your country needs you.  (Applause.)

Of course, the education race doesn’t end with a high school diploma.  To compete, higher education must be within the reach of every American.  (Applause.)  That’s why we’ve ended the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that went to banks, and used the savings to make college affordable for millions of students.  (Applause.)  And this year, I ask Congress to go further, and make permanent our tuition tax credit –- worth $10,000 for four years of college.  It’s the right thing to do.  (Applause.)

Because people need to be able to train for new jobs and careers in today’s fast-changing economy, we’re also revitalizing America’s community colleges.  Last month, I saw the promise of these schools at Forsyth Tech in North Carolina.  Many of the students there used to work in the surrounding factories that have since left town.  One mother of two, a woman named Kathy Proctor, had worked in the furniture industry since she was 18 years old.  And she told me she’s earning her degree in biotechnology now, at 55 years old, not just because the furniture jobs are gone, but because she wants to inspire her children to pursue their dreams, too.  As Kathy said, “I hope it tells them to never give up.”

If we take these steps -– if we raise expectations for every child, and give them the best possible chance at an education, from the day they are born until the last job they take –- we will reach the goal that I set two years ago:  By the end of the decade, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.  (Applause.)

One last point about education.  Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in our schools who are not American citizens.  Some are the children of undocumented workers, who had nothing to do with the actions of their parents. They grew up as Americans and pledge allegiance to our flag, and yet they live every day with the threat of deportation.  Others come here from abroad to study in our colleges and universities.  But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us.  It makes no sense.

Now, I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration.  And I am prepared to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, enforce our laws and address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows.  (Applause.)  I know that debate will be difficult.  I know it will take time.  But tonight, let’s agree to make that effort.  And let’s stop expelling talented, responsible young people who could be staffing our research labs or starting a new business, who could be further enriching this nation.  (Applause.)

The third step in winning the future is rebuilding America.  To attract new businesses to our shores, we need the fastest, most reliable ways to move people, goods, and information — from high-speed rail to high-speed Internet.  (Applause.)

Our infrastructure used to be the best, but our lead has slipped.  South Korean homes now have greater Internet access than we do.  Countries in Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than we do.  China is building faster trains and newer airports.  Meanwhile, when our own engineers graded our nation’s infrastructure, they gave us a “D.”

We have to do better.  America is the nation that built the transcontinental railroad, brought electricity to rural communities, constructed the Interstate Highway System.  The jobs created by these projects didn’t just come from laying down track or pavement.  They came from businesses that opened near a town’s new train station or the new off-ramp.

So over the last two years, we’ve begun rebuilding for the 21st century, a project that has meant thousands of good jobs for the hard-hit construction industry.  And tonight, I’m proposing that we redouble those efforts.  (Applause.)

We’ll put more Americans to work repairing crumbling roads and bridges.  We’ll make sure this is fully paid for, attract private investment, and pick projects based [on] what’s best for the economy, not politicians.

Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail.  (Applause.)  This could allow you to go places in half the time it takes to travel by car.  For some trips, it will be faster than flying –- without the pat-down.  (Laughter and applause.)  As we speak, routes in California and the Midwest are already underway.

Within the next five years, we’ll make it possible for businesses to deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage to 98 percent of all Americans.  This isn’t just about — (applause) — this isn’t about faster Internet or fewer dropped calls.  It’s about connecting every part of America to the digital age.  It’s about a rural community in Iowa or Alabama where farmers and small business owners will be able to sell their products all over the world.  It’s about a firefighter who can download the design of a burning building onto a handheld device; a student who can take classes with a digital textbook; or a patient who can have face-to-face video chats with her doctor.

All these investments -– in innovation, education, and infrastructure –- will make America a better place to do business and create jobs.  But to help our companies compete, we also have to knock down barriers that stand in the way of their success.

For example, over the years, a parade of lobbyists has rigged the tax code to benefit particular companies and industries.  Those with accountants or lawyers to work the system can end up paying no taxes at all.  But all the rest are hit with one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world.  It makes no sense, and it has to change.  (Applause.)

So tonight, I’m asking Democrats and Republicans to simplify the system.  Get rid of the loopholes.  Level the playing field.  And use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years –- without adding to our deficit.  It can be done.  (Applause.)

To help businesses sell more products abroad, we set a goal of doubling our exports by 2014 -– because the more we export, the more jobs we create here at home.  Already, our exports are up.  Recently, we signed agreements with India and China that will support more than 250,000 jobs here in the United States.  And last month, we finalized a trade agreement with South Korea that will support at least 70,000 American jobs.  This agreement has unprecedented support from business and labor, Democrats and Republicans — and I ask this Congress to pass it as soon as possible.  (Applause.)

Now, before I took office, I made it clear that we would enforce our trade agreements, and that I would only sign deals that keep faith with American workers and promote American jobs.  That’s what we did with Korea, and that’s what I intend to do as we pursue agreements with Panama and Colombia and continue our Asia Pacific and global trade talks.  (Applause.)

To reduce barriers to growth and investment, I’ve ordered a review of government regulations.  When we find rules that put an unnecessary burden on businesses, we will fix them.  (Applause.)  But I will not hesitate to create or enforce common-sense safeguards to protect the American people.  (Applause.)  That’s what we’ve done in this country for more than a century.  It’s why our food is safe to eat, our water is safe to drink, and our air is safe to breathe.  It’s why we have speed limits and child labor laws.  It’s why last year, we put in place consumer protections against hidden fees and penalties by credit card companies and new rules to prevent another financial crisis.  (Applause.)  And it’s why we passed reform that finally prevents the health insurance industry from exploiting patients.  (Applause.)

Now, I have heard rumors that a few of you still have concerns about our new health care law.  (Laughter.)  So let me be the first to say that anything can be improved.  If you have ideas about how to improve this law by making care better or more affordable, I am eager to work with you.  We can start right now by correcting a flaw in the legislation that has placed an unnecessary bookkeeping burden on small businesses.  (Applause.)

What I’m not willing to do — what I’m not willing to do is go back to the days when insurance companies could deny someone coverage because of a preexisting condition.  (Applause.)

I’m not willing to tell James Howard, a brain cancer patient from Texas, that his treatment might not be covered.  I’m not willing to tell Jim Houser, a small business man from Oregon, that he has to go back to paying $5,000 more to cover his employees.  As we speak, this law is making prescription drugs cheaper for seniors and giving uninsured students a chance to stay on their patients’ — parents’ coverage.  (Applause.)

So I say to this chamber tonight, instead of re-fighting the battles of the last two years, let’s fix what needs fixing and let’s move forward.  (Applause.)

Now, the final critical step in winning the future is to make sure we aren’t buried under a mountain of debt.

We are living with a legacy of deficit spending that began almost a decade ago.  And in the wake of the financial crisis, some of that was necessary to keep credit flowing, save jobs, and put money in people’s pockets.

But now that the worst of the recession is over, we have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in.  That is not sustainable.  Every day, families sacrifice to live within their means.  They deserve a government that does the same.

So tonight, I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years.  (Applause.)  Now, this would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, and will bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was President.

This freeze will require painful cuts.  Already, we’ve frozen the salaries of hardworking federal employees for the next two years.  I’ve proposed cuts to things I care deeply about, like community action programs.  The Secretary of Defense has also agreed to cut tens of billions of dollars in spending that he and his generals believe our military can do without.  (Applause.)

I recognize that some in this chamber have already proposed deeper cuts, and I’m willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without.  But let’s make sure that we’re not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens.  (Applause.)  And let’s make sure that what we’re cutting is really excess weight.  Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine.  It may make you feel like you’re flying high at first, but it won’t take long before you feel the impact.  (Laughter.)

Now, most of the cuts and savings I’ve proposed only address annual domestic spending, which represents a little more than 12 percent of our budget.  To make further progress, we have to stop pretending that cutting this kind of spending alone will be enough.  It won’t.  (Applause.)

The bipartisan fiscal commission I created last year made this crystal clear.  I don’t agree with all their proposals, but they made important progress.  And their conclusion is that the only way to tackle our deficit is to cut excessive spending wherever we find it –- in domestic spending, defense spending, health care spending, and spending through tax breaks and loopholes.  (Applause.)

This means further reducing health care costs, including programs like Medicare and Medicaid, which are the single biggest contributor to our long-term deficit.  The health insurance law we passed last year will slow these rising costs, which is part of the reason that nonpartisan economists have said that repealing the health care law would add a quarter of a trillion dollars to our deficit.  Still, I’m willing to look at other ideas to bring down costs, including one that Republicans suggested last year — medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits.  (Applause.)

To put us on solid ground, we should also find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations.  (Applause.)  We must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market.  (Applause.)

And if we truly care about our deficit, we simply can’t afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.  (Applause.)  Before we take money away from our schools or scholarships away from our students, we should ask millionaires to give up their tax break.  It’s not a matter of punishing their success.  It’s about promoting America’s success.  (Applause.)

In fact, the best thing we could do on taxes for all Americans is to simplify the individual tax code.  (Applause.)  This will be a tough job, but members of both parties have expressed an interest in doing this, and I am prepared to join them.  (Applause.)

So now is the time to act.  Now is the time for both sides and both houses of Congress –- Democrats and Republicans -– to forge a principled compromise that gets the job done.  If we make the hard choices now to rein in our deficits, we can make the investments we need to win the future.

Let me take this one step further.  We shouldn’t just give our people a government that’s more affordable.  We should give them a government that’s more competent and more efficient.  We can’t win the future with a government of the past.  (Applause.)

We live and do business in the Information Age, but the last major reorganization of the government happened in the age of black-and-white TV.  There are 12 different agencies that deal with exports.  There are at least five different agencies that deal with housing policy.  Then there’s my favorite example:  The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they’re in saltwater.  (Laughter.)  I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked.  (Laughter and applause.)

Now, we’ve made great strides over the last two years in using technology and getting rid of waste.  Veterans can now download their electronic medical records with a click of the mouse.  We’re selling acres of federal office space that hasn’t been used in years, and we’ll cut through red tape to get rid of more.  But we need to think bigger.  In the coming months, my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate, and reorganize the federal government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive America.  I will submit that proposal to Congress for a vote –- and we will push to get it passed.  (Applause.)

In the coming year, we’ll also work to rebuild people’s faith in the institution of government.  Because you deserve to know exactly how and where your tax dollars are being spent, you’ll be able to go to a website and get that information for the very first time in history.  Because you deserve to know when your elected officials are meeting with lobbyists, I ask Congress to do what the White House has already done — put that information online.  And because the American people deserve to know that special interests aren’t larding up legislation with pet projects, both parties in Congress should know this:  If a bill comes to my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it.  I will veto it.  (Applause.)

The 21st century government that’s open and competent.  A government that lives within its means.  An economy that’s driven by new skills and new ideas.  Our success in this new and changing world will require reform, responsibility, and innovation.  It will also require us to approach that world with a new level of engagement in our foreign affairs.

Just as jobs and businesses can now race across borders, so can new threats and new challenges.  No single wall separates East and West.  No one rival superpower is aligned against us.

And so we must defeat determined enemies, wherever they are, and build coalitions that cut across lines of region and race and religion.  And America’s moral example must always shine for all who yearn for freedom and justice and dignity.  And because we’ve begun this work, tonight we can say that American leadership has been renewed and America’s standing has been restored.

Look to Iraq, where nearly 100,000 of our brave men and women have left with their heads held high.  (Applause.)  American combat patrols have ended, violence is down, and a new government has been formed.  This year, our civilians will forge a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people, while we finish the job of bringing our troops out of Iraq.  America’s commitment has been kept.  The Iraq war is coming to an end.  (Applause.)

Of course, as we speak, al Qaeda and their affiliates continue to plan attacks against us.  Thanks to our intelligence and law enforcement professionals, we’re disrupting plots and securing our cities and skies.  And as extremists try to inspire acts of violence within our borders, we are responding with the strength of our communities, with respect for the rule of law, and with the conviction that American Muslims are a part of our American family.  (Applause.) 

We’ve also taken the fight to al Qaeda and their allies abroad.  In Afghanistan, our troops have taken Taliban strongholds and trained Afghan security forces.  Our purpose is clear:  By preventing the Taliban from reestablishing a stranglehold over the Afghan people, we will deny al Qaeda the safe haven that served as a launching pad for 9/11.

Thanks to our heroic troops and civilians, fewer Afghans are under the control of the insurgency.  There will be tough fighting ahead, and the Afghan government will need to deliver better governance.  But we are strengthening the capacity of the Afghan people and building an enduring partnership with them.  This year, we will work with nearly 50 countries to begin a transition to an Afghan lead.  And this July, we will begin to bring our troops home.  (Applause.)

In Pakistan, al Qaeda’s leadership is under more pressure than at any point since 2001.  Their leaders and operatives are being removed from the battlefield.  Their safe havens are shrinking.  And we’ve sent a message from the Afghan border to the Arabian Peninsula to all parts of the globe:  We will not relent, we will not waver, and we will defeat you.  (Applause.)

American leadership can also be seen in the effort to secure the worst weapons of war.  Because Republicans and Democrats approved the New START treaty, far fewer nuclear weapons and launchers will be deployed.  Because we rallied the world, nuclear materials are being locked down on every continent so they never fall into the hands of terrorists.  (Applause.)

Because of a diplomatic effort to insist that Iran meet its obligations, the Iranian government now faces tougher sanctions, tighter sanctions than ever before.  And on the Korean Peninsula, we stand with our ally South Korea, and insist that North Korea keeps its commitment to abandon nuclear weapons.  (Applause.)

This is just a part of how we’re shaping a world that favors peace and prosperity.  With our European allies, we revitalized NATO and increased our cooperation on everything from counterterrorism to missile defense.  We’ve reset our relationship with Russia, strengthened Asian alliances, built new partnerships with nations like India.

This March, I will travel to Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador to forge new alliances across the Americas.  Around the globe, we’re standing with those who take responsibility -– helping farmers grow more food, supporting doctors who care for the sick, and combating the corruption that can rot a society and rob people of opportunity.

Recent events have shown us that what sets us apart must not just be our power -– it must also be the purpose behind it.  In south Sudan -– with our assistance -– the people were finally able to vote for independence after years of war.  (Applause.)  Thousands lined up before dawn.  People danced in the streets.  One man who lost four of his brothers at war summed up the scene around him:  “This was a battlefield for most of my life,” he said.  “Now we want to be free.”  (Applause.)

And we saw that same desire to be free in Tunisia, where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator.  And tonight, let us be clear:  The United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people.  (Applause.)

We must never forget that the things we’ve struggled for, and fought for, live in the hearts of people everywhere.  And we must always remember that the Americans who have borne the greatest burden in this struggle are the men and women who serve our country.  (Applause.)

Tonight, let us speak with one voice in reaffirming that our nation is united in support of our troops and their families.  Let us serve them as well as they’ve served us — by giving them the equipment they need, by providing them with the care and benefits that they have earned, and by enlisting our veterans in the great task of building our own nation.

Our troops come from every corner of this country -– they’re black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American.  They are Christian and Hindu, Jewish and Muslim.  And, yes, we know that some of them are gay.  Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love.  (Applause.)  And with that change, I call on all our college campuses to open their doors to our military recruiters and ROTC.  It is time to leave behind the divisive battles of the past.  It is time to move forward as one nation.  (Applause.)

We should have no illusions about the work ahead of us. Reforming our schools, changing the way we use energy, reducing our deficit –- none of this will be easy.  All of it will take time.  And it will be harder because we will argue about everything.  The costs.  The details.  The letter of every law.

Of course, some countries don’t have this problem.  If the central government wants a railroad, they build a railroad, no matter how many homes get bulldozed.  If they don’t want a bad story in the newspaper, it doesn’t get written.

And yet, as contentious and frustrating and messy as our democracy can sometimes be, I know there isn’t a person here who would trade places with any other nation on Earth.  (Applause.)

We may have differences in policy, but we all believe in the rights enshrined in our Constitution.  We may have different opinions, but we believe in the same promise that says this is a place where you can make it if you try.  We may have different backgrounds, but we believe in the same dream that says this is a country where anything is possible.  No matter who you are.  No matter where you come from.

That dream is why I can stand here before you tonight.  That dream is why a working-class kid from Scranton can sit behind me.  (Laughter and applause.)  That dream is why someone who began by sweeping the floors of his father’s Cincinnati bar can preside as Speaker of the House in the greatest nation on Earth.  (Applause.)

That dream -– that American Dream -– is what drove the Allen Brothers to reinvent their roofing company for a new era.  It’s what drove those students at Forsyth Tech to learn a new skill and work towards the future.  And that dream is the story of a small business owner named Brandon Fisher.

Brandon started a company in Berlin, Pennsylvania, that specializes in a new kind of drilling technology.  And one day last summer, he saw the news that halfway across the world, 33 men were trapped in a Chilean mine, and no one knew how to save them.

But Brandon thought his company could help.  And so he designed a rescue that would come to be known as Plan B.  His employees worked around the clock to manufacture the necessary drilling equipment.  And Brandon left for Chile.

Along with others, he began drilling a 2,000-foot hole into the ground, working three- or four-hour — three or four days at a time without any sleep.  Thirty-seven days later, Plan B succeeded, and the miners were rescued.  (Applause.)  But because he didn’t want all of the attention, Brandon wasn’t there when the miners emerged.  He’d already gone back home, back to work on his next project.

And later, one of his employees said of the rescue, “We proved that Center Rock is a little company, but we do big things.”  (Applause.)

We do big things.

From the earliest days of our founding, America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream.  That’s how we win the future.

We’re a nation that says, “I might not have a lot of money, but I have this great idea for a new company.”  “I might not come from a family of college graduates, but I will be the first to get my degree.”  “I might not know those people in trouble, but I think I can help them, and I need to try.”  “I’m not sure how we’ll reach that better place beyond the horizon, but I know we’ll get there.  I know we will.”

We do big things.  (Applause.)

The idea of America endures.  Our destiny remains our choice.  And tonight, more than two centuries later, it’s because of our people that our future is hopeful, our journey goes forward, and the state of our union is strong.

Thank you.  God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

END           10:13 P.M. EST