Monday, May 03, 2004

German aces up the US sleeve

The following article by Benjamin P. Tyree appeared on the op-ed page of the Washington Times. It gives an interesting insight into Christian-Democrat thinking in Germany on the question of the American alliance, Franco-German relations and the split between "old Europe and new".

The presently strained relationship between Germany and the United States could improve markedly and the erstwhile alliance between the two countries might even strongly revive if the Christian Democratic Union returns to power. At present, the two countries' "relations are more damaged, not poisoned," one center-right German parliamentarian commented at a late April discussion hosted at the Hay Adams Hotel by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies.

While even the center-right Germans offer different perspectives on the Middle East and Iraq than those of the Bush administration, there are often broad areas of accord, or at least a distinct absence of rancorous conflict.

If in two years, as present trends indicate, Germany's government is headed by the kind of thinking that surfaced in these discussions, America and Germany are likely to grow closer together, while France may have to fish or cut bait.

One parliamentarian said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld hit a nerve about "old Europe" vs. "new Europe" -- the difference in attitudes of older members of the European Union and the newer EU members from the formerly communist East.

French President Jacques Chirac had said East European states "missed a good opportunity to remain quiet" rather than support of America's conflict in Iraq, which France and the current German government opposed. But one German Christian Democratic parliamentarian said the East European states know that if their newly regained sovereignty faces a renewed Russian threat, "the United States might do something; France would not."

CDU Member of Parliament Andreas Schockenhoff noted the U.S. National Security Council sees the present engagement in the Middle East "as the commitment of one generation, comparable to the Truman-Marshall decision [to contain communism and rebuild wartorn Europe] in the late 1940s.

"In Europe, [Middle East commitment] is not seen in that dimension of time. The common consensus about commitment is that we should share the conviction we [in Germany] are responsible for not only one section but for global order."

MP Ruprecht Polenz said coalition failure to stabilize Iraq would probably produce "a Lebanon-style civil war." The problem, he added, is the need "to restore civil society after 35 years of dictatorship" given three major Iraqi ethnic/religious social divisions. Is there "Schadenfreude," or some feeling of pleasure and vindication, in Germany about America's plight? "Yes, this might be. But it is shortsighted," Mr. Polenz said.

"From my perspective, the focus on Iraq is not enough. There is also Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict moving along in parallel lines," Mr. Polenz said. He added: "Iran has some interests that coincide with Western interests -- that there be no failed state in the region. But Iran also is interested in keeping the U.S. busy in Iraq. ... How can the U.S. assure Tehran to cooperate -- to help or at least not create new problems?" He suggested Iran must be made to understand it is not next on an American hit list for a military solution.

For Iran to receive such an assurance, "there should be no free ride on repression as a tit-for-tat." The Iranians must realize "nuclear weapons are unnecessary and will not increase their security but only add to an arms race in South Asia."

He suggested "some U.S. guarantees could affect Iran's behavior -- such as assurance Israel will not use its own nuclear capability against Iran. Any progress on Palestine also would be very helpful -- if democracy could be promoted ... increasing American credibility among the Arabs, which at the moment is not very good, to say the least."

He said President Bush "should do something to assure that Gaza and the West Bank can stay together. ... If the U.S. could convince [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon to stop West Bank settlements, maybe .... The European Union could and should be helpful in governance training in the Gaza Strip."

Mr. Polenz also said the developmental gap between the Arabs and the rest of the world "is widening, along with population [growth among the Arabs.]"

MP Klaus-Juergen Hedrich said, with no likelihood of an internal coup, Saddam "had to be toppled by military force." Weapons of mass destruction have not been found but mass graves have. "It was worthwhile, yes, and necessary," he said of the U.S. intervention. Further, he said his own belief Iraq had possessed WMDs was not based on the CIA's report, but a German intelligence report that he called "very much stronger."

Without a hint of the sardonic, he said the U.S. perhaps should think about toppling Zimbabwe's ruinous and racialist Robert Mugabe. "Earlier or later you can't go on with [Venezuela's leftist President Hugo] Chavez acting as he has. If the debate is whether to do it earlier or later, do it earlier. Later, the surprise is much less."

As for the United Nations, Mr. Hedrich said Kofi Annan "is no angel." The U.N. image was harmed "by the kind of people heading the U.N. Further, I don't like [Security Council] people who represent dictatorships telling me what to do or not."

The real choice now in Iraq, he added, is "not democratic vs. nondemocratic but despotic vs. nondespotic; that is the question." German democracy, he noted, developed over a half-century under U.S. protection with some roots in "the Second Reich" and the ill-fated post-World War I Weimar Republic.

The Second Reich of Kaisers Wilhelm I and Wilhelm II, though authoritarian, had distributed powers and responsibility, an elected Reichstag and competing political ideas, "and more importantly than even democracy, had the rule of law, which made for a stable and developing society."

Benjamin P. Tyree is deputy editor of the Commentary pages of The Washington Times

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