Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Guest blogger: Germany's Thatcher, Part 2 

With Angela Merkel likely to replace Schroeder as the Chancellor later on this year, I asked German blogger, journalist and historian, Ulrich Speck, to give Chrenkoff readers a run-down on the contender, who is already touted as Germany's Thatcher. Yesterday, Ulrich focused on the domestic challenges facing Merkel - today, foreign policy. Make sure you check out his excellent Kosmoblog for news, views and analysis from Germany.

Start Again: The Challenge for Angela Merkel, Part 2

So much for domestic affairs, the reform of the welfare state. Now some words on the second challenge: The invention of a German foreign policy.

Here again I need to go back some steps. In times of Cold War, Western Germany, or the Bonn republic, didn't need a foreign policy, comparable to those of France or Great Britain. As security was guaranteed by Nato (or America), all major decisions were made by Washington.

So Germany could concentrate on business. In the four decades of the Bonn republic - from 1949 until 1990 - German relations with the outside world where mainly economic. Very often, politics became a sub-function of the trade. One of the main tasks of German chancellors has always been to invite top businessmen - Deutsche Bank, Siemens, Volkswagen, Mercedes - onboard the chancellor's aircraft and to visit foreign countries which whom Germany could do business with. Gerhard Schroeder is loved by business people as a "door opener".

Besides the economic relationship to the world, Germany has developed a relationship that might be called moralistic. That's less a relationship, it's more a way to perceive the outside world. As the Bonn republic has had no real foreign policy, people could talk endlessly about foreign politics as an issue of good or bad. In fact, to talk about "Vietnam", "Cuba", "America", "Israel" was more an essay to come to terms with Nazi history than a real interest in what was going on in the outside world. Leftist Germans became part of the international "anti-imperialist" mood, because that made them feel better about their own history. In the extremist version, America and capitalism where blamed for Auschwitz, Dresden and Vietnam alike. American bombings became a code-word for political activists that still works. On the day the war on Iraq started, chancellor Schroeder, in a public speech, reminded the Germans of WWII. There is a curious fashion of vicitimization in Germany today, especially on the left. This is a mixture on which the current government relies, and chancellor Schroeder will, in the campaign that will come now, try to use this kind of anti-American mobilisation once again. He already shortened his visit to Washington that is scheduled for the end of July. And in a speech he declared that you could use the money that is spent for Iraq much better to fight poverty. Applause.

The problem of this moralistic discourse is that it has no counterweight in Germany. You have similar reasoning in America, but it's not hegemonic. In Germany it is. It's not only a leftist thing. Also conservative Germans feel attracted by the idea of "liberalisation" from America. Every newspaper is "The New York Times": no "Washington Post", no "Wall Street Journal". No foreign affairs establishment exists that could be a couterweight. Think-tanks are financed by the government or the parties.

In 2002, Schroeder decided to exploit these anti-American feelings for his campaign. It worked. Thanks to this campaign, he won a second term.

This was the moment when the old Federal Republic of Germany came to its end. It was built on the conviction that the government should not exploit anti-Americanism for political goals. It relied on the conviction that to be close to America is in the national interest of Germany.

What Schroeder did, after his election, was not to calm down anti-Americanism. To the contrary. He had found a resource on which he could build support for his government. And he decided to use it. What followed was active campaigning against the American project to topple Saddam. For the leftists who are used to see America as the empire of evil, this was the moment of glory. But, unfortunately, not only the leftists. Entire Germany was furious; enraged against Bush who was prepared to kill hundreds of thousands of people only to get cheap oil. That's how the case was presented to Germans. The war on Iraq was the ultimate proof that the image of America as a dangerous imperialist was justified.

Since 2002, Berlin has put his weight on the French side. German foreign policy became aligned with French foreign policy. For Chirac, 2002 was the moment to dust off the old Gaullist blueprint and to reestablish grandeur: Together with Berlin, it might be possible to get control of Europe and to transform it into a challenger of the American power. The propagandist name for the Great Game was "multilateralism". Schroeder invited his "friend" Putin to join the new axis.

What lays behind this axis are classical geopolitical ideas: International politics are seen as a struggle for spheres of influence. A zero-sum-game: Either we or you. That's how they perceive the war on Iraq - as a neo-colonialist enterprise. And that's how they react: If you have Iraq, we will get Iran. If you support Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, we will get China. And so on.

But it doesn't work like this anymore. America is not a state like others, it does not seek spheres of influence. America has been forced in 20th century to take responsibilities for world order - like England before, but on a much larger scale. America is pushing for the opening of countries to market economy and democracy, for its own interest. But, fortunately, others benefit from it as well. Often enough as freeriders. 9/11 was a turning point as it reminded the super-power that the job is not finished: The Middle East is a timebomb, and it has to be pacified. The best pacifier is to give people freedom and responsibility for themselves. A working state, a working market.

A special mixture of anti-Americanism, misperception, hubris and falsely calculated economic interests brought Schroeder and Chirac to the idea to try to undermine this project of transformation. They tried - and they failed. Why?

First, against their expectation, they will not rule the EU. "New Europe" - Atlanticist and capitalist - does not want to be submitted by two arrogant and egoist players, Chirac and Schroeder. Leadership does not mean intimidating others and seeking one's own advantage, but including the will and the interest of others. Neither Chirac nor Schroeder has shown these qualities. The first blow was it turned out that New Europe was in favor of the war on Iraq. The nomination of Barroso as head of the European Commission, against their own candidate, was a second blow. Now, with the defeat of Schroeder in domestic affairs and of Chirac in the referendum on the constitution, this project is dead.

Secondly, the idea of an axis against the US is a product of delusions of grandeur. It turns out that, to take two examples, Beijing and Teheran have a slightly different perception. Their desire to be guided by Berlin and Paris is not exactly that high. Instead, they see themselves as masters of the game, who are able to dictate their conditions to a Europe that is, on the whole, on decline.

To sum up, Schroeder has buried the old German foreign policy. But more than this. He has also buried the old Gaullist foreign policy. In making the dream of an anti-American Europe come true, for an illusionary moment (Schroeder and Chirac hand in hand), it turned out that there is no substance. It has failed to pass the reality test.

What we have now is tabula rasa. The old option - to go back to the formula of the Bonn republic - is not possible, as the world has changed, and we with it. The second option, to build an European empire on the difference to America or even as a challenger to the US, has failed. There is already too much America in Europe. And there are too many people who want it to be so.

The seven Schroeder-years were years of passage. The idea of Kohl, that we don't need to change, in order to adapt to a different reality, has become unsustainable. With Schroeder, it became clear that there is no alternative to change. But he had no idea where to go. In domestic affairs, he tried to make changes without challenging people. In foreign affairs, he aligned Germany completely to the French way. Both didn't bring us one step further. At least, it did exclude two options.

The challenge for Merkel and her government will be enormous. They cannot simply work as bureaucrats, step in and continue the work. They have to be architects, inventors. They have to work with ideas. Angela Merkel might be good for that job. She has an instinct for liberty, a distrust of the state, both resulting from her personal experience with totalitarianism. And she has already seen an Old Regime fall. There are some signs that she might have some appetite to repeat that experience.


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