Thursday, September 05, 2013

Angela Merkel, Russia, the US and Syria

Walter Steinmeier, the caucus (Fraktion) leader for the German SPD in the Bundestag, has made a meaningful criticism of the problem of Angela Merkel's foreign policy with reference to Syria. (Gastbeitrag von SPD-Fraktionschef Steinmeier: "Die deutsche Außenpolitik ist der Syrien-Krise nicht gewachsen" Spiegel Online 05.09.2013)

Steinmeier is dead set against our Nobel Peace Prize President proposed war of aggression against Syria. But he also sees it as a high priority to prevent any further weakening of the international norm against the use of chemical weapons.

He argues that the key to an effective response is cooperation between the US and Russia to present a common front in the Security Council against the Syrian regime's (apparent) use of chemical weapons.

Ever since Chancellor Willi Brandt's groundbreaking Ostpolitik that took an innovative approach to relations between Germany and countries like Poland and East Germany and thereby helped open a less intensive phase of the Cold War, Germany has played an important role as a diplomatic bridge between the US and Russia.

Until Merkel's Chancellorship:

Seit den Zeiten der Entspannungspolitik fällt Deutschland die Rolle zu, auch in schwierigen Zeiten Gesprächskanäle mit Russland offen zu halten und allen Gegensätzen zum Trotz nach Feldern gemeinsamen Interesses zu suchen. Leider gibt es diese belastbaren Kanäle zwischen Berlin und Moskau nicht mehr. Das hat mit einer Verhärtung der russischen Haltung zu tun. Manchmal hat man den Eindruck, Präsident Putin mache sich geradezu einen Spaß daraus, den Westen zu provozieren, wo er nur kann. Das ist aber auch Folge der kurzsichtigen, nur auf innenpolitische Effekte zielenden deutschen Außenpolitik von Frau Merkel, der jeder gestalterische Ehrgeiz fehlt.

[Since the days of the detente policy, it fell to Germany to play the role of holding channels of communication to Russia open even in difficult times and despite all difference to seek field of common interest. Unfortunately, these resilient channels between Berlin and Moscow no longer exist. That has to do with a hardening of the Russian attitude. Sometimes one has the impress that President [Vladimir] Putin is almost having fun provoking the West anywhere he can. But it is also the result of the short-sighted German foreign policy of Frau Merkel, focused only on its internal effects, which is lacking in any creative ambition.]
This is interesting on several levels.

One, it's a reminder that the power that Germany and the EU could have exercised on the world stage has already been seriously compromised by Merkel's narrow focus.

It also calls out the nationalistic twist to Merkel's European policy. She's not trying to lead the European Union as a collective entity. She's trying to squeeze as much very short-term benefit out of it as she can.

And it's another thing to consider in looking at what experiences most influenced her foreign policy. I've suggested before that her attitude toward her EU partners looks an awful lot like Leonid Brezhnev running the Warsaw Pact. I tend to think that her experience during unification when she was part of the East German team in the "2+4" talks in 1990 with the Second World War allies and the two German states that formally authorized German unification. Immediately after the basic deal was made in the negotiations, the East German delegation was sidelined. They no longer had any effective power. They were superfluous.

As I wrote here in What makes Angie tick? (5 of 6) Angie on foreign policy 01/20/2012:

There does seem to be some evidence that she viewed unification as an absorption of the east by the west but that she regarded it with more admiration than resentment, unlike many other former East Germans.

It also seems to me that the foreign policy approach of Dick Cheney and George W. Bush was a big part of Angie's model for approaching foreign affairs. Unlike her Party's official position, she was vocally supportive of Bush's build-up to the Iraq War. Even in her 2004 book Mein Weg, she defended the Bush Administration's conduct even if Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. And she still harshly criticized the antiwar policy of Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his Green Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer in 2002-3.

Ironically, one of her main justifications for her criticism is that she argued that Schröder's and Fischer's government should have worked harder to bridge the policy differences with Britain over the Iraq War buildup. She charged Schröder with damaging European unity thereby.

It's a disingenuous argument in itself. British Prime Minister Tony Blair was joined at the hip with Cheney and Bush over the Iraq War. The only way Germany could have had a common policy with Britain in that situation was to kowtow to Washington just as Blair did.

But the ironic part is that Angie in December of 2011 was part of a far more drastic diplomatic conflict with Britain than anything that occurred under Schröder when Prime Minister David Cameron bolted the EU summit, rejected Angie's demands for EU treaty changes. Cameron's actions were clumsy and arguably just plain dumb. But Angie was perfectly happy to tell Cameron to kiss off if he didn't want to go along with her "ordoliberal" policies for the EU.

It's also notable in Mein Weg [2004] that Angie explicitly endorses the concept of "preventive war". After her heavy involvement in the issue, Angie surely in 2004 knew that there is a very clear difference between "prevention" war and "pre-emptive" war. The latter is initiating military action under threat of imminent attack and is legal in international law. Preventive war is what the Nuremberg Trials treated as "aggressive war", i.e., launching military action when the target country presented no imminent threat. Even the Bush Administration was careful to claim that what they were doing in Iraq was a preemptive strike which they could claim was legal in international law. It wasn't; the Iraq War was a preventive war and an illegal one, a big reason Bush and Cheney and other senior national security officials from that Administration now have to be very cautious to which foreign countries they travel for fear of arrest.

This was thoroughly discussed in German politics and the press in 2002-3, and Angie as Chair of the CDU was very much involved in the issue, even travelling to Washington to do what she could to show her solidarity with the Iraq invasion. Her willingness to publicly endorse the concept of preventive war is a strong sign that she was deeply impressed by the Bush Administration overbearing approach to dealing with allies.

It's not that she was a Bush toady like the pathetic Tony Blair. She would later clearly and publicly condemn the Administration's practice of torture. And as Chancellor, she would try to push the Bush Administration to take action against global warming.

But her willingness to publicly and explicitly endorse the concept of preventive war when she was surely conscious of its historical and legal implications is a strong sign there's a bit of Dick Cheney in her. Which is why her current actions in the EU bear more than a passing resemblance to the way Cheney and Bush assembled their "coalition of the willing" for the Iraq War.

She didn't need Leonid Brezhnev to teach her domineering approaches to international relations when she had Dick Cheney available.

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