TCS Daily


Berlin Airlift

By Joseph Tom Goeller - February 8, 2005 12:00 AM

BERLIN - "Is Bush nevertheless right with his vision?" the commentator Jan Ross of the German weekly Die Zeit asked recently. It's an almost heretial question in today's Germany. One should feel "some shame", Ross told his readers, referring to the "long lines of Iraqis" who showed the guts to vote at the end of January. Shame, because the German media were as dead wrong with their pre-election analysis of voting in Iraq as they were with the presidential campaign in the US. The general German line on the Iraq election was: it's too early, too dangerous and anyhow not suitable for the Iraqi people because they are Arabs and don't want democracy.

Now, having seen the impressive pictures of Iraqi voters, "some commentators still refuse to appreciate the first free election in Iraq the same way as they overwhelmingly did in case of the first free elections in South Africa", writes Mariam Lau of the daily Berliner Morgenpost, adding, "I can still hear the clandestine hope that everything should have gone completely wrong", because "to appreciate the election in Iraq would mean to appreciate the US-led invasion that had been criticized by the Germans so vehemently."

Are Germans bad losers?

Perhaps they are just fed up with apologizing. For more than 60 years they apologized for the Holocaust and other atrocities. Having learned the lesson of their violent past, Germans feel uncomfortable with military actions. If Iraq will turn out one day to be a successful example of transforming an Arab tyranny into a democracy, no German would apologize for having been wrong with his denouncement of the US-led invasion in 2003.

Germans are psychologically incapable of understanding that in some cases the threat of military action has to be a political option. While after World War II Europeans in general have been cautious about threatening other nations, for France and Britain the tool of military force never has never been ruled out. But Germans don't even want to think about it. This is why Germany is so much engaged together with Britain and France in halting efforts to persuade Iran to renounce any nuclear weapons ambitions and has eschewed the use of force against the Islamic Republic.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder had what he called "extensive discussions" on Iran with Condoleezza Rice during her visit to Berlin last Friday and said the Europeans would do "everything and anything to come to a diplomatic and political solution." While the US Secretary of State said to reporters on board her flight from London to Berlin, "Iranians are playing games. They show no signs of compliance", she obviously did not want to publicly disagree with Schröder in Berlin and added: "Diplomacy can work. The British, Germans and French are giving the Iranians an opportunity to live up to their international obligation."

France's motivation for opposing everything initiated by the Americans is obvious and totally different from the German one. France has never been shy about instigating unilateral regime change whenever and wherever it lied in the interests of Paris. France's outspoken opposition against the US is more a challenge. The nation has a problem with the fact that it is not a colonial empire anymore. France has become in many respects a paper tiger while Germany actually is on the rise, having the biggest Western European army at its disposal. But Berlin is unwilling to acknowledge its strength and power.

Germans have become talkers. The entire generation of politicians that rules the country and the opposition, teachers and journalists - they are all talkers. They think that if you only talk about a problem long enough it will go away. It is shocking to observe that this important nation in the middle of the European continent does not realize that discussions cannot solve every problem. They don't solve economic recession, they don't create jobs. If you listen to TV talk shows, German politicians present themselves as being "perplexed" (betroffen) about he rise of the neo-Nazis in East Germany and the rise of the unemployment rate. But basically that's all they do.

There's another reason for this characteristic "talker syndrome". Since Germany re-unified without bloodshed, Germans are deeply convinced that negotiation can solve other problems. However, they overlook the simple fact that without the United States pushing them, the diplomatic words of German politicians would have never had an effect at all.

The public ignores also that the country still is benefiting significantly from American air bases that provide aerial photographic reconnaissance and air defense for Europe for free. Not before the US decides to withdraw these air squadrons would the Germans realize how cozily they live under the military umbrella of America. It will be an important gesture when President George W. Bush visits Germany on February 23 that he will meet not only with his reluctant ally but also visit American troops, stationed in the little town of Mainz. The choice of the location has been made by the Germans. They want to show the White House press corps an American garrison that is secured by German soldiers - which is, incredibly, considered by Schröder as his "contribution" to the US operation for Iraqi freedom.

While publicly opposing Bush wherever he can, Schröder offered Rice more help from Germany in the rebuilding of Iraq's institutions and the training of security forces. "I have declared Germany's readiness to not just continue these projects but, if desired, to also expand on them," Schröder told reporters. But the translator for the American press forgot to add the chancellor's restriction. He said: "within the well known range", that is: no German troops.

Schröder has not the guts to make clear to his pampered compatriots that there is an outside world. Germany appears full of Rip Van Winkles, who ridicule Americans in general and Bush in particular, not considering that those who continue to sit on the fence and do nothing might be alone next time they need help.

Rice spoke in Berlin of a "new chapter" in the relations between the United States and Germany. Bu this will stay solely diplomatic rhetoric unless the President addresses the German people directly during his visit. To break the ice between the Germans and the American president, Bush has to bypass the biased reports of the German media. A speech like the one JFK did in August 1963 in Berlin would be appropriate. While at that time Germany was in paralyzing fear of a Russian invasion, this time Bush could make a reference to JFK's speech by saying: "All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Iraq."

Maybe some German reporters eventually will understand this message - and start a helpful discussion.

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