Misreading Berlin ... in the lead into the Iraq war.

AuthorSerfaty, Simon
PositionDiplomacy - Berlin, Germany

The unconditional German rejection of any idea of a war in Iraq came as a huge shock in Washington and London (and even in Paris). In fact, it should not have surprised anyone: the trend of post-cold war attitudes in Germany showed that opinion was coalescing around a reluctance to use military force. Limited German help with NATO missions in the Balkans in the 1990s was part of this emerging pattern. By 2003, Prime Minister Gerhard Schroeder played his hand in the context of electoral pressures that were shaped by a new self-confidence in Germans about their role in promoting Western security and international stability. The roots of German behavior in this crisis is still too little understood--a situation that clouds the chances of restoring coherence among the key allies in tackling such challenges in future. In chronicling the miscalculations all around--among the Bush administration, the Blair government, Chirac's administration and Schroeder's team--prominent political historian Simon Serfaty offers insights into the national mentalities that prevailed in 2003 in the four allied countries. Some of these trends are changing, but the new leaders in Washington, London, Paris and Berlin will need to understand this "new" recent history before they can hope to succeed in reinstating any real unity and sense of purpose to the West.

Renowned as a scholar on France, Serfaty is also a penetrating analyst and chronicler of its European neighbors and of the politics of the United States, where he is a prominent political historian. Following is an excerpt from his chapter on Germany. It is unsparing, not only for German opinion and complexes, but also for the miscalculations and often bungled diplomacy of the United States (and Britain) toward Germany. The postwar pattern had been, he writes, that "in any case, and just in case, with the United States estranged from France and not always in unison with Britain, the United States could always view Germany as its fallback position of choice--as an ally that could be tempted by a special partnership with the United States, the only country that fully embraces rather than disparages signs of a renewed Germany, united and strong." However, it was Germany, under Schroeder, who triggered the open opposition to the Bush administration's move toward war in Iraq--and helped bring France into opposition to Washington.

For Schroeder, it was, among other things, "a matter of personal dislike" (for President George W. Bush), especially after U.S. offi cials offended the now fiercely-held pride among Germans who feel that they have outlived their nation's guilt about World War II and view reminders of this past as misplaced and insulting. This mood in Germany made the anti-war card popular there during the re-election campaign that Chancellor Schroeder won in an upset victory in summer 2002 as the Iraq issue came to a boil internationally. So this act of "political opportunism" only succeeded at this historical juncture, Serfaty indicates, because of Germany's changed appreciation of force as a legitimate tool of action in the world. "For Germans of all persuasions, the events of September 11, 2001, were not those of a global war of such unprecedented nature as to demand a radical preemptive strategy of regime change ... Bush neither understood nor welcomed Schroeder's new Germany ... now eager to show how to use and respect its power and its institutions within the limits set by its new [postwar] traditions and commitments. Chirac did," Serfaty writes.

Excerpt from Architects of Delusion: Europe, America, and the Iraq War

Arguably, Germany's first unification, in 1871, produced too much German power for its European neighbors to balance. Conversely, Germany's division in 1945 failed to leave enough German power for its dangerous neighbor in the East to fear--hence the early U.S. calls for rearmament, notwithstanding the apprehensions that were thus raised. In 1989, however, Germany's second unification seemed to produce too much German weakness for its EU partners to compensate, including economic burdens of reconstructing the eastern territories, which left a unified, safe, and free German state obviously larger and more sovereign but paradoxically less powerful and less predictable than divided and at risk.... Torn between the contradictory goals of alliance...

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