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NYT: Germany is not Predictable Anymore

Roger Cohen ends his latest NY Times column with a pretty drastic conclusions: "Predictability has been the great German virtue since 1945. It's gone."

I think that is a bit exaggerated, but in general I share his disappointment and criticism of Germany's current government, which "embarked on a stop-go crab walk suggestive of a nation uncomfortable with power and unsure of its purpose":

Germany (...) was, just a decade ago, the opposite of Angela Merkel's shifting, changeable nation with its finger to the electoral winds and its surprising talent for unpredictability. Solidity has given way to whim, direction to drift. (...) The loss of European idealism is the most shocking change I've seen in Germany this past decade. Merkel, who would still be stranded in East Germany if Kohl had wavered as she has, needs to lay out just how Germany, with its 3 percent growth and low unemployment, benefits from the E.U., the euro and a borderless market of almost half a billion people.

This was Roger Cohen's second op-ed on Germany in a row. Three days ago, he wrote France Flies, Germany Flops.

Yesterday, the NY Times published yet another op-ed on Germany. Fortunately this one by Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger, the foreign editor of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, is a bit more balanced and explains the German position better:

On the one hand, Germany is bullish on the euro and a model in economic and technological terms. On the other, it is yielding to traditional German angst about nuclear energy and self-righteously refusing to join a military mission beyond Europe's shores. So you have both an old and a new Germany. Or so it seems.

Tempting as it is to do so, it is too early to say that Germany is venturing into a phase of isolationism. Such a conclusion may also be flat-out wrong. The vote in the U.N. Security Council, embarrassing as it was, may have had more to do with the miscalculations and predicament of a foreign minister whose party is in deep trouble, who is highly unpopular and whose political future is dangling by a string.

Guido Westerwelle is said to have ignored the advice of his top aides and to have received support from the chancellor only because she did not want to damage his reputation beyond the point of repair. Besides, the government has not wavered from its political and military commitment to Afghanistan, despite widespread public opposition.

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Pat Patterson on :

I don't see much of a change except now the Europeans and Germans are talking about this confused foreign policy. Germany got its wish but seems uncomfortable with getting the blame for its miscues instead of fobbing them off on the US.

Zyme on :

I also wouldn't want to put too much emphasis on this UN Sec Council decision of Germany. BASF's Wintershall is after all the biggest foreign producer of oil in Libya, while Siemens is involved in sizable infrastructure projects. Who would want to put these claims at risk?

David on :

Are you suggesting that Germany should support a dictator who is killing his own citizens because it's good for Siemens?

Oliver on :

I guess he's suggesting that Germany *is* supporting a dictator who is killing his own citizens because it's good for Siemens. But he's wrong - or at least not entirely right. I think Mr. Westerwelle tried to capitalize on the "We're not going to Iraq" effect like Mr. Schroeder did in his days. Being a pacifist hero to a thankful public and stuff. He tried that before by touring world capitals in favour of his "No nukes in Europe" program. Trouble is no one cared enough to boost the polls.

Zyme on :

David - you do know the tale of Usbekistan, don't you? How can you even ask such a question :-) Everybody who knows how Gaddafi rose to power would have known that he wouldn't simply vanish at the sight of resistance. Apart from that, what has really changed? Why is a man that was the right guy up until very recently now become the wrong guy, when nothing new materialized except his character? He may be a bloody bastard. But he is our bastard. Doesn't that sound familiar to American ears? :-) That's why we don't battle him. Not that Westerwelle's personal motives would mean anything.

David on :

Zyme, I guess BASF is returning to its roots (IG Farben).

Zyme_ on :

I do know BASF's roots. Yet what difference that makes in the 2010s must be the product of your imagination.

Joe on :

[i]"These were colossal achievements in which constancy and imagination coalesced."[/i] vs. [i]"Predictability has been the great German virtue since 1945. It's gone."[/i] Your take is the latter. Cohen's trying to point gingerly to a decade of creeping ineptitude in the Foreign ministry.

John in Michigan, US on :

There are "electoral winds" blowing in both directions, her opposition wants to get elected too. Had she taken a different policy, the complaint could easily be, "first Afghanistan, and now another unnecessary war". If the Libyan stalemate continues, Germany could come out smelling of roses. Cohen is premature, at least. At worst, I have a strong suspicion that Roger Cohen of the NY Times has a very convenient, selective memory. When he writes: "Merkel, who would still be stranded in East Germany if Kohl had wavered as she has..." I wouldn't be at all surprised to search the NYT 1980's archives and find Cohen bashing Kohl's support of Reagan's Wall speech, perhaps also accusing him of moving away from the Ostpolitik he inherited and towards a more confrontational approach. As for the alleged predictability of German foreign policy...IMO for decades, world foreign policy was in effect frozen by the binary realities of the Cold War. Anyone's gain had to be someone else's loss, therefore, people rarely dared to make a move. W. Germany, being on the front lines, was perhaps the most polarized (or paralyzed) of all...So, they made this into a virtue which, in hindsight, is described (and admired) as stability. It all comes down to how one interprets Ostpolitik. Originally, it was a policy that assumed the permanent existence of an Eastern Bloc whose interests inherently diverge from the West. Therefore, Ostpolitik's goal should be to minimize frictions, lest instability result in yet another war. This would at times require actually aiding the rival Bloc, e.g. the 3 billion mark loan to the GDR in 1983. Kohl inherited this interpretation of Ostpolitik. But, as the Eastern Bloc stagnated, while the West prospered, Ostpolitik cleverly re-invented itself as a policy based on the premise that the Eastern Bloc would one day cease to exist. Then, Ostpolitik's goal became managing that fall with at little friction as possible. This meant, for example, confrontational gestures such as standing with Reagan at the Wall, but it also meant creating conditions whereby the Soviet leadership could save face and avoid much-deserved trials for war crimes and crimes against humanity. In other words, Ostpolitik served as a back channel and arranged for a soft landing. I wonder if Germany's policy today towards Libya might have a similar, flexible, chameleon-like quality: The Arab bloc is permanently hostile to European ex-colonial powers, and must be managed, sometimes even appeased; Except when turns out that the Arabs are not unified, in which case Germany will offer friendly regimes a golden path back to the West...hmm.

David on :

"I wouldn't be at all surprised to search the NYT 1980's archives and find Cohen bashing Kohl's support of Reagan's Wall speech." I would be very surprised to find that in the NYy 1980's archive, since Roger Cohen didn't join the NYTimes until 1990. Since then, he has written objectively - and respectfully - about Helmut Kohl on numerous occasions.

John in Michigan, US on :

Hmm...my mistake, he started journalism in 1983 (I did check that before writing) but it turns out he didn't start for the NY Times until the 90's, first as an economics correspondent. He only became a columnist (opinion writer) in the 00's. I am guilty of making assumptions about him. But, his politics are so reliably NYT-style paleoliberal, it seemed likely he would have based Kohl in roughly the way I described. I still think I'm right about the flexibility of the Ostpolitik doctrine (it served as both a status quo/stability policy and, later, a pro-change policy). Can Merkel pull off a similar magic trick?

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