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"Germany's Comeback", Leadership and Exaggerations

Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland should be applauded for traveling to Berlin and writing about Germany. His column "Germany's Comeback" starts with a snark, which I don't mind at all, but I find it neither witty nor illuminating. I really wonder what his point is and what the benefit of "claiming to run the world" is:
Germany's richly deserved 60-year holiday from leadership abroad is ending sooner than many here would like. Since World War II, Germans have become comfortable with standing in the shadows of power while the Americans, the French and others shoulder the costly burden of claiming to run the world.
Burden sharing is appropriate. However, Hoagland argues frequently that Germany has "to lead" and "to show leadership." Many Germans have historical problems with the German translation as it reminds them of Hitler as "Der Fuehrer." Okay, that's our problem, not Hoagland's. However, framing politics in that way does not make much sense in the 21st century. Politics is not show business, but about achieving results. Low-key, no-nonsense, business like approaches are usually more successful than "showing leadership." Germany needs partners to do that. Not followers. Thus, Hoagland should write that Germany has to promote European initiatives or convince the EU to do this or that. That's how the world works. Hardly any country follows U.S. leadership these days, i.e. it makes no sense to suggest that Germany should "show leadership", because nobody would "follow the German leader." I know that Americans use the word "leadership" in a very liberal sense, i.e. it includes something like "promoting EU initiatives" and "encouraging an international strategy on xyz." That's fine, but "leading" also means that others "follow" and neither individuals nor countries want to follow. Semantics are important in diplomacy.
To achieve anything, it is important to create a feeling of common ownership (partners need to feel to have a stake in it). In 2002 and 2003 the United States tried to lead the free world in regard to Iraq, but the world did not follow. US policy on Iran is different. The EU is now responsible for Iran as well. Iran is now an EU problem too.

Hoagland exaggerates:
But with power vacuums developing on the country's eastern and western borderlands and the United States bogged down in Iraq, Berlin understands that it is condemned to lead. A visitor finds the capital beset with angst -- but also bubbling with ideas -- about the approaching German moment in international affairs.
There is not anarchy (what else does "power vacuum" mean?) in Germany's "borderlands". Germany's neighbors are functioning democracies. Berlin isn't "beset with angst" but is cautious; as every country's executive and legislative branch should be. Most politicians understand Germany's limited resources and the need for a realistic policy in a dangerous and very complex international environment. Wishful thinking is not patriotism. I don't know who is stupid enough to dream about a "German moment" these days. Germany does not feel "condemned to lead." Is it really necessary to exaggerate in order to get an article about Germany published?

Otherwise Jim Hoagland's praise of Germany is appreciated. My main criticism is about his terminology. I should not make a fuss about it, but I read such terminology and framing of world politics often. (Sure, European coverage of the United States is not much better either.) Read Hoagland's entire column. I have not found the other columns he mentioned, but I look forward to his future columns:
Berlin's new diplomatic activism complements the recent groundbreaking German military deployments abroad that have been the subject of previous columns, and the efforts by Wolfgang Schaeuble, Merkel's highly able interior minister, to counter militant Islam's challenges to European concepts of freedom of speech and equality of the sexes, the subject of a future column here.

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Zyme on :

As the country with the biggest share of world export rates, one might well think we are damned to lead others. When pursuing interests of germany, this way our government always pursues or counters interests of other nations when germany acts internationally. Take a look at EADS for example: For a long time we left it up to the french, to take direct influence on EADS via a state owned share. Now Berlin is thinking about buying 25% of EADS shares to regain more direct control. This is a symbol for the turning point we arrived at. Or take a look at the lebanon: When its government intended to keep some of its sovereignty over the lebanese sea, Berlin made itself perfectly clear that the whole mission will not take place without a complete control of the lebanese sea by german warships. There was a struggle until the german position was enforced - and right afterwards the german ships left their base for the mission. Our defense minister intends to force all other african countries in which our military is operating to show the same kind of "cooperation". The message is clear: Either you accept our terms or we leave and you may sink in your chaos again. How are these military actions justified? Just listen to our political leaders. To spread democracy or to establish human rights? More likely you will hear the rediscovered term "it is in germany´s interest" - otherwise no military mission is accepted by the parliament. Also by threatening to shorten development aid we have a powerful tool to exercise influence with, since many countries in the third world have become accustomed to the german funds transfer. In the european union we are the most important economical partner for practically any member state. This makes us the natural leader of the union. Coupled with the massive financial support for the union by the german taxpayer, our government has the duty to shape the coming european development. I can only agree to Mr Neumann (federal State Minister for Culture), who called the medieval (european-wide) german Reich as a valid model for the european union´s development today. [http://www.german-foreign-policy.com/en/fulltext/56021] Since our government resides in Berlin, the development in foreign policy is breath-taking. Compared to the state our country was in between 1945 and 1989, we have arrived at an excellent starting position in the struggle for power and influence of the 21st century. It is up to our government to make the best out of it.

mbast on :

Oops, Zyme, careful with that "Reich" bit. I know you're not talking about the third Reich, but some readers might not, and the term "Reich" is loaded for Germans, regardless of which context you use it in. You might specify the medieval Holy Roman Empire afterwards called "of the German Nation" ("Heiliges Römisches Reich Deutscher Nation"). That's the empire Charlemagne started. Now I'm actually not sure this would qualify as a good model for Europe, since the historical context of its creation and existence was completely different from the situation you have in Europe today. The context was as much religious as one of "national identity". The Holy Roman Empire was, first and foremost, christian, regardless of nationality (there wasn't actually a real concept of "nationality" in those days). Nowadays, you do have definite national identities and the name of the game is getting all these identities to work together while at the same time preserving them. Religion is not really a major concern in this, since most European states do not by law adhere to one particular religion. Quite a different situation, methinks, and one needing a completely different approach. As for Hoagland's column: this is a popular misconception in America: Germany should "lead" Europe again, somehow. Germans tend to have quite a big problem with that. As Joerg stated correctly, contrary to Americans, when Germans hear "leadership" and "Germany" in the same sentence, they immediately think "supremacy" and "hegemony", i.e. leadership by coercion and/or "natural birthright". This is due, of course, to said third Reich and its ideology of "German supremacy". In other words: comments like the one by Hoagland rankle in German ears. If there's one thing Germany as a whole doesn't want it's to be seen as an aggressive hegemonial power again, especially not by its European partners. Too many bad memories. That said, I never held with the extremely self-castigating attitude many Germans displayed up until very recently. Germans should, IMO, find a middle way between the "anti-patriotic" attitude stating "you're not allowed to be proud of your German nationality and identity for historical reasons" and the "Germany first" attitude of the late 19th/beginning 20th century. And the middle-way, IMO, is this: think European, people. You're German. Be proud of it where there's reason to be proud (lots of reasons, btw), but also respect other nationalities and identities. That's the "European dream", if you will. As for your "natural leader of Europe" concept, Zyme: I couldn't disagree more strongly. Your idea presupposes that there should actually one definite nation leading the whole show. Won't work, believe me. Apart from the fact that France and the UK will fight tooth and nail against any such aspirations, it wouldn't be fair to all the "smaller" European nations. Like I said, don't think "national", think "supranational". As for the EADS row: you're right, this is beginning to become a Franco-German row, and it shouldn't be. It's as much the fault of my dear compatriots (the French) who have been running the whole thing like a purely French company (15% of the company is owned by the French state, 7.5 by Largardère, a French company; other than Spain who owns 7% of the shares and the Russian national bank which owns 5%, no other state owns any major shares yet) as it is of mismanagement etc. I think if the German government actually buys up shares to a. level out the massive French influence in the company and b. to keep the company afloat financially this would not be a bad thing (and I agree that the German jobs at EADS which are currently threatened should be preserved). The German state should not, however, try to get a majority share, since this would leave us with the same situation as it is now: one nation trying to run a major European company. Not a healthy state of affairs.

Zyme on :

mblast The holy roman empire of german nation did indeed rely on religion - and in enlightened countries like ours, this does not work anymore. I was not thinking of the religious part, but rather about another fundament of this empire: roman culture. This is what unites the biggest part of europe. Btw: Please don´t expect germans to find a "middle-way" in their relation to germany :). We are a people of the extremes, it´s like a pendulum which does not stop in the middle either. When referring to "lead the EU" I am not talking about one leading country surrounded by vasalls. This would indeed not work. I was thinking about trying to dominate the way buisness is done in the european commission and parliament as well as in the strategic sector (like in the european arming industries). You know, I have much respect for France and its culture. A few years ago I even thought it might be a good idea to merge one day. But today I think we are too different, in many ways. It would probably be easier to reunite with austria first to regain power, as we have proven to be in the strongest shape when all germans are united. As regards EADS: This company clearly displays the struggle for power in europe. It also displays russian involvement into european military industries. To decrease american influence, we will have to work together, don´t you agree?

JW-Atlantic Review on :

Are you serious or are you joking with us? Just for starters: Austrians are clearly not Germans. They don't even speak German. I don't understand anything they are saying.

Zyme on :

The austrian people is no different from dozens of other german peoples, they were not included in 1871 only because prussia interfered. [http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reichsgründung] That is why the foundation in 1871 is called "kleindeutsche Lösung". Of course they are germans - or why do you think they wanted to became part of it several times? :D

Don on :

"trying to dominate the way buisness is done in the european commission and parliament as well as in the strategic sector (like in the european arming industries)." Hmmm. That won't go over well in France I daresay. Or the UK, Spain, Poland, etc..... The EADS thing does seem to be shaping up into something of a power grab by the French. Yet I can see their POV from a management perspective. The assembly of the A380 was divided up as a political football between several countries - and it hasn't worked out. Yes it may have happened even had the major assembly work all occurred in France - but surely the French-German language barrier has exacerbated the problem also, taking valueable time. And time is the one thing which Airbus doesn't have to spare right now - even more than money. The various governments will presumably absorb the financial loos for Airbus - but Airbus' reputation is also taking a big hit - and no amount of subsidy will repair that easily.

clarence on :

You should not take Hoagland very seriously; no one does in the US. There is no predicate for his snotty comments ("richly deserved..holiday from leadership", and " hope that this time their ideas are stronger than their angst"); they are insulting for no reason, and are irrelevant to anything else he has to say. His perspective can be found in this bit of science fiction: "the Americans, the French and others shoulder the costly burden of claiming to run the world." (The French shouldered please WHAT burden? The burden of being a pain in the posterior to NATO and to the USA?) However, he does raise an interesting quesion (though he offers no answer): what position (if any) will Germany take regarding Kosovo, Georgia etc, and regarding the perennial USSR/FR efforts to weaken NATO and/or the US? I would be keen to hear Zyme & Jorg's thoughts.

Bill on :

Speaking of "holidays" has anyone bothered to read the latest from Der Spiegel (Spiegel International) this week? Not the "Crooks & Liars (Macht und Lüge)" cover story about the U.S. administration of George W. Bush but the one titled "Holiday with the Far Right: German Neo-Nazis in Paradise". It's a great read and fits well with what Jim Hoagland is talking about (and missed on his holiday in the Hauptstadt). I personally am delighted to see the country of Germany take on more responsibility and play leadership roles in world affairs. Why not if they can get the job done; the world needs all the help it can get. What worries me is when Germany gets up to full speed as some readers are trumpeting in their comments above, who is going to be in charge (politically) over here? NEVER AGAIN doesn't hold any water these days you know. Is Germany going to get on top of their rising problem with xenophobic, brutal neo-Nazis or will the government and the society-at-large keep sweeping the ugly truth about this threat under the rug? Which Germany/Germans will we be dealing with in the near future? Holiday with the Far Right - Spiegel International http://www.spiegel.de/international/0,1518,440975,00.html

Anonymous on :

@zyme: "Btw: Please don´t expect germans to find a "middle-way" in their relation to germany :). We are a people of the extremes, it´s like a pendulum which does not stop in the middle either." Don't think so. That's not the experience I've had of Germany (and I've been living and working here for the last two and half decades). Actually I think Germany is quite a conservative country in the sense that it doesn't, as a country, do anything rash or extreme without quite a bit of reflection anymore. Remember the time and political "Heckmeck" it took to get the first out-of-area operations of the Bundeswehr going. And many Germans still don't really like the concept. Sounds too much like the "Germans to the front" of past times. In many ways the "Keine Experimente" slogan of Adenauer's times is still valid. "When referring to "lead the EU" I am not talking about one leading country surrounded by vasalls. This would indeed not work. I was thinking about trying to dominate the way buisness is done in the european commission and parliament as well as in the strategic sector (like in the european arming industries)." Eh? And how is that going to work? Leading without appearing to be leading? Sort of "hey, look, you can do whatever you want if it doesn't go against German interests"? Nope, you're making the mistake everybody in Europe (especially the French and the Brits) has been making since the inception of the EEC: you're thinking about your own national sovereignty first, you're not thinking of Europe like a single organism. If you do that, you can completely scrap the whole EU project. It will be like in the 19th/20th century: Germany vs. France vs. Britain with everybody else at the sidelines waiting for the dust to settle to pick up the pieces again. We had that kind of scenario twice before, thank you very much. Very bad idea. "Of course they are germans - or why do you think they wanted to became part of it several times? :D" Ahem, now that's another thing I don't at all agree with (and I strongly suspect quite a few Austrians wouldn't like the idea either). I think if you asked the Austrians, all you'd get would be a "A geh, rutscht ma'n Buggl owe." ;-). And I don't even want to know what the Bavarians would think of the whole idea :-). It would be a bit like Spain wanting to reunite with Mexico on the grounds of "they speak the same language" ;-). bill: "Which Germany/Germans will we be dealing with in the near future?" Very good question, considering there are already neonazis in the parliament in Saxony (albeit for very specific regional reasons). However, I do not share the fears that the German democracy is not going to be able to deal with that phenomenon. It's a recurring thing, and god knows it's not only a German phenomenon (Front National in France, Vlaams Belang in Belgium, anyone?), but I think Germany as a whole is perfectly capable of dealing with the problem if, yes if the German political class doesn't ignore it like it has been doing for the last few years. That's the main danger, I think.

Zyme on :

@clarence "However, he does raise an interesting quesion (though he offers no answer): what position (if any) will Germany take regarding Kosovo, Georgia etc, and regarding the perennial USSR/FR efforts to weaken NATO and/or the US?" Regarding Georgia, our government does not seem to act noticeably. This country is probably bound to closely within the russian influence area to act without seriously provocating the russians. So Georgia should not expect any serious support from us. Kosovo is somewhat different. I believe it is the area at which the borders of german and russian influence become visible. Russia intends to support the serbian position of keeping the kosovo within the country - as it has a strong influence on the serbian elite. So germany´s only chance to decrease russian influence is to support the seperatistic kosovo, as you can gain influence most quickly by helping a people to become independent. I guess that is the main reason why germany took part in the bombardment of serbia in 1999. As regards the NATO, there are too many powers involved to make any kind of prediction. Firstly it needs to be defined what the strategic goal of the NATO is - if the member states can agree upon that issue. The war on terror is fought in so many different ways and intensities among the member states that I can hardly imagine them to achieve an agreement. When listening to the younger generation in germany, hardly anyone wants our country to work together with the united states any more so closely, so at least in the long run the NATO is doomed anyway. In the end, maybe the creation of EU battle groups (which has begun already) might put an end to the NATO - which is my personal guess. So russia won´t have to do anything but to wait for that point and to create more strategic alliances with european countries in the arming industries in the meantime. @ Bill The Neo-Nazis rise for a variety of reasons. I would say it has to do with a new generation of people which has become interested into politics after the reunification took place. We never experienced what it can mean to be split up and to be at the mercy of foreign occupying forces. Naturally when a society starts to think in a more self-confident way again, the extreme right benefits from such a development, too. But there is actually no reason to worry about it. The society will one day become accustomed to them as it became accustomed to the radical green party of the 1980s and the post-communists in the 1990s. And the established parties will use the same method to end the rising of the Neo-Nazis that has worked before: By adopting the most convincing political positions and by enforcing them in a less radical tone by themselves. @ Anonymous I think if you asked the Austrians, all you'd get would be a "A geh, rutscht ma'n Buggl owe." ;-). And I don't even want to know what the Bavarians would think of the whole idea :-). It would be a bit like Spain wanting to reunite with Mexico on the grounds of "they speak the same language" ;-)." The austrians I talked to about that subject had the opinion that it is worth a thought at the right moment. So they do not seem to generally oppose the idea. By the way: I am bavarian, and you might start to ask any bavarian whom he feels closer to - austrians or prussians? Maybe you would start to change your mind then :) We "southerners" simply have a lot more in common. Aside from this, a reunification with austria would also bring a great deal of fresh esprit into our politics.

mbast on :

@Zyme: sorry, forgot to put in my handle on the last post. I'm "Anonymous", of course :-). Concerning the Austrians: not what I heard when talking to Austrians. And to Bavarians as well, incidentally. Well, I suppose you'd have to conduct a poll to really find out. And you don't need a "reunification". You already have that in the shape of the EU. Like I said, stop thinking national, start thinking supranational. Everything else (especially a rebirth of the idea of "pangermanic supremacy") is counterproductive. Germany's been there. Germany's done that. Germany got the T-shirt. And didn't like it either :-).

Don on :

" It will be like in the 19th/20th century: Germany vs. France vs. Britain with everybody else at the sidelines waiting for the dust to settle to pick up the pieces again. We had that kind of scenario twice before, thank you very much. Very bad idea. " Three times, arguably four. Don't forget the Franco-Prussian War - or the Napoleanic Wars come to think of it. But yeah - it's a very bad idea.

Bill on :

Talk about timing; if anyone is interested in the British point-of-view on this subject than read today's (Oct 12th) article "Europe Diary: German Might" over at BBC news online. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6040086.stm I found these paragraphs from the BBC News article to be interesting: In a few days' time, the German navy will take over the duty of patrolling the Med off Lebanon for the UN. This German force will have a stronger mandate than any of its other nine current peacekeeping forces (including the two people in Ethiopia and 11 in Georgia). The German soldiers in Afghanistan are very definitely peacekeepers not war fighters, and the German government refused to send them chasing after al-Qaeda. But the navy will be allowed to chase and board potential arms smugglers and use their guns to stop them. The debate was specially agonised because of where it was. While there is very little real prospect that the sailors will have to turn their guns on Israelis, the slim theoretical possibility made some argue the mission was impossible because of Germany's history. They were in the end ignored. Of course, German planes bombed Serbia so it's not the first or most extreme example of the modern Germany military in action. But these things go in fits and starts and I feel there is a new determination that Germany will pull its weight in the world. Angela Merkel made very sure she was seen, snapped and filmed climbing down a ladder of a submarine, and watching warships go by. Although Schroeder met the troops, no-one I speak to can remember other chancellors so obviously posing for the press in a military setting. Certainly, the military are pleased that their budget has increased in real terms for the first time since the Cold War. But others I talk to hope Germany will not forget the lessons of history - not in some crass sense about its own role in the world, but in regard to the dangers of military action and jingoism, whether that of a country or a region.

Pamela on :

Zyme again. For those of you who haven't encountered this poster before (we became acquainted at medienkritik) - trust me - his wishful thinking about the 'rightness' of German's global hegemony are indeed reminiscent of a Reich of most unfortunate memory.

Zyme on :

Pamela - I respect people with different opinions. Do You?

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