Thursday, March 22, 2007

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The German Social Democrats party like it's 2002

One of the key points I was trying to make in my Foreign Affairs article was that the Bush foreign policy of 2007 looks somewhat different from the Bush foreign policy of 2002 -- it's more multilateral in both form and substance. This has been a common theme among foreign policy wonks across the ideological divide.

However, the word has yet to reach the German Social Democrats, as Judy Dempsey makes clear in this International Herald-Tribune story:

[T]he two parties in [Angela] Merkel's coalition appear more divided over the missile shield than other EU member states, which have been far less vocal or critical of the U.S. missile shield.

Kurt Beck, leader of the Social Democrats, said this week that the missile defense shield would lead to a new arms race and that it should be discussed within NATO, or even abandoned....

Inside NATO, other countries have been puzzled by the level of the debate in Germany, and particularly by the Social Democrats' newfound support for the alliance.

Over the past seven years, the Social Democrats have played down the importance of NATO as an alliance. Germany, France, Belgium and Luxembourg opposed any attempt by the alliance during the U.S.-led war in Iraq to assist the U.S. coalition forces.

"The mood in NATO is quite sanguine," said James Appathurai, a NATO spokesman. "We know what we have to do. We are preparing high-level talks next month which will be attended by experts."

Despite charges from Social Democrats and even from some in Merkel's party that Washington has not been talking to its allies or to Russian officials, there have been several high-level consultations at NATO headquarters and in Moscow led by Henry Obering, the U.S general in charge of the missile defense agency.

So far, in public at least, U.S. officials have not questioned the tone of any of the criticism from the German left, as was the case after Gerhard Schröder, the former Social Democratic chancellor, narrowly won re-election in 2002 after criticizing the Bush administration's actions toward Iraq.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has stressed that Russia has nothing to fear about the system. Speaking this week after talks in Washington with the German foreign minister, the Social Democrat Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Rice said: "Russia and the United States have a good working relationship in which very few would contemplate the notion of a nuclear exchange."

If you read the whole thing, one gets the sense that domestic political calculations are behind the SPD's thinking... much as it was back in 2002.

posted by Dan on 03.22.07 at 01:01 PM


I've lived in Germany for nearly eight years now, and I've learned that the one constant in German politics is the sensual pull of a stout round of America bashing to make a German politician feel good.

Andrea Merkel has been an exception in that her criticisms have been far fewer and then fact-based as well as diplomatically delivered. Her coalition partners and the Greens and sometimes even the FDP get much mileage out of the most groundless issues whipped into a political froth.

Climate change was the flavor of the day a few weeks back and the missile defense issue, as the post points out, has heated up the airwaves more recently.


posted by: Rofe on 03.22.07 at 01:01 PM [permalink]

The SPD is indeed playing the anti-American card here, and probably successfully, even if, as Dan argues, the tenor of US foreign policy isn't what it was four years ago. But this is precisely why Bush's earlier posture was so damaging in the long term -- reputations are a lot harder to live down than the behavior that earned one the reputation in the first place. We will be paying the price of those few short years of bullying unilateralism for many years to come as political parties in countries around the world respond to the enduring popular hostility it engendered.

posted by: jonas on 03.22.07 at 01:01 PM [permalink]

I third the previous comments. I haven't lived in Germany, but I have spent a good deal of time among (traveling) germans. Most of them would see little difference between 2002/2007 America. Most, imh experience, are clinton fans, but view Bush as the warlord they've always suspected lurking behind the clinton smile. Those I've known tend to frame their arguments in terms of resource extraction/IMF/WTO injustices, but they are numerous if nothing else. If no one gives continental youth a cut of the profits, they'll cause a fuss.

posted by: foolishmortal on 03.22.07 at 01:01 PM [permalink]

huh? from the Rozen article:

What remains the same is that a secretary of state in the Bush administration is extremely constrained. Rice belongs to an administration averse to real diplomacy with its adversaries, and therefore lacks a secretary of state’s most elemental tool: the authority to negotiate directly.
The great fear is that Rice’s entire diplomatic effort could be used to justify future military confrontation.

Can anybody tell me, why Germany and other european nations shouldn't remain skeptical?

posted by: novakant on 03.22.07 at 01:01 PM [permalink]

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