Warm und Fuzzy?

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

“It is true that Germany and the United States disagreed on how best to deal with Saddam Hussein’s regime. There is no point in continuing this debate. We should now look toward the future. We must work together to win the peace.”

So wrote Gerhard Schroder, the German chancellor, in an op-ed in the New York Times, before heading off to the United Nations last week. In New York, he met with President Bush, the first substantive meeting between the two since the Germany and the United States clashed over Iraq. Bush made quite a show of having patched things up with Schroder, while just as showily giving French President Jacques Chirac the cold shoulder.

But beyond the soft talk and warm handshakes, what’s really changed in U.S.-German relations? Not a whole lot. Germany has said it’s prepared to send more troops to Afghanistan, where Germans soldiers fight alongside Americans. But Germany is unlikely to send soldiers, or much in the way of reconstruction aid, to Iraq (though it has offered to help train Iraqi police and soldiers). In this, and in its call for an accelerated shift to Iraqi self-rule, Germany’s policy is, in all essentials, in line with France’s.

A piece titled “Germany’s Emerging Foreign Policy,” in this week’s Economist looks for signs, in the country’s better relations with the United States, of a “tectonic shift.” It doesn’t find one.

“Does this add up to a return to German “predictability,” as Atlanticists have hoped? Not yet. A debate about Germany’s national interest, long avoided because of the historical baggage of German guilt, is under way. People are asking whether it is really to Germany’s advantage to deploy soldiers in the more dangerous parts of Afghanistan, or indeed in Iraq. Good European that he is, [foreign minister Joschka] Fischer sticks to the old post-world-war doctrine that, for Germany, the European interest and the national interest are the same thing. But a growing number are taking a more robustly self-interested view.”

This week Germany has called for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to expand its peacekeeping troops in Afghanistan beyond Kabul, saying that Germans will play a major role in an enlarged force. The United States needs all the help it can get, of course, but there’s a catch to the German idea. Reuters reports:

“The four so-called Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) already in Afghanistan come under the command of Operation Enduring Freedom, a U.S.-led mission of 12,500 troops which is still hunting down Taliban and al Qaeda die-hards.

Germany wants to deploy a reconstruction team made up of several hundred civilians protected by 230 military personnel in the northern region of Kunduz, but will only do so if it is linked to the U.N.-mandated [International Security Assistance Force] mission.”

Sound familiar? Germany’s latest move, though it looks like a Washington-friendly gesture, nevertheless boils down to Germany’s not wanting its people under U.S. command. Germany wants international legitimacy for its peacekeeping and reconstruction efforts .

So why is Germany suddenly being heralded as America’s long lost friend? When did Germany stop being Old Europe?

The Christian Science Monitor reports that the Germans have backed Bush on the handover timeline:

“In an effort to build up relations with the U.S., which remains one of Germany’s most important allies, Chancellor Schroder appears ready to move a step away from his tight alliance with fellow war opponent, French President Jacques Chirac.

While France continues to call for a resolution that transfers political power now in U.S. hands to the United Nations and Iraqis within a matter of months, Schroder has struck a more compromising tone. Saying such a transfer “can’t happen tomorrow,” he has called for a resolution that includes timetables for transfer of power to Iraqi hands. The new tone is designed to come closer to the U.S.-British proposal that the U.N. assume a ‘vital role’ in Iraq, but that political and military power remain in allied hands for the time being.”

What to make of this? In terms of the timetable, Germany seems to be tip-toeing around the issue — offering only hazy statements. On the issue, Joschka Fischer said, “We will actively support the sovereignty of the Iraqi people and at the same time avoid new risks.”

France’s Chirac says that “There is not the slightest shadow of a difference between the French and German positions.” In fact, France has followed in Berlin’s footsteps by offering to help train Iraqi police. And what’s more, France apparently isn’t going to use its veto in the Security Council to block a resolution, drafted by the U.S., to keep security forces under American command.

If France and Germany aren’t at odds, how come anti-French sentiment remains so rampant? Why is America still ordering freedom toast? On the theory that, if in doubt, go with a gimmicky pop-culture take, The New York Times floated more cultural (and sexual) analysis: France is from Venus; Germany is from Mars.

“Sure, both countries were dubbed members of the ‘Axis of Weasel’ and dissed as Old Europe for opposing the war in Iraq. But no one poured schnapps down the toilet, renamed sauerkraut or made prime-time jokes denigrating German manhood. Only France can evoke that kind of frat-boy frenzy.

‘It’s in the way we view both countries,’ said Irwin M. Wall, a historian of French-American relations. ‘We view Germany as producing iron and steel, and we view France as producing perfume and haute couture. You’ll never get America out of this stereotype that France is a feminine country.'”

Er, OK. Of course, another possibility is that the United States is making nice with Germany to bug the French. How much mileage there is in this approach is anyone’s guess. Again, the Economist:

“Though in no way disavowing its renewed closeness to France, Germany is once again trying to play all sides and to present itself as a mediatorÑmuch as it did before the row over the war in Iraq.

… Even if the foreign-policy establishment wants to get back into America’s favour, the public is less sure. Pollsters say that only 45% now think that strong American leadership in world affairs is desirable, against 68% a year ago. By contrast, the number of those who want the EU to become a superpower has risen from 48% to 70%, though a large majority still thinks that Europe should co-operate rather than compete with the United States.

… Indubitably, Mr Schroder wants to patch things up with the Americans. But relations with them, he reckons, should be more equal than in the past.”

So perhaps Germany’s warm und fuzzy isn’t as warm as it is fuzzy.


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend