Germany mulls Afghan pull-out

Michael Keaney michael.keaney at
Mon Feb 24 07:21:03 MST 2003

Johannes Schneider writes:

Subject: Germany mulls Afghan pull-out

I do not thnk this is a real option, but rather a last minute move to
impress the US.


Once again I think this is an over-hasty judgment -- there is much more
going on here than seems to meet your eye. Firstly, putting aside all the
other sources of friction between the governments of the US and Germany, the
situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating steadily, although one would
hardly guess given the amount of news coverage we are being privileged to
read. What reportage there is is gloomy in the extreme. For instance see
this most recent piece:

The sheer incompetence of the US effort there would be enough to exasperate
any half-way efficient imperialist, never mind those who may harbour doubts
about the whole philosophy underlying US policies and still having to
overcome a deeply institutionalised sense of guilt and anti-militarism
following the end of the Nazi regime.

But if you factor in various other elements a picture begins to emerge of a
Germany riven with contradiction, in which the assertiveness of the early
Schröder government, eager to break taboos and punch its weight
internationally, is now being reined in, not least because of the fiscal
crisis afflicting the German state, but also because of the post-1945 legacy
of anti-militarism/pacifism, which happens to be strongest in the social
bases of the two governing parties, who would not be governing at all were
it not for Schröder's unequivocal (if opportunistic) opposition to war in

Schröder could justify German involvement in "humanitarian intervention"
since it was a useful cover against opposition to militarism -- after all,
it was precisely what Blair did not just to neuter dissent within his own
Labour Party but also to prod an initially reluctant Clinton into making a
commitment to redrawing the Balkan map. The present situation is very
different, since absolutely no one is convinced (except perhaps supremely
delusional Tony) that war in Iraq can be justified on humanitarian grounds.
The whole tenor of US foreign policy has changed utterly since the ascension
of Bush, and its shrill unilateralism has done much to alienate traditional,
compliant allies like the German government. Again, it is the arrival of
Bush that has changed everything for Schröder, just as it has for Blair. But
while Blair runs around the world frenetically trying to save it (and
thereby himself) Schröder has a chance to get out from under the weight of
US hegemony. In this he ought to be most strongly encouraged, not only for
the sake of Germany but for that of the EU as a whole.

Personally I think that the whole argument of humanitarian intervention
leads logically to the sort of unabashed imperialism that we are seeing
today, since it assumes implicitly (and now explicitly) the superiority of a
certain type of Western rationality which is able to distinguish "good" from
"evil", "right" from "wrong", "authoritarian" from "totalitarian", etc., and
which many Westerners themselves use to delude themselves that they are in
fact truly interested in the welfare of ordinary people and not the mineral
wealth or other economic assets of the countries concerned. That sort of
moral militarism rings strong alarm bells throughout Europe, not least in
Germany. Not for nothing did Herta Däubler-Gmelin, former justice minister,
compare Bush's Iraq policy to the methods of Adolf Hitler. Schröder sacked
her to placate an irate Bush, but it was an obviously calculated remark and
not merely in a cynical way.

Whatever, regardless of Schröder's placation US forces were at work in
Germany helping to undermine the efforts of the SPD. It was during that
election campaign that Peter Struck complained of the "massive involvement"
of the US in the elections, and soon afterwards Richard Perle told
Handelsblatt that US-German relations would be far better if Schröder were
not Chancellor:


Since then we have had Rumsfeld's tantrums, the deeply (and calculatedly so)
insulting reference to "Old Europe" (also revealing of US intentions towards
countries of the former Soviet bloc and their Trojan horse function as EU
entrants), Fischer's astonishing performance at Munich and Angela Merkel's
current visit to the USA to meet, among others, Donald Rumsfeld. Now,
according to the Financial Times, we have another government minister
breaking cover to criticise US policy:

German minister fuels US dispute
Reuters, Berlin
Financial Times, February 20 2003

A German cabinet minister added to a transatlantic dispute over Iraq
yesterday by saying the US was pursuing its own oil interests in its
conflict with Baghdad.

Jürgen Trittin, environment minister, made the accusation in an interview
with Die Welt newspaper, remarks likely to increase strain on relations
already at a post-war low over Germany's opposition to any US-led war to
disarm Iraq.

"A war is not justified. This debate is very distracting from the real
interests of the United States," Mr Trittin told Die Welt.


The original Die Welt interview can be found here:

Trittin seems to have a better understanding of current affairs than, say,
Michael Hardt.

Meanwhile according to Welt am Sonntag Schröder is planning to push ahead
with "radical reforms" as part of his desperate bid to keep his fractious
coalition together. So no one here is under any illusions about the
"progressiveness" of Schröder or the Greens when it comes to economic
policy. But solid opposition to war and to US imperialism will stiffen their
resolve against Rumsfeld's diktats *and* also force open a public debate on
the direction of German policy as a whole, since the alternative to Schröder
seems to be a Merkel-Stoiber administration committed to capital-friendly
reforms and compliance with US diktats in foreign policy. The alternative
for Schröder is to follow through on the logic of his foreign policy by
questioning his commitment to neoliberal policies which spell the end of the
German welfare state. Merely writing him off passively condemns Germany to a
client regime led by Merkel or Stoiber, and there is little satisfaction to
be had in having predicted disaster, done nothing, and thereafter got
disaster. Continuing the work of the anti-war movement and linking that
explicitly to opposition to neoliberalism gives the opportunistic Schröder
something to fight for (and given his political background, something he
would be more instinctively inclined and politically equipped to fight for)
but which would, simultaneously, unleash forces that Schröder himself is far
from likely to understand or anticipate.

There is a real opportunity for the German and European left here, and it
should not be confused or caricatured as "support for Schröder". It is about
marshalling social forces behind an anti-war, anti-neoliberal, anti-US
imperialist banner and thereby increasing the likelihood that the
characteristically opportunistic Schröder will thwart the interests of the
Bush administration and those of capital (domestic and international) that
wish to dismantle the German welfare state and thereby condemn Europe to a
long term decline dictated by the policies of asset-stripping neo-liberals.
The payoffs include the delay, if not the suspension, of war on Iraq; a
severe blow to the prestige and credibility of the Bush administration in
the US (thereby helping the US left); a major strike against the apparatus
of US hegemony (NATO, the UN, the IMF and other less visible means of
"persuasion"); and a significant obstacle to the neo-liberal agenda for
Europe. And from there the possibilities are innumerable.

So let's encourage a German pull-out from Afghanistan. From little acorns
great oaks grow.

Michael Keaney

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