Friday, January 20, 2012

What makes Angie tick? (5 of 6) Angie on foreign policy

Angela Merkel's foreign policy has been on all-too-visible display in the current crisis of the European Union, a crisis largely of her making. She's shown a willingness to bulldoze her nominal EU partners and use Germany's financial clout to attempt to force on the EU countries her own "ordoliberal" concepts of austerity economics in the middle of a depression. And that in the face of clear evidence that austerity economics is making the sovereign debt problems which they are allegedly intended to alleviate worse and worse.

Her drive for power and her willingness to take risks are not surprising. Her willingness to so blatantly try to subject the EU countries to German dominance is. Jakob Augstein writes, "Was am Anfang ihrer Kanzlerschaft noch als Ausweis besonderer Modernität missverstanden werden konnte, hat sich längst als Schwäche erwiesen: die Abwesenheit von irgendeinem Willen außer jenem zur Macht." ("What at the beginning of her Chancellorship could still be misunderstood as evidence of special modernity has long since shown it to be a weakness: the absence of any kind of will other than the will to power.") (Reise ans Ende der Macht Der Freitag 01.09.2011)

That may be a bit harsh. Angie really seems to believe in her ordoliberal doctrine of austerity. Her current recklessness is more likely to leave Germany far weaker overall by destroying the EU, the euro and the benefits Germany has gotten from both.

But her aggressive behavior in the current crisis has made me wonder what her models for foreign policy are. My intention here is not to analyze her whole foreign policy, but to point to what seem to me to be decisive influences.

Angie was 35 when the Berlin Wall fell. She grew up in Communist East Germany, was member of the Communist Party's youth group the Free German Youth (FDY, from the German initials), graduated from Karl-Marx University in Leipzig, and worked as a physicist in East Germany. She was 35 when the wall fell. I've wondered if her outlook may have some basis in growing up in the Warsaw Pact. I've said only partially jokingly that she seems to think she should run the EU like Brezhnev ran the Warsaw Pact.

But there seems to be little evidence that she was particularly impressed by the Soviet Union's foreign policy. She was not an active dissenter against the Communist regime. But the biographical evidence seems to suggest that she was unsympathetic to the crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968, either at the time (that was the year she turned 14) or in her later understanding of it. Other than Soviet dominance of East Germany, she doesn't seem to have shown any special interest in international relations before 1989. Of course, she was German and did like to travel!

The unification of Germany in 1990 seems to have had a huge effect on her thinking. As fate, luck and ambition would have it, she was part of the German delegation to the "4-plus-2" talks in Moscow that led to agreement on the unification of Germany. It was dramatically obvious, as Gerd Langguth's biography points out, that once the unification was agreed upon, negotiating the details of Soviet withdrawal was handled by the West Germans. And of course, once the unification occurred, the democratic East German government of which she was a part disappeared. There does seem to be some evidence that she viewed unification as an absorption of the east by the west but that she regarded it with more admiration than resentment, unlike many other former East Germans.

It also seems to me that the foreign policy approach of Dick Cheney and George W. Bush was a big part of Angie's model for approaching foreign affairs. Unlike her Party's official position, she was vocally supportive of Bush's build-up to the Iraq War. Even in her 2004 book Mein Weg, she defended the Bush Administration's conduct even if Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. And she still harshly criticized the antiwar policy of Social Democratic Chanceller Gerhard Schröder and his Green Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer in 2002-3.

Ironically, one of her main justifications for her criticism is that she argued that Schröder's and Fischer's government should have worked harder to bridge the policy differences with Britain over the Iraq War buildup. She charged Schröder with damaging European unity thereby.

It's a disingenuous argument in itself. British Prime Minister Tony Blair was joined at the hip with Cheney and Bush over the Iraq War. The only way Germany could have had a common policy with Britain in that situation was to kowtow to Washington just as Blair did.

But the ironic part is that Angie in December of 2011 was part of a far more drastic diplomatic conflict with Britain than anything that occurred under Schröder when Prime Minister David Cameron bolted the EU summit, rejected Angie's demands for EU treaty changes. Cameron's actions were clumsy and arguably just plain dumb. But Angie was perfectly happy to tell Cameron to kiss off if he didn't want to go along with her "ordoliberal" policies for the EU.

It's also notable in Mein Weg that Angie explicitly endorses the concept of "preventive war". After her heavy involvement in the issue, Angie surely in 2004 knew that there is a very clear difference between "prevention" war and "pre-emptive" war. The latter is initiating military action under threat of imminent attack and is legal in international law. Preventive war is what the Nuremberg Trials treated as "aggressive war", i.e., launching military action when the target country presented no imminent threat. Even the Bush Administration was careful to claim that what they were doing in Iraq was a preemptive strike which they could claim was legal in international law. It wasn't; the Iraq War was a preventive war and an illegal one, a big reason Bush and Cheney and other senior national security officials from that Administration now have to be very cautious to which foreign countries they travel for fear of arrest.

This was thoroughly discussed in German politics and the press in 2002-3, and Angie as Chair of the CDU was very much involved in the issue, even travelling to Washington to do what she could to show her solidarity with the Iraq invasion. Her willingness to publicly endorse the concept of preventive war is a strong sign that she was deeply impressed by the Bush Administration overbearing approach to dealing with allies.

It's not that she was a Bush toady like the pathetic Tony Blair. She would later clearly and publicly condemn the Administration's practice of torture. And as Chancellor, she would try to push the Bush Administration to take action against global warming.

But her willingness to publicly and explicitly endorse the concept of preventive war when she was surely conscious of its historical and legal implications is a strong sign there's a bit of Dick Cheney in her. Which is why her current actions in the EU bear more than a passing resemblance to the way Cheney and Bush assembled their "coalition of the willing" for the Iraq War.

She didn't need Leonid Brezhnev to teach her domineering approaches to international relations when she had Dick Cheney available.

Sources on Angie's life and career:
  • Gerd Langguth, Angela Merkel.Aufstieg zur Macht - Biographie(DTV; München) 2007 edition
  • Michael Lümann, Der Osten im Westen - oder: Wie viel DDR steckt in Angela Merkel, Matthias Platzeck und Wolfgang Thierse? Versuch einer Kollektivbiographie (ibidem-Verlag; Stuttgart) 2010
  • Angela Merkel, Mein Weg.Angela Merkel im Gespräch mit Hug Müller-Vogg (Hoffmann und Campe; Hamburg) 2004
  • Volker Resing, Angela Merkel.Die Protestantin - Ein Portrait (St. Benno-Verlag; Leipzig) 2009


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