(By Ray D.)
There was only so much the CDU could do. The party was stuck between a rock and a hard place. When Gerhard Schroeder decided to make peace-at-all-costs a campaign issue for the second election in a row, he knew he was putting his political opponents under enormous pressure. To understand why, one need only rewind to the last national election. In 2002, Schroeder pulled off a come-from-behind victory by mercilessly playing on the pacifist fears of the German people on Iraq. And the tactic worked brilliantly, particularly in eastern Germany, where Schroeder made enormous gains at the expense of the Communist PDS party.
Now its election time again. And the "peace Chancellor" is hoping the same emphasis on foreign policy will carry his party back to power. This time it's Iran. After President George W. Bush commented this past week that he would not rule out military force as a last option in confronting Iran over its nuclear program, Schroeder quickly seized the opportunity by declaring that he was for "taking military options from the table," a position enormously popular with German voters. That left Angela Merkel's CDU (Christian Democrats) with a difficult choice: Either reject Schroeder's position on principle and incur massive electoral losses (as they did in 2002) at a time when the party is stumbling and struggling to hold its majority, or cave on the issue and assume a pacifist position to neutralize Schroeder's ability to exploit it.
It now appears that the CDU has adopted Schroeder's position, thereby abandoning its earlier ideals and diminishing its commitment to a strong transatlantic partnership. But at the same time, it is a position forced on them by the shameless, populist exploitation of the issue by Schroeder. Above all, it is a position forced on the CDU by the majority of the German electorate which has long been staunchly pacifist and would severely punish the party were it to decide differently. Considering Germany's history over the past century, the nation's knee-jerk pacifism is hardly surprising. But it also makes it difficult for Germany to play a leading, responsible role in world affairs and leaves the country looking like a geopolitical lightweight. The mullahs in Iran would certainly be delighted if all the world's nations adopted such a dangerously naive "negotiations only" approach to its nuclear program.
So what does this all mean? It means that whoever wins the election and whatever constellation emerges in the next German government, it will be extremely difficult for Germany's next set of leaders to stand firmly beside the United States when future international conflicts arise. Now that both major parties have adopted a diplomacy-only approach to Iran, it will be difficult to find common ground with the United States should the Iranians decide to push the matter. And the new German position of peace-at-all-costs certainly emboldens Persia's Mullahs to do just that.