John Vinocur published a must-read article this week in the IHT and New York Times. Excerpts:
"There's a maxim in German politics, sometimes attributed to Bismarck, that if a subject gets too miserably uncomfortable to discuss with an unmistakable German voice, bid it up, and carry on in the name of Europe.
So there are times when Germans call their own issues European ones in an attempt to legitimize them, or try to blur their motives or goals by insisting German concerns foreshadow or encapsulate Europe's less well-articulated views — while stating them better, quicker and more forcefully.
This is the case now as some of Germany's deepest and hardest-to-admit worries — how to preserve its special, advantageous relationship with Russia without betraying its status as a Western player and ally of the United States — rise to the surface of its national debate.
The context is Poland and the Czech Republic's acceptance, over Russian threats and objections, to participate in an American antimissile shield that could block Iranian nukes.
The particular German conundrum lies here.
Angela Merkel wants to avoid Germany becoming the fulcrum for a maneuver by Vladimir Putin that seeks to cast the United States, regardless of the defensive nature of the U.S. system, as the cause of a new arms race in Europe.
But for some in Germany, those fears mean a chance for domestic political profile and profit, a wide horizon depending on their exploitation and Europeanization. Inside Germany, that diffuse fearfulness is there for the taking: polls not only show that around 70 percent accept Putin's characterization of America-the-aggressor but 77 percent opposed the Bundestag's decision over the weekend to send Tornado reconnaissance aircraft to support NATO troops in Afghanistan.
So it's open season for opportunism, encouraged by the ambiguity, accommodating Russia's line, expressed on the missile shield by Merkel's foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
The German landscape, right to left, is crowded these days with pols who cannot swallow the idea of "new Europeans" like Czechs or Poles, European Union members since 2004, assessing their security requirements in ways that do not please the Russians. These are the same pols who don't like other EU members asking why Germany has abandoned pressing Russia for an energy charter that would outlaw blackmail on oil and gas supplies as a condition for renewing the EU's "strategic partnership" with Moscow."
In thinking about this situation, it is actually useful to quote Richard Nixon. In his book "Seize the Moment," published in 1992, he writes on pages 119-120:
"While Germany's power will inevitably grow, the key question is how it will be used. Germany is not a potential rogue state or threat to its neighbors. The changes wrought by forty years of democracy and close association with Western institutions have transformed its society. But Germany must undergo a profound adjustment. During the cold war, free Germany lacked the power and confidence to chart an independent foreign policy and felt compelled to maintain a tight alliance with the West. With the waning of the cold war, that has changed. While still limited by the legacies of World War II, Germany is now tentatively staking out its new European and global roles. Our challenge lies in helping the Germans define constructive ways to use their new power.
Their are two key concerns. The first centers on the re-emergence of Germany's geopolitical tradition of keeping one foot in the East and one in the West. The cooperation between Imperial Germany and Tzarist Russia, the covert rearming of Germany after World War I, Germany's role in the industrialization of Soviet Russia under the Rapallo Treaty, and the division of Eastern Europe between Hitler and Stalin marked the darkest chapters of that tradition."
Mr. Vinocur's article reminds us that the German tradition of keeping one foot in the East and one in the West is alive and well. So does this. (Posted by Ray D.)