Goodbye To Berlin?

Goodbye To Berlin?

Mini Teaser: A declining Germany gets no respect from Red State America--yet it wants a veto over U.S. policy. Surrendering this conceit is the first step back toward influence.

by Author(s): Walter Russell Mead

Already, this deep and envenomed suspicion of France is changing America's historic approach to the European Union. In a sense, the Monroe Doctrine has been extended to Europe. The United States now appears ready to reassume the traditional Anglo-Saxon role of defending the "liberties of Europe" to ensure that no combination of powerful European states can dictate to smaller and weaker ones. Specifically, a significant current of opinion in the United States no longer trusts the Franco-German axis to carry out the complex and delicate task of European integration with the requisite sensitivity and flexibility.

Essentially, this feeling reflects a lack of confidence in Germany's ability (and, perhaps, inclination) to manage France. The American perception, partly rooted in the views described earlier that the Berlin Republic has yet to find its proper footing in world affairs, remains that France has consistently outmaneuvered and outclassed its German partners. The German sea-anchor is unable to keep the French frigate from drifting into dangerous waters.

This vision of German weakness and diplomatic inadequacy seems to be one of the few points of intellectual agreement between Paris and Washington today. Indeed, the precondition of France's daring European and global diplomacy in recent months is probably a conviction that France no longer has to worry that a united Germany will emerge as the natural and inevitable leader of a united Europe. There is a new confidence in Paris that the new Germany is more manageable than the old one. Should Germany master European diplomacy and once again look like a strong and rising power capable of leading the reshaping of Europe, France would, as it has done in the past, look to repair its Atlantic links. In the meantime, the progressive passing of initiative in the Franco-German relationship from Germany to France in recent years is an additional factor that undermines American confidence in Germany's ability to provide useful and helpful policy guidance.

Restoring the Relationship

If we rule out a mass conversion in the Red States to European values--or unprecedented success for the next Billy Graham evangelization crusades in Germany--and if we assume that, because the present situation is more painful to Germany than to Red State America, Germany will, in its own interests, need to act more forcefully to change the situation, we are left with three major avenues for action.

First and foremost, German diplomacy must, once again, become steadier, more strategic and more magisterial, allowing American policymakers to regain once again their old respect for German views. This is above all a matter of German diplomacy in Europe and has little or nothing to do with Germany becoming more pliant to American wishes or embracing American ideas about the use of force. Germany has lost its relatively sure touch in Europe and needs to recover it. For reasons that have nothing to do with the current problems in Franco-American relations, this has a great deal to do with curbing certain French tendencies and predilections in Europe. Germany's historic task is to integrate France into Europe, not to abandon European integration for France's sake.

Germany is not a normal European country, and if it pursues its short term national interest in an erratic and domineering way it will wreak enormous damage to its broader interests as well as to the esteem it commands on the Potomac. But the alternative is not a weaker or less assertive Germany; it is a Germany that knows how to assert and increase its strength through service to the common European project.

The irony is not lost on me that this is precisely the kind of criticism that many Germans make of the Bush Administration in the context of global institutions. I merely note that these criticisms would be received with more interest and respect if the German house were in better order. As it is, Germany often looks to Americans like a country which throws its weight around on a small scale, only to demand that the United States treat Germany with a respect that Germany itself denies its smaller partners.

In any case, to the degree that Germany succeeds in regaining the Euro-pean high ground, it will command spontaneous respect even in Red State America as a serious and important partner whose views are well worth taking into account.

Second, there are the problems of the Greater Middle East. From an American perspective, the future of Washington-Brussels cooperation (and, therefore, of Washington-Berlin relations) depends to a very large degree on the extent to which the U.S. and Europe can develop a common agenda and a common project in this vital region.

It is not surprising that this topic was so prominent in the February 2004 White House summit between Bush and Schrder. But the Bush-Schröder dialogue is only the beginning of a much broader process. A deep conversation about the Middle East needs to be undertaken--less by people in government than by what remains, thankfully, a rich and committed group on both sides of the Atlantic who passionately believe that both Germany and the United States would benefit from a common approach. There are a host of issues, including Israel-Palestine, terrorism, reform in the Arab world and others where U.S.-German discussions, perhaps with others from the Atlantic community, could develop to the point that even Red State policymakers could become more excited about the real gains from cooperation and agreement. This would increase the enthusiasm and commitment with which both governments would look for compromises on points of difficulty in order to get on with a positive common program that deals with serious issues. Even the most doctrinally pure Red State Americans have their pragmatic side; to the degree that Germans can help identify and implement real and practical solutions to real problems in the Middle East, Germany's impact on American policymaking will increase. (The recent German-led approach to Iran which President Bush went out of his way to praise at his press conference following Saddam Hussein's capture is a case in point.)

There is a real prospect that serious engagement on these points could lead to a joint agenda on at least some of the contentious and vital Middle East issues. Take the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for example. Germany and the United States agree on the nature and outline of the territorial and political solution. Currently, however, there is less than consensus on how to get there. From the American perspective it seems that while certain Israeli policies are an unnecessary irritant to be deplored, the real obstacle to further progress is the lack of consensus on the Palestinian side to accept the kind of settlement that Barak proposed in 2000-1. In this view, hardliners dominate Israeli politics only when it has become clear that the Palestinian leadership is unwilling or unable to accept a compromise; if the Palestinians were sincerely ready for this kind of peace, Israeli public opinion would quickly produce a government that would respond. Sharon-style policy is a symptom and sometimes makes a bad situation worse, but the real problem is on the Palestinian side.

Germans argue that while there is some truth to this, moderate Palestinians will only be in a position to win broad support for the painful compromises necessary for peace if the Israelis stop inflaming Palestinian opinion. Furthermore, Germans suspect, not without reason, that factions in Israeli politics opposed to the two state solution deliberately push provocative policies in the hope of preventing peace. From this standpoint, Israeli intransigence is the chief obstacle to peace, while Palestinian intransigence, though real, is in large part a byproduct of Israeli policy. While experts in both Germany and the United States have more nuanced views than those sketched here, the general difference in emphasis is an important one, and has helped turn the Middle East into a contentious issue between Germany and the United States even as the two countries collaborate from time to time.

A deeper conversation might find more points of contact even if both sides remain more or less attached to their current diagnoses. Both Americans and Germans can agree that the miserable human conditions facing Palestinians, now and even after a compromise two-state agreement, will remain a major obstacle to peace and stability in the region. The lack of enthusiasm on the "Palestinian street" for a Barak-style compromise reflects the lack of concrete provisions either for a right of return, compensation for lost property, or real assurances that a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza will have the economic base necessary to meet the needs of its citizens. The Oslo process produced what is, among experts and most leaders, a reasonably clear vision of the territorial solution. What does not yet really exist is a vision of the human solution for Palestinians. Who will live in the new state? What will happen to those it cannot absorb? What happens to those who now depend on refugee agencies for the necessities of life once there is peace and they are no longer refugees? Compensation for refugees is clearly called for in the relevant United Nations resolutions. How will the amounts be determined, where will the money to pay these claims come from, and what is the procedure for making a claim and receiving compensation?

Essay Types: Essay