November 26, 2002

November 26, 2002 | Commentary on Europe

ED112602:  Europe's New German Problem

What Gerhard Schroeder proudly calls "the German way" is actually Europe's new German problem. It's become clear that Berlin's recent break with Washington over Iraq signals a fundamental clash of values.

U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair agree on the nature of the Iraqi threat because they share bedrock convictions about the nature of international terrorism. President Bush was the first to compare global terrorism to the lawless evil of Fascism -- and quick to link Iraq to both.

"The history, the logic, and the facts lead to one conclusion," he told the U.N. General Assembly. "Saddam Hussein's regime is a grave and gathering danger." Prime Minister Blair employs the same logic and vocabulary. In Mr. Blair's words, the West faces "an appalling, brutal, dictatorial, vicious regime."

Chancellor Schroeder resists this characterization. He downplays or ignores Saddam Hussein's links to terrorism; his record of aggression; his yearning to acquire -- and use -- weapons of mass destruction; and the repeated violations of U.N. resolutions against Iraq. Worse, Mr. Schroeder offers no realistic plan to hold Baghdad accountable. No wonder Saddam's son Uday has lauded the German Chancellor's stance as "more honorable than that of the Arab countries."

Herein lies the values gap between the German and U.S.-British positions. The Western alliance remains driven by leaders who engage the world with a heavy dose of moral realism. They believe that some regimes represent unmitigated evil and -- in an age when weapons of mass murder are widely available -- must be confronted by civilized nations. Under this view, a war to remove Saddam Hussein would be a just war, both for international security and the liberation of an oppressed people.

The reason Germany has isolated itself on Iraq is that its ruling party, the Social Democratic Party, and its Green Party allies, bitterly reject this argument. They can't envision circumstances warranting the use of force against Iraq. Seeing only imperialistic motives at work, they've likened President Bush to Julius Caesar and Adolf Hitler. Some German intellectuals even call the U.S. war on terrorism an exercise in "mass murder."

Such confusion can be traced in part to Germany's Marxist radicalism of the 1960s, with its atheism and deep-seated hatred of the United States. Both Chancellor Schroeder and his Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer cut their political teeth as Communist revolutionaries. Mr. Fischer, erroneously described as a "moderate" by American commentators, spent his youth assaulting German police.

Old habits are hard to break. German nationalism is now expressed as America-bashing. At the same time, pacifism provides an escape from international obligations. Thus, war critics soft pedal Saddam's atrocities and his nuclear ambitions. Many Germans seem to believe that appeasement is the best way finally to silence the ghosts of National Socialism.

A better approach is to prepare to confront Baghdad forcefully. Messrs. Bush and Blair are ready to fight now to prevent a future in which nuclear-armed blackmailers and state-sponsored murder become international norms. In this, they are reminding Europe that a just peace depends on moral seriousness -- and the political and military will to back it up.

The other option on Iraq -- hoping that the U.N. inspectors conduct their investigations successfully -- is fraught with danger. What happens if the Iraqi dictator plays his game of evasion and won't surrender his weapons of mass destruction? Mr. Schroeder has vowed to oppose military action, and the U.N. Security Council position remains shrouded in diplo-speak. Germany could be leading Europe in embracing moral ambiguity -- a mix of zealous nationalism and near-sighted pacifism.

The question for the rest of Europe now is, is it willing to join the leadership being offered by Messrs. Bush and Blair. If so, Europeans must abandon the "German way." Its destination is well known in the European continent: isolationism, passivity in the face of genocidal regimes. The German way already has been tried -- and found wanting.

Joseph Loconte is the William E. Simon fellow in religion and a free society at the Heritage Foundation, where Dr. Nile Gardiner is a visiting fellow in Anglo-American security policy.

About the Author

Joseph Loconte William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society

Related Issues: Europe

Originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal Europe.