Merkel's challenge

Germany should lead the effort to confront the current totalitarian threat to the West.

angela merkel 88 (photo credit: )
angela merkel 88
(photo credit: )
The state at the heart of all things European, from geography to business, was expected to emerge from the aftermath of the Cold War as a roaring tiger. Instead, Germany has failed to capitalize on the opportunities offered by its reunification and in fact has come to be seen as socially, economically and politically debilitated. Socially, Germany's eastern and western parts remain largely disjointed. The absorption of large non-German populations during the last half century has proven superficial, with entire communities living separately and poorly. Economically, what was celebrated 50 years ago as a great miracle has since given way to a stagnation, perhaps leading to decline. With growth rates negligible and unemployment stubbornly in double-digit territory, the world's third largest economy seems headed in the opposite direction not only of vibrant emerging economies like China, but also of mature economies like Britain, Holland and the US. Politically, last month's general election produced an inconclusive result. Fortunately for Germany, outgoing chancellor Gerhard Schroeder eventually, if grudgingly, made way for the narrow winner, Christian Democrat leader Angela Merkel. However, Merkel's center-right party fell so short of a majority that it was compelled to form a coalition with its bitter rival, the Social Democrats. Though she will only be formally appointed next month, Merkel's cabinet is already known, and seems as dialectic as the state of the German union itself, with the Social Democrats retaining the foreign and finance portfolios. Her apparent retreat earlier this week from campaign commitments to cut taxes indicates that she knows that, while she won the chancellery, she did not win a mandate for sweeping reforms. Paradoxically, both she and Schroeder were rebuffed for seeking retreats from Germany's elaborate, and manifestly unaffordable, welfare state. The only difference between their plans was that the outgoing leader's sought even less ambitious changes than his successor. It follows that Germany's new leadership will have to spend much of its energy educating the people, like surgeons advising a reluctant patient who must undergo surgery. Due to her government's unique circumstances, Merkel can be expected to be involved in foreign affairs even more than previous German chancellors. Merkel's supporters hoped her rise to power would be part of a sweeping transition on the scale of Margaret Thatcher's conservative revolution in Britain. Such hopes have been dashed, despite Merkel's convictions and her country's manifest needs. On foreign affairs, however, Merkel may have more ability to impact, and this is also where the Middle East comes in. Schroeder and his foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, have snubbed the US in ways all their predecessors would not have dared attempt. Berlin's opposition to the invasion of Iraq has marked a turning point, for the worse, in German foreign policy. The urge to stand up to American diplomacy seemed often to be an aim in itself, in the spirit of Schroeder's attacks on "Anglo-Saxon" domestic policies, which he insisted were socially inconsiderate and at any rate unsuitable for Europe. But in what concerned Israel directly, the Schroeder-Fischer record has been better than the rest of Europe, with the former playing a leading role in convincing the EU to turn its back on the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. In the broader Middle Eastern context, however, the outgoing government's attitude has been disastrous. Germany's reluctance to adopt America's view, that the Middle East's main problem is its totalitarianism, has been particularly disappointing considering its own past. Germany should not only back, but indeed lead the effort to confront the current totalitarian threat to the West, this time from militant Islam. This means openly and more robustly backing Israel inside the EU and the UN. Berlin must lead the way in demanding that the Palestinian leadership disarms terrorist groups or face a loss of financial aid. It also means forcing Iran to abandon its nuclear program and support for terrorism. We congratulate Merkel as she prepares to assume the chancellorship and hope that under her leadership Germany will help tip Europe toward becoming more of a partner in confronting the Islamist jihad that threatens us all.