I returned this summer after two years of college to intern with Creative Loafing. Since I arrived in Charlotte a few weeks ago, I've spoken with a number of people about the war in Iraq and US foreign policy and I've been surprised to encounter quite a few people who are still upset with European countries, France and Germany in particular, for not supporting the US war in Iraq. I'd like to try to explain the German point of view and hope that it will make some people aware of how different backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives lead to different conclusions.
Why didn't Germany support the US in the Middle East, which, by the way, Germans refer to as the Near East? Well, my first response is why should they have? Why invade a country and incur the given "collateral damage" when there isn't one iota of evidence of weapons of mass destruction? Even if any WMDs were found, that wouldn't necessarily imply that Iraq poses an actual threat to the rest of the world. After all, it's the US that has the largest and most advanced arsenal in the world, both nuclear and conventional. America even supplied chemical and biological materials to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war. Isn't that just a little ironic? Considering all that, has any country ever expressed a hint of concern about the United States being a threat?
Some of the people I spoke with argued that Germany owed the US for liberating it from Russia and turning it into a democracy after World War II. Yet I wonder if these people are aware that the US didn't help Germany simply out of goodwill, which was partly the case of course, but also because it served its own interests. Germany's economy has since turned into the largest in Europe and after all, a healthy European economy is very beneficial for the American economy, among other things.
But my frustration and anger isn't directed toward the American people, but rather the Bush administration and their undiplomatic approach to foreign policy. "Be either with us or against us" -- is that an appropriate method of communicating and negotiating these days? By forcing European countries to make a choice, Bush squandered the virtually unanimous support from the international community the United States enjoyed after 9/11.
Can't we try a more diplomatic way and, if a country -- for whatever reasons, may it be the lack of evidence or more individual motives -- decides not to support us, accept that decision?
Germans are still very aware of their past -- the elimination of nearly 6 million Jews as well as the Allies' three-day bombing of Hamburg (among other major German cities) which destroyed one third of the city's buildings and killed 60,000-100,000 people. That in mind, Germans now consider very thoroughly before sending their troops to foreign countries. The decision to invade Kosovo in 1999 was a great source of debate in Germany since it was the first time since World War II that the military picked up guns and fought on foreign soil.
But instead of accepting Germany's decision, President Bush told chancellor Schroeder he wasn't welcome in the White House anymore, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld went as far as comparing Germany to Cuba and Libya because, like them, it wouldn't jump at Washington's commands. To call Germany and France "Old Europe" was a deliberate insult - and all that from a cabinet member, a supposed statesman!
Is that a proper way for leaders of nations to treat each other? For future negotiations, wouldn't it be sensible if we respected each other's decisions and maintained a healthy relationship? In the end, we're all in the same boat - we all want to prevent terrorist attacks and live together in peace.
Leaving the US this fall, I'll still be confident about coming back because even though I disagree with the government and its decision-making, I still love the country and its people. Plus, there is yet this glimpse of hope that in November 2004 something might change.
Nina Hansen is a student at the University of Hamburg in Germany and was a summer intern for Creative Loafing.