In a piece about Germany as a geo-economic power that I recently wrote for Internationale Politik, a German foreign-policy journal, I argued that Germany’s “special relationship” with Israel might in future weaken. It seems to me that the relationship is all that remains of the foreign policy based on the idea of Auschwitz as Germany’s raison d’état that Joschka Fischer sought to develop (a theme of my book, Utopia or Auschwitz). Although Chancellor Angela Merkel is personally committed to the Jewish state, I think she is under increasing pressure from an anti-Israeli public opinion and from Germany’s economic interests with the Arab world. I also wonder whether a dramatic event – such as an Israeli military strike on Iran – could be a tipping point that creates a rupture between Germany and Israel in the way that the Iraq war did between Germany and the US.
Germany, I think it’s fair to say, is the most anti-nuclear country on earth. I just returned from a few days in Berlin, where the news was dominated by protests over the weekend against the transportation of nuclear waste from German nuclear power stations to Gorleben in Lower Saxony. The protests were seen as a triumph for the German anti-nuclear movement, which opposes the current centre-right government’s recent decision to extend the life of the remaining nuclear power plants in Germany. Germans are of course also passionately opposed to nuclear weapons, as illustrated by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle’s attempt to remove the remaining US nuclear weapons from the country (see my essay in Prospect last year on this). But one thing puzzles me about this anti-nuclear attitude. If the Germans are so opposed to nuclear power and weapons, why, as I suggested in a previous post, are they apparently so relaxed about the prospect of a nuclear Iran?
Today, on the sixty-fifth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, German politicians will once again express contrition for the Holocaust, as they have since Helmut Schmidt became the first German chancellor to visit Auschwitz in 1977. But does “working through the past”, as Theodor Adorno put it in a famous essay in 1959, mean anything in Germany today beyond simply commemorating the past? In particular, should the Nazi past play a role in German foreign policy? If so, it must surely mean that Germany should do everything it can to prevent Iran, the world’s most openly anti-Semitic regime whose president denies the Holocaust and calls for Israel to be wiped off the map, from acquiring nuclear weapons. But is it?
The Europeans love Obama, and all of the Europeans, the Germans love him the most. That is one of the not altogether surprising but nevertheless interesting findings of the 2009 edition of Transatlantic Trends, an annual survey by the German Marshall Fund that tracks attitudes to the transatlantic relationship in Europe and the United States. According to the poll, 92% of Germans approved of President Obama, compared to only 12% who approved of President Bush this time last year – in other words, a whopping 80-point “Obama bounce”, as the authors of the report call it. (In Britain, by contrast, support for the US president jumped from 17% to 82% – a mere 65-point difference.)