She’ll offer tough rhetoric on Syria, but don’t expect much more from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
In 2002, the Social Democrats got re-elected by opposing the Iraq war. Now they’re against attacking Syria, but it won’t help them oust Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sept 22. Deft as ever, she’ll keep Germany out of the fight, while firmly backing her allies.
In 2002, Social Democrat Gerhard Schröder, one of the best campaigners Germany has produced, won a dramatic come-from-behind election victory by categorically ruling out any German involvement in the looming Iraq war, snubbing America with less-than-diplomatic rhetoric when he reassured crowds up and down the country: “Under my leadership this country won’t take part in adventures.”
Eleven years on, his party is even further behind in opinion polls just over three weeks before a general election, and another Western military intervention in the Middle East is imminent with the U.S., Britain and France preparing a strike against Syria.
Chancellor Angela Merkel indirectly voiced support for military action when her spokesman told a regular government news conference on Monday: “It must be punished. It must not be left without consequences. A very clear international response is needed to this.”
The opposition Social Democrats and their Green allies have come out firmly against a military strike, providing what has so far been a tepid campaign with a divisive issue. SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel said on Wednesday that an attack against Syria bore “immense risks.”
“We mustn’t make the mistake now to exclusively follow the military logic,” he told SPIEGEL ONLINE.
Is history about to repeat itself? Could a public debate over Syria knock Merkel off what has been looking like an easy path to a third term in the Sept. 22 election?
The simple answer is most probably not, even though the country retains a strong pacifist streak, a legacy of its defeat and near destruction in two world wars, say pollsters and political analysts.
Deft as ever, Merkel is avoiding commitment, despite her strong rhetoric. She’s siding with Germany’s traditional allies by backing firm action — but, crucially, she’s going to keep her country out of the fight, and that’s what matters to voters as the clock ticks down to election day.
“Merkel won’t distance herself from the US and Britain and France when they take action. But I’m totally sure she will rule out any military involvement by Germany,” Jürgen Falter, a political analyst at Manz University, told SPIEGEL ONLINE.
Lawmakers from her conservatives are already stressing that the German military is stretched to its limits with deployments including Afghanstan, Kosovo and along Turkey’s border with Syria where Bundeswehr troops man Patriot surface-to-air missile batteries as part of a NATO operation.
Were the allies to call on Germany for military help — and there’s no sign that they will — the government is likely to point to legal hurdles such as the lack of a UN Security Council mandate, and the need for a parliamentary vote, said Falter.