German Reactions to the Baghdad Bombing

That bomb-blast in Baghdad that killed UN special envoy to Iraq Sergio Vieira de Mello also tolled an early end to this summer’s “silly season,” i.e. the period when nothing much of note happens. (Not that we had much of a “silly season” anyway, what with the thousands of abandoned elderly in France – and elsewhere – dying of the extreme heat at the beginning of August, an occurrence covered in EuroSavant here.) That blast brought into sharp relief the question: What to do about Iraq? Riding this theme in the typical €S way, yesterday I presented some reporting and commentary on that question from out of the Dutch press, and today I turn to the German.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung had a good piece on the subject yesterday: Neue Argumente Washingtons: “Im Irak den Terrorismus bekämpfen”, or “Washington’s New Arguments: Fight Terrorism in Iraq.” That article started off reporting on Paul Bremer, leader of the civilian transition administration there, recently preaching from the gospel according to NYT columnist Thomas Friedman (as in his column from last Sunday, entitled Fighting the ‘Big One). Bremer’s message was that, yes, radical Islamic low-life from all over are making their way to Iraq to fight the Great Satan there, but that’s because they realize the stakes involved, namely whether the Arab world as a whole will develop according to the secular scheme advocated by the Western powers currently occupying Iraq (who therefore want to show success in rebuilding the country), or according to fundamentalist ideals. Straight out of Friedman – not that there’s anything wrong with that, but maybe Bremer could kindly credit his intellectual sources. Lower down in the FAZ piece military chief LTG Ricardo Sanchez is quoted along the same lines, this time to the effect that Iraq is becoming a special “Magnet for Terrorists.” Says General Sanchez (translated from the German): “But here is where we want to fight them, we’re ready for them. This way we keep the American people from having to suffer further attacks in the US.” Anybody out there find that logic as flawed as I do?

The FAZ finds all of this part of a general campaign to change the justification for being in Iraq once again, namely in order to fight terrorists. You’ll recall that the original justification was the Iraqi weapons-of-mass-destruction, which haven’t turned up yet. Then the justification was the way Saddam Hussein mistreated his own people. That one is true as far as it goes, except that some segments of “his own people” haven’t shown themselves to be too grateful for the liberation, if we can judge by the fact that today the American military death-toll from occupation exceeded that of the invasion of Iraq itself.

Not that more troops are needed there to fight all these incoming foreign terrorists, you understand. Senator John McCain, having toured Iraq, has called for more troops; ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Joseph Biden has called for the deployment of more American troops there as well, as well as for “truly international troops,” by which he means (according to the FAZ) French and German soldiers. But the French and Germans have made it clear their soldiers are not coming without a further Security Council resolution giving the UN more authority in Iraq. Finally, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar, has called on President Bush to come clean with the American people on just what will be required in the common weeks to bring order back to Iraq. But Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and senior American commanders all continue to deny that any more troops are needed.

As usual, there’s a thoughtful commentary piece about this mess in Die Zeit, this time entitled Anschlag auf die Helfer, or “Attack on the Helpers.” “The attack [on the UN HQ in Baghdad] missed it’s target,” the article’s sub-heading reads. “The UN will strengthen its engagement in Iraq.” But, according to author Ulrich Ladurner, it will do so only under different terms than before. For the Bush administration might finally be coming to realize that it has taken on a problem in Iraq that even the world’s sole remaining superpower cannot solve by itself. The Americans are in a fog about what is going on there, and what to do about it, the piece claims. That can be seen in how, according to them, first it was Arab mercenaries behind the bomb attack, then remnants from the Baath Party, then just ordinary Iraqi criminals; clearly, the Americans simply don’t know.

To help out, Ladurner remarks, the UN (once scorned by President Bush as “irrelevant”) can offer two things in Iraq that the US cannot: 1) Internationally-recognized legitimacy, and 2) An “army of bureaucrats” who nonetheless dispose of considerable skill and experience in the task of “nation-building.” Both of these are needed more and more by the Coalition forces running into difficulties there. Paradoxically, the article notes, the UN at least theoretically had to hope that things would go wrong for the US and Britain in post-war Iraq (as did other countries, for differing reasons), so that things would get to the point where it would be invited back into a major role in deciding the country’s future, and the US-UN balance-of-power could be restored.

That has now happened, and the attack which killed de Mello topped it all off. The US now needs UN involvement; the UN is willing, but will insist on new conditions. If it has them refused – well, then who would fault it for reducing its role in Iraq further, in view of the violence that has been directed against it, and so leaving the US and Britain to their own devices there?

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