German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle is, by now, used to biting criticism. Throughout his career as a senior member of the Free Democrats (FDP), Chancellor Angela Merkel's junior coalition partners, he has been repeatedly denigrated, censured and disparaged by the press and his political opponents.
This time around, however, it may ultimately result in the end of Westerwelle's political career. Indeed, having been forced to resign the leadership of the FDP in April due to the abysmal performance of his party in public opinion polls, there are many within his party who would like to see him removed from Merkel's cabinet as well. And Westerwelle's position on Libya, despite a significant change of course on Sunday, could provide the opportunity they are waiting for.
The massive critique of Westerwelle stems from his statement last week in which he hinted that German sanctions against Libya were a significant factor in the rebels' ultimate success -- and declined to mention the NATO military campaign at all. The outcry was swift and led to a series of politicians distancing themselves from Westerwelle over the weekend, including Merkel and new FDP head Philipp Rösler.
The frustration with Westerwelle stems in part from the growing recognition in Germany that Berlin's decision to abstain from the March vote in the United Nations Security Council -- which authorized the NATO military operation in Libya -- was a mistake. Even as the abstention was widely supported at the time, Germany's allies were unimpressed and Westerwelle's repeated justification of Berlin's position have angered many, including several former political heavyweights in Germany. Several politicians within the FDP have also voiced dissatisfaction with the party's long-time leader.
On Sunday, Westerwelle changed his tune. In a contribution for the Sunday paper Welt am Sonntag, the foreign minister wrote that Germany is happy "that it was possible for the Libyans, with the help of the international military mission, to topple the Gadhafi regime." He repeated the message at an appearance on Monday.
That, not surprisingly, hasn't been enough for the opposition, with the Social Democrats openly worrying about damage done to Germany's reputation internationally and the Greens demanding that he resign. Merkel, however, has thrown her support behind Westerwelle, saying through her spokesman on Monday that she "has a trusting relationship" with her foreign minister. Westerwelle himself said that rumors about his imminent resignation are "complete fabrications."
German commentators take a look at the situation on Monday.
SPIEGEL ONLINE commentator Roland Nelles writes:
"Westerwelle has once again proven in recent days that he is unfit for the position of foreign minister. His attempt to act as though he played a decisive role in the toppling of Libyan autocrat Moammar Gadhafi made German foreign policy a farce. Both within Germany's borders and abroad, he has lost all authority."
"There is, of course, a large dose of human tragedy in this case. There has seldom been a case when a politician climbed so high and fell so far. Of course one could say that he has been criticized much too often and too intensely, and one can feel sympathy. But the foreign minister's post is not one suitable for reviving political careers. A government can allow itself one or two large errors made by cabinet ministers leading other portfolios. But the Foreign Ministry demands quality leadership. German foreign policy has enjoyed a good reputation for decades. Germany is considered reliable, thoughtful and smart. And that is how it should remain."
Conservative daily Die Welt writes:
"The foreign minister's skepticism regarding a spontaneous intervention in Libya was justified at the beginning. And it was shared by Chancellor Merkel at the time ... But when NATO decided to become involved in the battle for Libya, standing on the sidelines became dangerous. As a member of the alliance, Germany was required to support resolutions passed by a majority within the NATO Council. Once that happened, Merkel ceased giving public voice to her doubts about the military operation. The only one who continued to do so, no matter how isolated it made him seem, was Guido Westerwelle. In foreign policy, however, facts speak their own language. When rebels liberate a capital city, it must be obvious what that means, particularly in Berlin given the events of 1989. It means the dawning of a new age and it would be silly to assert at such a time that remaining on the sidelines had been a piece of diplomatic artistry."
"As an opposition leader prior to 2009, Westerwelle strengthened his party by insisting on the correctness of his worldview. Since then, that same insistence has weakened his party."
The business daily Handelsblatt writes:
"It become clear that there was a foreign policy vacuum within Merkel's government as early on as the disagreement over the proper timeline for an Afghanistan withdrawal between Westerwelle and former Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg -- Westerwelle wanted a concrete date, Guttenberg wanted it to depend on the security situation. The Libyan crisis has made it clear what the nature of this vacuum is: Germany wants to sit on the fence whenever possible and whenever it can find a national interest to free itself from defending the interests of the alliance. Relative to its allies ... this is a loss of historical dimensions. Only this loss of historical orientation can explain how, when it came to Libya, Berlin voted together with China and Russia instead of together with its NATO allies. Had Germany's allies joined it, the rebels would have been massacred in Benghazi."
Left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung writes:
"There is no reason to join those who are celebrating NATO's victory as heroic. It is a victory which comes with a price: Nobody knows if Libya will now sink into chaos and violence. NATO massively overstepped the mandate granted by the UN Security Council. That resolution authorized a no-fly zone, but NATO essentially bombed the Gadhafi regime into submission. How can the UN be trusted if the West, in the end, merely does what it finds expedient?"
"That is not, however, what Westerwelle has been saying. Instead, he is doing all he can to defend his far-sighted neutrality. It is difficult to say what is more embarrassing for him: his insistence on always having been right or his forced about-face culminating in his praise for NATO."
"It has never been clear what Westerwelle stood for as foreign minister. Now, his departure is being accelerated by the one idea that he had: skepticism of NATO missions. That is almost tragic."
-- Charles Hawley
Stay informed with our free news services:
|All news from SPIEGEL International||Twitter | RSS|
|All news from Germany section||RSS|
© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2011
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH