The World From Berlin Westerwelle 'Scapegoat for Woeful Foreign Policy'

With the future of unpopular Foreign Minister Westerwelle hanging in the balance, members of his Free Democrats have rushed to defend him. German newspapers on Tuesday weigh the implications of the credibility debate, with some saying blame for Germany's foreign policy mistakes has been misplaced.

Westerwelle's credibility is in question.

Westerwelle's credibility is in question.

The political future of embattled German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle remains uncertain as criticism of his Libya policy continues. With a closed meeting among top members of his business-friendly Free Democrats scheduled for Tuesday afternoon in Bergisch-Gladbach, speculation is growing over whether he will ask for a vote of confidence.

But members of his FDP, the junior coalition party in Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right government coalition, insisted on Tuesday that Westerwelle still enjoys their support. Health Minister Daniel Bahr told daily Westdeutsche Zeitung that calls for Westerwelle's resignation from the opposition were nothing more than a "tactical partisan debate." The foreign minister's decision to withhold Germany's vote on the United Nations Security Council's mandate for military action in Libya had been supported by both Social Democrat and parliamentary opposition leader Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Green Party parliamentary group leader Jürgen Trittin, he added.

Meanwhile FDP member and Minister of State in the Foreign Ministry, Cornelia Pieper, said that the entire government had backed Westerwelle's abstention. "Guido Westerwelle is and will remain the German Foreign Minister," she told daily Mitteldeutsche Zeitung. "He is a solid component of the FDP team, and he does his job exceptionally well."

Jürgen Koppelin, state leader for the FDP in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, blamed the media for the ongoing criticism, telling broadcaster Deutschlandfunk that Westerwelle had been treated unfairly. Rejecting military operations in Libya was right, he added.

Debate Rages On

Rumors that Westerwelle may ask for a vote of conference during Tuesday's meeting were rejected by party insiders, while FDP parliamentary group leader Rainer Brüderle told broadcaster ARD that Westerwelle could "very well" remain in office until the end of the legislative period. These comments came after Merkel threw her support behind Westerwelle on Monday, with her spokesman highlighting their "trusting relationship."

Westerwelle, who has called rumors about his resignation "complete fabrication," was already forced to resign as FDP leader in April due to declining opinion polls. But he has recently come under fire again for statements he made last week about Libya. The foreign minister outraged fellow politicians when he suggested that Germany's sanctions against dictator Moammar Gadhafi were a driving force behind the rebels' recent success in Libya, but ignored NATO's military operations in the country. Both new FDP leader Philipp Rösler and Chancellor Angela Merkel distanced themselves from his remarks.

There has been grumbling over Westerwelle's Libya policies since March, when he abstained from authorizing the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya in the UN Security Council. The move irritated Germany's allies. Berlin had since begun recalibrating its position on the conflict, but Westerwelle insisted on justifying his stance repeatedly until the weekend, when he acknowledged NATO's contribution to Tripoli's fall in an interview with daily Welt am Sonntag.

His comments came too late to stem the debate over his credibility, though, which continues unabated in German commentaries on Tuesday.

Conservative daily Die Welt writes:

"Of course it was laughable that after Tripoli fell Guido Westerwelle acted as though German sanction policies contributed, and forgot to mention who was really decisive in the fall of Moammar Gadhafi -- namely the Western allies that Berlin left standing out in the rain. But it is also stunning to see who dares to criticize him. Suddenly everyone is acting as though the intervention was a good idea and opened the way to democratization in Libya. But for most of these people this is nothing more than opportunistic false courage. Because many who are now speaking up so loudly held their tongues as the NATO allies chose to intervene and save Benghazi."

"But anyone who wouldn't take the risk of possibly being confounded by developments in Libya back then should at least have the decency to refrain from scolding Westerwelle now. His position is actually not an exception, but typical for a German foreign policy discourse that has lost touch with reality and carries increasingly populist tones. Ganging up on Westerwelle is not just nasty because it's kicking someone who is already down, but because he is also playing the scapegoat for the woeful state of a foreign policy debate for which he is in no way the only person responsible."

Financial daily Handelsblatt writes:

"It not a question of if, but when Westerwelle steps down -- before or after the next state elections. He is a liability in the FDP's fight for political survival. The pro-business party is suffering a radical decline in public confidence. That makes it all the more surprising, in a tactical sense, that the FDP believes it can still hold on to its burdensome foreign minister."

"Party leader Philipp Rösler has long since clearly distanced himself from his predecessor. When Rösler congratulated the NATO allies on their military action against Gadhafi, he was also turning away from Westerwelle's ministry concept and his diplomatic style … In light of the upcoming elections, there was nothing else to do. Going a step further would have meant the immediate fall of Westerwelle, with uncertain results for Rösler and his beleaguered ground troops. Embarrassing election results would have then been exclusively Rösler's problem. But this way he can pin them on Westerwelle -- and then bear the consequences."

Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel writes:

"(Westerwelle's) failure -- and that of Chancellor Angela Merkel -- is actually that they praised NATO for chasing the Libyan dictator out of Tripoli. Because they were exactly right to maintain their previous position, both with the abstention from the UN Security Council vote for NATO operations in Libya and in refraining from joining in on the victory rhetoric of the NATO nations taking part."

"NATO went too far in taking advantage of the UN mandate, clearly breaking it in the end … Despite all happiness that Gadhafi's dictatorship is history, the UN mandate did not allow taking sides like this."

"It is now clear that a historic chance was wasted. Because not just Germany abstained from voting for the UN resolution, but also Russia and China. By also refusing to use their veto on the decision, they indirectly backed the operation. Libya could have become a new precedent for international cooperation. But nothing will come of it now."

"Those who talk up a debacle in German politics and believe that Germany's reputation has been damaged in the world forget that the world is made up of many more countries than the main actors in Libya -- the US, France and Great Britain. Westerwelle did almost everything right. He just didn't know it."

Left-leaning daily Berliner Zeitung writes:

"Let's not talk about Guido Westerwelle and the other collateral victims of the Libya war. Let's talk about those who have to fear for their lives in more than just a figurative way. And let's talk about NATO, and how and who it is helping."

-- Kristen Allen

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