Opinion Those Who Wage War Should Call it War

In approving the deployment of Tornado jets to Afghanistan, but only for reconnaissance purposes, the German cabinet has revealed the full extent of Germany's schizophrenic Afghanistan policy. This double game has to stop. The chancellor should finally say it like it is: Germany is at war.

By Claus Christian Malzahn

Is Germany at War?

Is Germany at War?

The German government approved the deployment of Tornado jets to Afghanistan on Wednesday. "Are we now at war?" the tabloid Bild wrote, clearly hedging its bets. German Chancellor Angela Merkel should be honest enough to answer this question with a clear "Yes." While she's at it, she should add that this has been the case for the last five years.

German troops have been stationed in Afghanistan for the past five years to lend support to the government in Kabul. In the first few years following the fall of the brutal Taliban regime, Afghanistan experienced advances in democratization and the development of a civil society, but now those developments have stagnated. In fact, some of the territory captured by the government has been lost once again. The Taliban is advancing toward Kabul and is once again imposing its reign of terror on entire provinces. Opium production is rampant, and the warlords have regained some of their influence. It's been five years since the Petersberg Conference in Bonn, where an international reconstruction plan was approved for Afghanistan, and yet the country remains neither pacified nor democratized, nor has the Taliban been defeated.

US bashing is considered acceptable here in Germany

But anyone who believed that Afghanistan could quickly return to peace and stability after two decades of war was naïve. Unfortunately Afghanistan's future is not just being decided in universities and schools, but also on the battlefield. Nevertheless, here in Germany it is considered acceptable to lay the blame for the country's problems on the actions of the United States government. Many choose to paint Germany's military involvement as a peacekeeping mission while characterizing American activities as hostile warfare. This view of reality in Afghanistan is deceitful and politically schizophrenic.

The German debate over the Afghanistan mission, culminating most recently in the government's bean-counting over the deployment of Tornado jets, is marked by self-deception on the domestic political front and a belief in fairy tales when it comes to foreign policy. After all, the Germany military, the Bundeswehr, and US and Canadian troops face the same adversaries in Kandahar. Unlike NATO, which, partly as a result of Germany's hesitation, has failed to develop a convincing concept for Afghanistan, the Taliban has a clear objective: It wants to regain power. While the West has imposed a pointless separation between the military mandates of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Operation Enduring Freedom, the Islamist fighters benefit from both a clear military structure and an equally clear mission. Their goal, put simply, is to fight and drive out the Western armies and topple the government in Kabul. The Taliban longs to reestablish a country without girls' schools and music, without individual freedoms and without democratic rights. This helps to explain the clear and interdependent relationship between the "good" ISAF and the "bad" Operation Enduring Freedom. If the Taliban manages to defeat the Americans in the south, the Bundeswehr might as well close up shop at its soup kitchens in Kabul.

Racism masquerading as folklore

The reserved stance toward the Afghanistan mission ranges across the political spectrum in Germany. It is a bitter reality that many Germans on the left couldn’t care less that innocent people could be hanged in football stadiums in Kabul in the near future, or that a religious party could be measuring the lengths of men's beards and barring women from walking alone on the street. This mood points out the shortcomings of a political movement that once defined itself with the rhetoric of international solidarity. But the same indifference is also widespread among conservatives, despite their commitment to the concept of "Westbindung" (Germany's traditional integration into Europe and the Western world). The perception among many of Germany's conservatives is that Afghans are Afghans, and waging war just happens to be in their blood. The best approach, in their view, is to let the Afghans sort out their own problems. Such assessments are nothing but racism masquerading as folklore.

This explains why the military conflict with the Taliban, which is expected to reach a high point this spring in southern Afghanistan, isn't exactly one of this administration's favorite topics. Instead, it prefers to focus on success stories from Kabul -- reports of the Bundeswehr's excellent efforts in building yet another well or school or street. This civilian deployment of Germany's military is certainly praiseworthy. But it is only possible because Americans and Canadians are preventing the Taliban in the south and in the region bordering Pakistan from marching into Kabul and the north -- and encountering the Bundeswehr in the process.

Greens deny responsibility

The Greens, who, as the Social Democrats' coalition partner in the previous administration, were part of the decision to send the Bundeswehr to Afghanistan in 2001, recently voted unanimously against extending the Bundeswehr's Enduring Freedom mandate. One of the party's chief criticisms was of the US military's strategy to fight the Taliban army from the air. This approach does in fact result in recurring civilian casualties.

But the alternative to these airborne campaigns would be to reinforce ground troops. Naturally, this is an option the critics of the administration's decision to send Tornado jets to Afghanistan are unprepared to accept, because ground-based deployment would almost certainly lead to troop casualties. That happens in war. But the powers that be in Berlin simply behave as if one could conduct a war with virtually no losses and with companies of peacekeeping troops. The fact that the Greens, who were in favor of the mission in Afghanistan in the first place, are now denying political responsibility five years down the road -- a responsibility not only to our allies, but also to the Afghan people, especially women and girls -- is especially pitiful.

These evasive maneuvers are not just being performed by the party of former Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, but also within the ranks of the ruling coalition. To justify Germany's military mission in Afghanistan, former Defense Minister Peter Struck once said: "Our freedom is also being defended in the Hindukush region." Merkel can hardly be expected to repeat his words, despite today's decision to lend a little assistance to Germany's allies in the South.

Claus Christian Malzahn is SPIEGEL ONLINE's Berlin bureau chief.


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