Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Joschka Fischer is a very understanding German. He has a solution for the Iran problem. He knows the problem is that we just won't negotiate with the Iranians. Really, we must understand them and reach out to the misunderstood mullahs.

His Washington Post op-ed seems so oddly familiar. Where have I heard this reasoning before?

Perhaps it is simply a little out of time. Let's fix it, shall we?

The German crisis is moving fast in an alarming direction. There can no longer be any reasonable doubt that Germany's ambition is to obtain offensive capabilities. At the heart of the issue lies the German regime's aspiration to become a hegemonic Aryan and regional power and thereby position itself at eye level with the world's most powerful nations. It is precisely this ambition that sets Germany apart from Italy: Whereas Italy seeks power to entrench its own African empire, Germany is aiming for regional dominance and more.

Germany is betting on revolutionary changes within the power structure of Europe to help it achieve its strategic goal. To this end, it makes use of Russia and the Russo-Polish conflict, as well as Sudetenland, Danzig, its influence in the Balkans and, above all, Austria. This combination of hegemonic aspirations, questioning of the regional status quo and panzer and luftwaffe programs is extremely dangerous.

Germany's acquisition of a panzer divisions and a tactical air force -- or even its ability to equip them -- would be interpreted by Poland as a fundamental threat to its existence, thereby compelling the Europeans, and France in particular, to take sides. Europe has not only historical moral obligations to Poland but also security interests that link it to the strategically vital Central Europe. Moreover, a panzer divison-equipped Germany would be perceived as a threat by its other neighbors, which would probably provoke a regional arms race and fuel regional volatility further. In short, a re-armed Germany would call Europe's fundamental security into question. To believe that Western Europe could keep out of this conflict is a dangerous illusion.

In this crisis, the stakes are high, which is why Britain and France began negotiations with Germany two years ago with the goal of persuading it to abandon its efforts to close the Versailles Treaty limitations. This initiative failed for two reasons. First, the European offer to open up technology and trade, including the peaceful use of panzer divisions, was disproportionate to Germany's fundamental fear of regime change on the one hand and its regional hegemonic aspirations and quest for global prestige on the other. Second, the disastrous Spanish Civil War has caused Germany's leaders to
conclude that the leading Western powers have been weakened to the point that they are dependent on Germany's goodwill and that high coal prices have made the West Europeans all the more wary of a serious confrontation.

The German regime's analysis may prove to be a dangerous miscalculation, because it is likely to lead sooner rather than later to a "hot" confrontation that Germany simply cannot win. After all, the issue at the heart of this conflict is this: Who dominates Central Europe -- Germany or the West? Germany's leaders underestimate the explosive nature of this issue for the West as a global alliance and thus for its own future.

Nor is the debate about the military option -- destruction of Germany's rearmament program through occupation of the Rhineland -- conducive to resolving the issue. Rather, it rings of a self-fulfilling prophecy. There is no guarantee that attempts to destroy Germany's blitzkrieg potential and thus its capability for an offensive breakout would succeed. Moreover, as a victim of foreign aggression, Germany's panzer division ambitions would be fully legitimized. Finally, a military attack on Germany would mark the beginning of a regional, and possibly global, military and terrorist escalation -- a nightmare for all concerned.

So what should be done? There remains a serious chance for a diplomatic solution if the United States, in cooperation with the Europeans and with the support of the League of Nations and the non-aligned states of the Little Entente, offers Germany a "grand bargain." In exchange for long-term suspension of panzer division formation, Germany and other states would gain access to research and technology within an internationally defined framework and under comprehensive supervision by the League. Full normalization of political and economic relations would follow, including binding security guarantees upon agreement of a regional security design.

The high price for refusing such a proposal has to be made absolutely clear to the German leadership: Should no agreement be reached, the West would do everything in its power to isolate Germany economically, financially, technologically and diplomatically, with the full support of the international community. Germany's alternatives should be no less than recognition and security or total isolation.

Presenting Germany with these alternatives presupposes that the West does not fear rising coal and beer prices. Indeed, the two other options -- Germany's emergence as a panzer and luftwaffe-equipped power or the use of military force to prevent this -- would, in addition to all the other horrible consequences, increase coal and beer prices. Everything speaks in favor of playing the economic-financial and technology card vis-à-vis Germany.

Knowledge of the potentially horrible consequences of a military confrontation and of the equally horrific consequences of German possession of the air-supported panzer division must force the United States to abandon their policy of no direct negotiations and its hope for regime change. It is not enough for the Europeans to act while the Americans continue to look on as the diplomatic initiatives unfold, partaking in discussion only behind the scenes and ultimately letting the Europeans do what they will. The Roosevelt administration must lead the Western initiative in harmonized, direct negotiations with Germany, and, if these negotiations succeed, the United States must also be willing to agree to appropriate guarantees. In this confrontation, international credibility and legitimacy will be the deciding factors, and ensuring them will require farsighted and cool, calculated American leadership.

An offer of a "grand bargain" would unite the international community and present Germany with a convincing alternative. Were Germany to accept, its suspension of panzer divisions and warplanes in its Krupp factories while negotiations are ongoing would be the litmus test of its sincerity. Were Germany to refuse the offer or fail to honor its obligations, it would totally isolate itself internationally and provide emphatic legitimization to further measures. Neither France nor Britain could avoid showing solidarity within the League.

But such an initiative can succeed only if the American administration assumes leadership among the Western nations and sits down at the negotiating table with Germany. Even then, the international community would not have long to act. As all sides must be aware, time is running out for a diplomatic solution.

Ah, now it sounds more appropriate! Far more in tune with the time for which it was written.

And Fischer was the German foreign minister and vice chancellor! Of a nation that once shook the world, but which now shakes in fear at a third-rate nutcase who wants nuclear weapons--and to finish the work of Fischer's grandfathers, to top it off. How in the world did we tame the Germans so thoroughly?

Time is indeed running out for a diplomatic solution with Iran. But not, as history records, for a try at a final solution.

Too bad nobody tried Fischer's approach back in 1939. Might have stopped that Nazi threat cold, eh?