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German Gollum: My Precious Foreign Policy

by Saturday Thu Jan 12th, 2006 at 10:37:07 AM EST

Promoted by Colman

At the moment, I am wondering just who makes German foreign policy. Moreover, I wonder what German foreign policy actually is: Today the newspaper editorials celebrate Angela Merkel for continuing Schröder's Bush-criticism. At the same time, the TV program Panorama (part of the public TV channel ARD) and the Süddeutsche Zeitung uncover the secret collaboration of members of the German Federal Intelligence Agency (BND) with the US Army during the war in Iraq.

It is becoming clear now that the red-green government had a Janus face concerning the "war on terror": Critique on the top political level, but cooperation on the bureaucratic and intelligence level. I am wondering if this Janus face continues to exist.


Today Chancellor Merkel pays her inaugural visit to Washington. She will meet President Bush there and talk with him for as long as three hours, as many publications were eager to point out. She has announced to bring up the Guantanamo issue and said that the camp "can not exist in the long term as it does now". This was quite a coup because nobody expected her to be that resolute. Domestic opinion cheered and interpreted the quote as a demand for closing Guantanamo. An overinterpretation that suits Merkel fine: She did not say much that could hurt diplomatically, but with great effect at home.

But still, I am tempted to view her statement as a good sign for critical and responsible trans-atlantic relations under Merkel. In the last diary on this issue a few days ago, Merkel's real stance on the war on terror, Guantanamo and her relation to the Bush administration were discussed. I would like to point to today's editorial in the Süddeutsche Zeitung by Nico Fried who supports the view that Merkel's former unambiguous pro-Bush positions had tactical reasons:

Angela Merkel learned management of German-American relations under Helmut Kohl. After her political patricide that put her at the top of the CDU, she seems to have felt obliged to be especially faithful to Washington because of her East-German background. This way she hoped to gain foreign policy credit within her party. This burden of proof maneuvered her into one of the biggest political faults of her career.

So much for the "Slinker" part of German WoT-policy. Who would not like good-old Smeagol?

But there is also a nasty "Stinker" who keeps showing up now and then. Fortunately, there are some critical media who take the role of Sam Gamgee. From Spiegel Online (English):

But according to new revelations about the activities of Germany's intelligence service Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), the country was not nearly so removed from the US-led war efforts as Schröder liked to claim. German intelligence agents, according to reports in both the Süddeutsche Zeitung and in German public television, were active in Iraq during the entire war and even helped the United States choose bombing targets. BND spooks may even have delivered targeting assistance for the early April 2003 bombing in the wealthy Mansour district of Baghdad -- a strike which was meant to vaporize Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein along with several top members of his regime. The attack left between 12 and 19 people dead -- but not Saddam. (...)

ARD quotes an American source, identified as a "former Pentagon employee," as saying that the German help was "very important" for the American offensive. The source went on to say that the BND provided "direct assistance in choosing targets." (...)

The most dramatic example of such direct assistance may well have been the April 7, 2003 attempt on Saddam. According to ARD's Pentagon source, US intelligence received a tip that morning of a column of black Mercedes limousines near a restaurant often frequented by Saddam and other government leaders. It was thought that Saddam might be among the passengers. But how to verify the report? According to the Pentagon source, US officials called up German intelligence and asked them to have their agents do a drive-by of the restaurant. The German agents in Baghdad confirmed the existence of a convoy of armored vehicles outside the restaurant. Not long afterwards, four satellite-guided bombs obliterated the site.

According to Panorama, one of the BND agents was even decorated with a US army medal or received some other reward.

Many people who were then responsible for overseeing and co-ordinating BND activities remained in high ranks within the government or even moved up in the new administrations: Foreign minister Frank Walter Steinmeier was then chief of the chancellor's office and responsible for overseeing the BND; the former intellgence co-ordinator for the federal government, August Hanning, now is state secretary in the Ministry of Interior.

Would the real German foreign policy please stand up?

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If you saw Bush as Frodo, the roles of Slinker and Stinker would, of course, change.
by Saturday (geckes(at)gmx.net) on Thu Jan 12th, 2006 at 09:40:16 AM EST
>At the moment, I am wondering just who makes German foreign policy.

a)
http://tinyurl.com/8q5cx

b)
http://tinyurl.com/9jjw4

c)
http://tinyurl.com/abmeq

perhaps not so unrelated: have you ever wondered why schroeder and fischer were in such a hurry to get out ?

by name (name@spammez_moi_sivouplait.org) on Thu Jan 12th, 2006 at 09:52:12 AM EST
You mean out of office?

Now, that's what I would call a conspiracy theory. Schröder and Fischer gave up because they had lost about a dozen regional elections before and had become incapable of action after the North Rhine Westphalia elections.

by Saturday (geckes(at)gmx.net) on Thu Jan 12th, 2006 at 10:56:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don´t subscribe to that particular conspiracy theory myself. But new federal elections because of lost state elections?

To my knowledge, no other federal government in the past decades "gave up" because they lost state elections. And it happened to almost every government IIRC. A  political majority on the federal level was almost inevitably countered by opposition parties majorities on the state level. Remember Schmidt or Kohl?

If you´re saying that losing North Rhine Westphalia was a shock for the Social Democrats, then I´d agree. Meaning that it probably meant trouble for Schroeder from his own party (without the sudden new election announcement).

by Detlef (Detlef1961_at_yahoo_dot_de) on Thu Jan 12th, 2006 at 01:27:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Schroeder did not "give up" after NRW. He only failed to snatch reappointment as Chancellor out of the jaws of defeat by the skin of said jaws' teeth.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jan 12th, 2006 at 01:30:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Great diary. At the end, also another sickening example of the US method of choosing targets.

Saturday, a request (but any other German reader may take it up too): would you write a diary about the repercussions of the Osthoff case? To me it seems a government-directed (or at least BND-directed) campaign is on against her, using leaks and such, and I don't completely understand for what reason.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Jan 12th, 2006 at 10:21:27 AM EST
Can do so, but not before Sat/Sun. If anyone else is able to do it now, I would also appreciate it.

Osthoff is sort of an ambiguous figure. Her reputation in the mass media is not very good right now -- a thoughtful analysis on the role of the Foreign Office, BND, mass media and Osthoff herself is required indeed.

by Saturday (geckes(at)gmx.net) on Thu Jan 12th, 2006 at 10:52:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Didn't I read that Osthoff was actually in the employ of the BND?

Dialog International
by DowneastDem (david.vickrey (at) post.harvard.edu) on Thu Jan 12th, 2006 at 11:44:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There was a report, but nothing surfaced to substantiate or refute the allegation, though that might have been to media disinterest. At any rate the story faded.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman
by dvx (dvx.clt št gmail dotcom) on Thu Jan 12th, 2006 at 12:35:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Here is the story from UPI:
The Lady Was a Spy

Dialog International
by DowneastDem (david.vickrey (at) post.harvard.edu) on Thu Jan 12th, 2006 at 12:39:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The more detailed story was that the BND asked her for assessments. The story stank to me - why and who would leak this? It appears like another move to discredit her in the public for some reason.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Jan 12th, 2006 at 01:19:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I can't find an English source (in fact, I can't even find a Dutch source!), but Dutch minister of Defense Kamp just pitched in today on radio, practically saying the same thing as Merkel. In the light of the heated discussion about the Dutch contribution to a NATO mission, this is pretty intriguing.
by Nomad on Thu Jan 12th, 2006 at 11:08:30 AM EST
If Steinmeier was involved, he must of left then-foreign minister Joschka Fischer out of the loop. Joshka is saying that he is "horrified" at the report.

Dialog International
by DowneastDem (david.vickrey (at) post.harvard.edu) on Thu Jan 12th, 2006 at 11:43:07 AM EST
and Joschka never heard about Khaleed el-Masri and Murat Kurnaz too. Or if he did, he didn´t seem to be very interested.

Mind you, I´m not saying that Fischer knew anything about this BND involvement, assuming the reports are true. I´m just saying that denials alone aren´t enough any longer.

by Detlef (Detlef1961_at_yahoo_dot_de) on Thu Jan 12th, 2006 at 01:39:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The CIA prison scandal showed that all European governments were either complicit or incompetent.

Which ministry does the BND depend on? Defence? Was Fischer out of the loop like Powell was in the US?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jan 12th, 2006 at 01:43:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The BND reports directly to the "Bundeskanzleramt", the office of the German chancellor. It doesn´t depend on any ministry, its boss is the "Chef des Bundeskanzleramtes" (chief of staff ?).

That would have been Steinmeier back then, today the Foreign Minister.

And Fischer out of the loop?
It is possible I suppose. But normally such sensitive decisions would have been discussed in the "Bundessicherheitsrat" (kind of National Security Council consisting of the chancellor, important ministers - like foreign, defense and domestic - and intelligence services).

It´s difficult to believe that he knew nothing.
Especially since Fischer was also the Vice-Chancellor and the "big guy" in the smaller government coalition party.

(As an aside, IIRC the old "Bundessicherheitsrat" including Fischer in one of its last meetings also agreed to deliver two additional submarines to Israel back in 2005. The "Greens" were furious when that decision became public. I´m not saying that this was right or wrong, I´m only mentioning this to illustrate that Fischer obviously didn´t feel bound by "official" Green party statements.)

by Detlef (Detlef1961_at_yahoo_dot_de) on Thu Jan 12th, 2006 at 02:15:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Agreed on the more general point in the last paragraph, and there was the Hanau plutonium factory sale to China too - IIRC Fischer consented to that too.

On the other hand, there was a history of Schröder Allengänge when Fischer was left out of the loop, but didn't show his anger in public. The only example where I said hurrah for Schröder was just the total (public) opposition to the Iraq war, when Fischer was still in realpolitik mode. A less fortunate event was when the Kanzleramt leaked the Franco German strenghtened UN inspections plan to DER SPIEGEL, effectively sinking it and angering the French.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Jan 12th, 2006 at 02:31:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As I said, it is possible that Fischer was left out of the loop.

I´m just not sure that he was left out of the loop in this incident. Assuming that it´s true, it definitely had the potential to totally destroy the government coalition.

By the way, I should also mention that German TV interviews this evening show German government officals (and spokesmen for the intelligence services) saying that the two BND officers only reported about possible American targets which shouldn´t be attacked like hospitals or embassies or so. :)

Right now, I don´t know enough...

By the way, if you want a new conspiracy theory...:)
A German TV reporter ("ZDF", a public TV channel) was wondering why those anonymous American sources surfaced now. A day before Merkel arrived in Washington. He speculated that it might be a try to weaken Foreign Minister Steinmeier, seen as a guy from the former Schroeder government. And at the same time strengthen Merkel.

Personally I would disregard that speculation. It might weaken Steinmeier but it certainly wouldn´t help getting more support in Iraq from the current German government. However, given the US administration record, I can´t totally dismiss that "theory". Certainly the Bush administration seems to be remarkably clueless about foreign countries.

by Detlef (Detlef1961_at_yahoo_dot_de) on Thu Jan 12th, 2006 at 03:19:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't know about al-Masri, but Joschka did get involved in the Kurnaz case.  See this article in taz:
http://www.taz.de/pt/2005/12/19/a0268.1/text

Dialog International
by DowneastDem (david.vickrey (at) post.harvard.edu) on Thu Jan 12th, 2006 at 02:09:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That´s new to me. And good to know!

That seems to indicate that Joschka was an advocate of "quiet/silent" diplomacy in such cases. Difficult to say in hindsight if that is/was the best choice. Maybe yes, because the Bush administration seemingly doesn´t like to be seen as caving in to "wimpy European" pressure.

by Detlef (Detlef1961_at_yahoo_dot_de) on Thu Jan 12th, 2006 at 02:25:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
According to your own blog:

"...it was revealed for the first time that German authorities may have been involved in the interrogation of Murat Kurnaz in Guantanamo [September 2002].  At the very least, there are suspicions that German intelligence may have delivered information to the CIA concerning Kurnaz:"

That might be an indication that Joschka Fischer was completely clueless in this case.
If not it might be an indication that he didn´t object to interrogations...

I simply don´t know what to believe right now.

(See above. He was definitely a member of the "Bundessicherheitsrat", the German National Security Council. That´s the inner circle of the German government. He knew about the sellings of additional submarines to Israel and the sellings of a plutonium factory to China. But he didn´t know anything about what German intelligence services did? That´s hard to believe.)

It is possible but I´d like more evidence of him being "out of the loop".

by Detlef (Detlef1961_at_yahoo_dot_de) on Thu Jan 12th, 2006 at 03:59:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
With respect to BND participation in these "interrogations", I believe Schily was the culprit (not sure why I keep defending Joschka, guess I have a soft spot for him).

Dialog International
by DowneastDem (david.vickrey (at) post.harvard.edu) on Thu Jan 12th, 2006 at 05:16:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The only surprising thing about this is that there are still people who think that Germany, Italy, France, Poland, etc. are NOT involved with recent geopolitical events.
by asdf on Sat Jan 14th, 2006 at 11:58:27 AM EST


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