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It can be unwise to mistake a feline growl for a feline purr, not only in the wilds. The unusual sounds of German leaders’ transformation from highly carnivorous beasts of prey, out to gut poverty-stricken people in Greece, into gentle pussycats full of love for the fleeing men, women and children braving Mediterranean dangers to reach European havens – have unfortunately lost many harmonious tones. Lions of a vegan persuasion are frequent in Renaissance paintings of the Garden of Eden, but less likely in Eden’s follow-up areas – Iraq, Turkey, Syria.
Angela Merkel’s reasons for originally welcoming all immigrants is still debated; one suggestion, diverging from her Christian family background or East German internationalism, points to the huge increase in potential employees in industry and the professions which can weaken unions and limit wage and benefit demands– recalling Mexican braceros policy translated into German and Arabic. Another explanation is also discussed; the joint endeavor of western nations, Turkey and the Gulf monarchies, like a pride of lions out to fell Assad in Syria. With so many young men, technicians and professionals departing, it may have been hoped, his government could not survive. And that, after all, was the basic cause of more than four years of war in that broken country.
But slowly, but a bit quicker after the Paris killings, a fear of Daesh (or IS or ISIS) seemed to cool some anti-Assad ardor. A realization that the Syrian government and its armed forces are needed to eradicate Daesh, especially now that Assad has Russian support, led to moves towards coordination at two Vienna meetings. It seemed that plans to oust Assad and set up a docile new government amenable to the USA and “the West” might be at least postponed.
Not everyone thinks that way. Cameron, hours after the MP vote, sent UK planes roaring eastward. Germany’s Defense Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, insisted that “there will be no cooperation with Assad and no cooperation with Assad’s troops“. While hatred for Assad impels such leaders to cut off their noses to spite their faces and defy international rules against uninvited invasions, they somehow blink mildly at a far bloodier emir and king in Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The latter executed at least 175 people in the past year, many underage, almost half foreigners, often Southeast Asian women defending themselves against brutal employers, and mostly with public beheadings. Both have long been arming terrorists in the entire region and are now destroying Yemen. Yet somehow that did not prevent huge, lucrative weapons sales to both – while attacking Assad.
The crisis in Turkish-Russian relations now boiling up has turned from the shooting of a plane and its parachuting crew to the larger question of Turkish support for Daesh. On November 16th US planes destroyed 116 oil trucks out of a thousand used to gain the millions which finance Daesh, and a quick look at a map gives a hint as to how and where that oil gets through to world markets. Erdogan denies everything, of course. Ironically the US planes were based in Turkey.
Just as ironically, Angela paid a fancy state visit to Turkey in October, bolstering Erdogan’s hand in winning a tragically blood-besmirched election, and in November in Brussels she responded to the Turkish prime minister’s twisted grin with her own motherly smile – and a promise of many billions if he saw to it that the wave of refugees sailing daily from Turkey to Europe was slowed or stopped. Other goodies were also offered, like new hopes for Turkey’s long-sought membership in the European Union. Was it audacious to wonder whether Turkey might easily have stopped the giant flow long ago – but had waited for just such a deal? If so – what did Merkel know?
That was all speculation. What is now very certain is that Minister Ursula von der Leyen, whose cool, careful words hide a very leonine growl, will now get fulfilment of her heartfelt wish. After the Bundestag votes approval on Friday she will deploy, for use in Syria, six Tornado reconnaissance jets, a refueling plane and a frigate, 1200 uniformed men and women and an initial 134 million euros. This has no OK from the UN but seen simply as European Union support for France’s “right to self-defense” and because “the IS is a threat to world peace and international security”. Germany is constitutionally barred from foreign missions but that never bothered anyone in the government, at least not since criticism from the GDR was conclusively dealt with. 650 more German soldiers will also be sent to Mali, this time into conflict areas – again presumably to support France’s “right to self-defense”. Germany’s rulers, in coalition armchairs or skulking in lobbies behind them, are very determined to expand political, economic and military power, not just in Europe but to far distant shores as well.
On this side of the Atlantic a vote on such a deployment is still necessary. The Bundestag will approve; Merkel’s ruling coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD) is all in favor (despite doubts by some leftward-leaning Young Socialists (“Jusos”), whose views are customarily disregarded).
The opposition is too small to halt the decision, though much of public opinion is against it. The LINKE will vote “Nay”. One spokesperson declared that military involvement had always worsened such situations – in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. “The real motivation is not solidarity with France but a desire for German power in the world… This policy could wreck everything achieved diplomatically at the Vienna meetings toward reaching an armistice– and thus strengthen the IS. “
How will the Greens vote? As possible government coalition partners after 2017 this could be important. Some oppose sending Tornado jets and frigate without UN backing. Others, because “no clear goal is apparent”. Still others, despite von der Leyen, still fear any cooperation with Assad, whom, above all else, they want to overthrow. Thus the Green vote, like the party, may well be split.
Not only the Greens are split. Aside from the jets to Syria issue, refugee problems are still tearing the country apart. Indeed, even Merkel faced a first whiff of possible mutiny after years of staunch obedience (or speedy ousters). She and her party have been losing ground in the polls and her own Interior Minister, Thomas de Maiziere, voiced clear, sharp defiance from the right, demanding far stricter treatment of refugees despite all her proclamations. He was briefly joined by her powerful Finance Minister, Schäuble, the crafty wizard hated by so many Europeans but liked by so many Germans, and by the head of the Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, and its ever-smiling, poniard-wielding leader Horst Seehofer. For the first time, nearly half of the polled public said it did not want “Mutti” (Mommy) Merkel to get a fourth term in 2017. She then backed down on her welcome words of greeting; tougher rules for refugees were agreed upon. Those from “safe, conflict-free countries” will be sent home, wives and children must wait two years to be fetched, German language lessons must be paid for out of meager pocket money, much will be tightened.
Some communities and countless volunteers have been doing a heroic job, helping to feed, clothe and house the huge wave of immigrants, perhaps a million in Germany this year. But some officials, as in Berlin, whether due to inability, bureaucratic red-tape or possible hopes to frighten further immigrants away, have seemed heartless; conditions have often been tragic, with families spending cold, wet nights outdoors and thousands cooped into gyms or the giant former Tempelhof airport, mattress next to mattress, with no privacy, no proper water or decent toilets and little or nothing to do for weeks until they are processed, with resultant irritation and some quarrels among the varied nationalities.
Hate groups have been quick to jump on the problems and difficulties, spreading nasty lies about rape and crime and recruiting for their organizations. Violent attacks on refugee housing and on refugees are more and more numerous – and not always opposed by the police. Most alarming is the rapid growth of the Alternative for Germany (AfD), the far-right party which first stressed opposition to the European Union but now concentrates on “invading foreigners”, most especially Muslims. It is steadily moving up in the polls, winning support from disgruntled voters, even some who hitherto voiced their protest by voting for the LINKE. It already teeters close to 10 %, in the same range as the LINKE and the Greens, and will almost certainly get into the Bundestag in 2017. The other parties ostracize it; will the Christian Democrats keep to that policy if they need a partner? In many ways the AfD resembles strong far-right parties threatening France, Austria, even Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands.
Some dangerous bombs from the last century are still found in Germany; they must be defused. This applies equally to dangerous ideas, now less against Jews but most alarmingly against Muslims. The ravenous beasts spreading them increasingly endanger everyone.