October 19, 2005

Did the Posse Round Up Angela Merkel?

By Chet Richards


As late as Sept. 1, Dr. Angela Merkel, the leader of Germany’s main center-right party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), was entertaining potential coalition partners and contemplating new color schemes for the chancellor’s office in Berlin. With a double digit advantage in the polls, and running against a rival whose economic policies were untarnished by success, illustrated by a persistent 20 percent unemployment rate in the states of the old East Germany, the only question seemed to be how high her margin of victory could go.

On Sunday, Sept. 18, the German electorate answered: less than 1 percent. Among the many reasons for her near-collapse, Merkel must also count the possibility that voters looked at her and saw George W. Bush. Her economic policies, in particular, had a distinctive made-in-the-U.S.A. look, featuring an increase in the regressive VAT sales tax combined with measures to restrict the bargaining power of labor.

Raising taxes might have been forgivable – voters sometimes appreciate candor in their politicians, especially when confronted with problems as severe as Germany’s. But then Katrina hit New Orleans, and suddenly the American model looked much less attractive. London’s Economist magazine, considered somewhat conservative and pro-American, ran a cover the next week that summed up European attitudes: “America’s Shame” emblazoned over an evacuee in the Superdome. The more recent and badly stalled evacuation from Houston for Hurricane Rita did not improve the picture, literally or figuratively.

It was embarrassing to be sure, but few Londoners vote in American elections. Is this anything for the United States to worry about? It is. The tragedy of Iraq aside, the United States is in a struggle with forces that, if left unchecked, could be as damaging to its way of life as anything envisioned by Hitler or Stalin. In addition to al-Qaida and its kin in Islamic extremism, the United States faces challenges to democracy and the rule of law from a host of transnational organizations ranging from the now-quaint Mafia, to narco-trafficking cartels, to emerging international street gangs such as MS 13. Instead of insurgency confined to one country, like the Viet Cong, the United States is encountering the vanguard of “global guerrillas” – a label coined by author and defense analyst John Robb and tracked on his blog of that name.

If this were a military contest, a real “war on terrorism,” the United States could just tell the Europeans to bugger off, which, come to think of it, is what the administration did. It is not an ordinary war, however. As the distinguished Scottish historian, Gerard DeGroot, once wrote of Vietnam, the more force we used, the greater the political appeal of the insurgency, “and the more remote victory became.” So it is in the struggle today.

To win, the United States needs the willing cooperation of its allies. It needs the help of allies in areas where it is weak, such as intelligence and police resources in countries where Europeans once were masters and still have influence. The United States needs their counsel on how to arrange the end of regimes that harbor virulent anti-Western groups that may be planning attacks. Washington will need their assistance to maintain the isolation of such regimes, or to tell the United States when isolation is not going to work. And to suggest something that will. Most important, the administration needs to bring us all back to Sept. 12, 2001, when the left-wing French daily Le Monde proclaimed that “We Are All Americans.”

Why would the Europeans identify with the cause of the United States again? Cynics would say only if it met the political calculations of the “ruling elites.” This may work for the short term, but for a decades-long struggle, the people within countries that are U.S. allies must be on the side of the United States, or the elites that support the administration will not stay elite for long. “Team Democracy” needs a captain, not a boss. If the United States wants that role, then it must showcase the virtues of democracy by living them at home.

One can understand the allies’ doubts. When the United States proposes repealing the Posse Comitatus Act, as the Wall Street Journal did on Sept. 6 and the President shortly thereafter, and using our military as domestic police, allies must wonder what is happening to American democracy. In addition to opening the way for martial law, it’s a really bad idea. No military used as police has profited from experience: police protect citizens, who are innocent until proven guilty; the military fight enemy soldiers, who are guilty by definition. The police mindset could be fatal to a soldier, and conversely. Europeans from the East, as well as citizens of new democracies elsewhere, remember what life was like when governments sent tanks and bayonets against their own citizens. They must be astounded that the United States has forgotten.

As German voters watched Angela Merkel in the final days of the campaign, one has to wonder if her visage merged with images of the Superdome and New Orleans and the president explaining away the failures of FEMA and Homeland Security. Perhaps it wasn’t the vision that a near majority of them wanted for their country.

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Chester W. Richards, Ph.D., is a retired intelligence analyst and Air Force Colonel. He is the author of A Swift, Elusive Sword and of a new monograph on fourth generation warfare to be released by the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information in Washington, D.C., this fall.

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