Smoke Signals

No matter where I look, there are pictures of smoke coming at me from my computer screen. Whether it's from Fukushima's damaged nuclear power plant or from Libya, where Western allies continue to bomb Gadaffi targets.

In a very short period of time, I have gone from nodding my head at German leadership in reaction to these two major incidents to shaking it in confusion.

As a result of the Japanese nuclear plant being damaged, Angela Merkel and her partners shut down seven of Germany's oldest nuclear power plants last week pending safety inspections. The move came across as shady, because Merkel's party, only a couple of months ago, signed off on extending operation of those very plants. Many, including the opposition, say it was only a political move to gain votes before three big elections. (She was given a proper grilling in the parliament last week).

Either way, it shows that Germans really, really hate nuclear energy and that securing votes (regardless of party) means stepping away from nuclear power and becoming serious about renewable energy technology. This made me nod my head in approval. The serious attention to the environment and faith in renewables, is definitely one of the aspects I like best about Germany.

But then my head stopped nodding and began shaking, (not vigorously but there was a definite subtle side to side movement going on). Just barely a couple months on the United Nations Security Council and Germany doesn't support a coalition effort to stop Gadaffi from butchering his people? I understand the commitment to pacifism, no country grasps the consequences of initiating conflict like Germany does. But this is about stopping a tyrant from systematically killing his citizens as they fight for democratic change. Or so I thought. With each day, I must admit, I grow more doubtful. (22.3)

Germany's pacifism, in light of its history, can be admired. This, too, is something I like about Germany. But in this particular case, in which a dictator is murdering his opponents, I am truly baffled, precisely because of Germany's history.


Daniel said...

Germany's abstention in the security council has nothing to do with its history. Germany being at war in Afghanistan is really unpopular, because it seems to achieve nothing, especially after the NATO retrieves again.
Merkel even supported the war in Irak and said, Germany should participate. So I don't believe for a second, that this decision is about pacifism.

I'm not sure though, that we should intervene, at least, if a few bombs won't do it. If the NATO occupies the country, there has to be a opposition, that is really strong and democratic enough, to take over the country. Otherwise, we are stuck with just an other useless war. A scrupulous dictator alone can't be a reason, to go to war. There are just too many of those.

Maya M said...

Rose-Anne, have you any explanation for the official German position on Libya?
Some people here point to the coming elections, and indeed this seems to me the only possible reason. Indeed, most ordinary Germans may now support intervention in Libya, but we have seen how easily this opinion can change...
Anyway, to preach non-action when a crazy dictator is killing his people - I find this outrageous and very, very racist.

currentsbetweenshores said...

Afghanistan, waste of time. Iraq, complete BS. (don't recall Germany supporting Iraq?)

But this situation is entirely different. How many Libyans would have to die to justify an intervention? I tend to take the pacifist angle but I really don't see an alternative here?

"A scrupulous dictator alone can't be a reason, to go to war. " Ohh, the irony. . .

Maya M said...

To Daniel: I am glad that the Allies in 1939 declared war to Germany without caring whether it had strong and democratic opposition or not.
You are right that there are still too many unscrupulous dictators on Earth - but why miss such a good opportunity to diminish their number by one?
People have found the courage to rise up against such a dictator, have tasted freedom for first time in their lives, now waive hands for help like hurricain or tsunami survivors and we tell them - no, a war to help you would be a useless war, you are not democratic enough.
Of course they are not. How on Earth could they learn democracy? How do you learn swimming on dry land?
Mohammed Nabbous was shot dead as he was reporting from Benghazi to expose Qaddafi's violation of the ceasefire, and we tell his pregnant widow - your husband died in vain, we do not care whether Qaddafi keeps his word or not, we are comfortable with him anyway...

Daniel said...

@Maya I've just read this (german) article: (http://blog.zeit.de/ladurnerulrich/2011/03/21/kopflos-in-den-krieg/)
and I feel, that it supports my suspicions. We have no idea, who these rebels are, and it could be a grave mistake, to compare them to the peaceful protesters in Egypt or Tunesia. They could just as well be another Taliban in the making.
A war in that situation will very likely just kill more people and replace one regime with another. Personally, I wouldn't be willing, to die for that, why should I ask our soldiers then, to do it?

I'm thankful, that the USA went to war against Nazi Germany, and that they made sure, that we could rebuilt the country afterwards.
But Germany had been a democracy before, it had democratic parties, and most importantly, it was a state hold together by more than its dictator. There was no way, that Germany would end up in tribal wars like Afghanistan. Last but not least, the USA went to war, to stop Germany from taking over the rest of Europe, not to bring us democracy. I'm not even sure the, Shoa alone would have been enough for the USA to get involved.

sunmoonocean said...

...."But this is about stopping a tyrant from systematically killing his citizens as they fight for democratic change." how much are we sure about that? Here we speak English, read English and all reports we listen to is in English. The value, the "logic" of understanding, the perception are probably all in English (Westen) ways. Of course we don´t question more here because it all happens within the familiar world. I wish I understood Arabic now!

At the momment I can´t agree more with Daniel.

currentsbetweenshores said...

Of course we could have it all wrong and sunmoonocean, I appreciate your comment about our western understanding of the situation. But even The Arab League called for a no-fly zone, then did an about face.

Iraq is not at all comparable. It was clear from the beginning that the intentions were bad, just wrong. How did the US almost uni-laterally decide to go to Iraq (after 9/11 kept pointing to Afghanistan) make any sense at all? It didn't and it was all a sham. The war was about oil. The Iraqi people also weren't up in arms. There also wasn't a revolution movement going on all over the Middle East and Arabs asking for international intervention.
Afghanistan was too late, perhaps. I didn't agree with the invasion there either, especially since the Soviet example made it clear that a war there is a losing battle. There was also no Western understanding of different Muslim groups. My stomach churned when Obama wanted to send more troops there, big mistake.

In this situation, while I do feel it was rushed, I think was the only way to respond to a potential humanitarian crisis. What was the alternative? To do nothing?

Btw, Daniel, awesome article in Die Zeit. Too bad, as some of the other commenters said, it didn't come out sooner.

Maya M said...

Daniel, why do you think the events of Tunisia and Egypt are 100% benign? Just because the dictators there, being milder and better controlled than Qaddafi, resigned instead of attempting a massacre? Let's wait and see who will be elected in these two countries!
And does your criterion - peaceful vs. armed protest/rebellion - mean that Hungarian freedom fighters of 1956 were bad people and the world was right to do nothing when USSR smashed them?
I think we have a pretty good idea of the mindset of the average Libyan opposition supporter. Even though we are restricted to English-language sources. Feb. 17 was chosen as official beginning of the protests because of the anniversary of the 2006 protests in Benghazi. Back then, rioters set the Italian consulate on fire, only because an Italian minister had put on (or threatened to put on - I'm not sure) a T-shirt with a Danish cartoon. These people - most of them, at any rate - have values very different from ours. Still, I do not think this cancels their right to live. And the right to live is hardly anything else than the obligation of other people not to kill you, and the obligation of still other people not to allow your killing if they can easily prevent it.

currentsbetweenshores said...

@Daniel, I don't mean that the abstention itself was a result of pacifism but the abstention was based on attention being paid to a pacifist society that can say "See, look at Afghanistan! This is why we shouldn't be involved in these wars!" Germans like war about as much as they do nuclear energy. Merkel is definitely in tune with what Germans (read voters) are saying and the history absolutely plays a role in a German tendency to want to stay out of military conflict.

Merkel's wishy washy positions on big issues like atomic energy and war lead me to believe that all of her platforms are influenced by voting strategies these days.

I will not argue for why war is better than no war b/c I don't categorically believe that to be true. We also have the unfortunate examples of Iraq and Afghanistan, which makes intervention in the Arab world very problematic. Inaction, which could be considered apathy, also makes this situation problematic, especially with a wave of what appears to be democratic uprisings. The potential for post no-fly zone chaos is huge. But then I think about the NATO intervention in Kosovo and I reweigh the risks of action vs. inaction. We also have examples of humanitarian disasters from inaction as well, Sudan or Rwanda--by the time the international community starting paying attention, over half a million Tutsis were killed. True, the blood is not on western hands and does not drain western wallets, even though western colonialization created much of that mess.