After High Representative Solana failed to get Iran’s support for a package of incentives on behalf of the UN-Security Council and Germany, the EU has reportedly agreed on what action to take. However, it has not in fact, agreed when to take action.
This may well be the crux as Chancellor Merkel’s room for maneuvering is restrained by domestic politics. Beyond her rhetoric lies political reality.
President Bush’s reputation could not be worse
Merkel signaled support for President Bush by stating that “one cannot exclude another round of sanctions”. She made clear, however, that the UN, including Russia and China, remain the “center stage” in dealing with Iran.
German government circles are wary in view of President Bush’s determination to leave “all options on the table”. Further-reaching European sanctions on the Iranian regime, as Bush hoped Merkel would promise, could be perceived as a precursor and legitimization for another “Bush-war”. That is why Merkel insists on thorough implementation of the latest round of sanctions before moving on with harsher measures. She wants to buy time.
The reputation of President Bush in Western Europe could not be worse. German commentaries outbid each other in scathing farewell addresses as Bush visited Europe for the last time during his tenure. The FAZ noted that Russian President Putin received a warmer farewell before he left office.
Election campaigning has begun
The present coalition government is in shaky condition due to disagreements on a number of domestic and foreign policy issues. In addition, both governing parties are losing public approval. In other words, unofficial campaigning for next year’s parliamentary elections has already begun.
The SPD, severely weakened by the creation of the Left Party, is searching for issues that distinguish it from the CDU and that could win support for the general election. Back in 2002, then-Chancellor Schroeder secured his second term by vehemently opposing US-policy toward Iraq.
A gap between policies and politics
A supporter of close transatlantic relations, Merkel wants to avoid the balancing act between US-support and domestic pressures that could cost her the second term.
On the one hand, her party seems to embrace policies of the Bush administration that are even disputed within the United States. Last month for example, the Christian Democrats put forward a strategy paper that expresses support for missile defense installations in Europe. On the other hand, Merkel will only be able to go as far on sanctions as German political constellations allow her to.
She is aware that the next president will not have a big timeframe for a diplomatic solution and that even a President Obama would not exclude the military option. But worse than that, another war under Bush would be too much for her to bear.
Fabian Martin Lieschke is a student at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He is currently an intern with the Center for American Progress, working on national security and non-proliferation issues.
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