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Obama's Threat to Attack Pakistan Raises Red Flags in Germany

12:13 PM, Aug 6, 2007 • By ULF GARTZKE
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Is Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama, the self-declared "new face" of American politics, nothing but a unilateralist, trigger happy, national security hard-liner--the proverbial wolf in sheep's clothing? That's probably the reaction that German political observers (as well as other Europeans for that matter) had when learning about the details of Senator Obama's "comprehensive strategy to fight global terrorism, which he rolled out in a speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington last Tuesday.

The most controversial element of Obama's speech, dubbed "The War We Need To Win," is his threat to take America's military fight against Islamic terrorists directly to Pakistan: "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will." Obama's tough talk about a possible U.S. military intervention in what is arguably the world's most dangerous (nuclear) hot spot has not only triggered sharp rebukes by his Democratic rivals (except Hillary), but has raised red flags in Germany as well.

In this context, it is important to emphasize that Obama's "Let's-Invade-Pakistan" gospel traveled across the Atlantic just days after the Bush administration unveiled plans to sell tens of billions of advanced weapons systems to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other pro-Western Gulf states in an effort to counter the influence of Iran, Syria, al Qaeda and Hezbollah. Just for the record, all of Germany's political parties as well as the country's leading newspaper commentators have strongly condemned the arms deal, which is expected to face tough scrutiny in a Democratic Congress.

This past Friday, Germany's highly-respected conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published an editorial page commentary--euphemistically titled "Also robust"--taking issue with the national security advice dispensed by the first-term junior senator from Illinois.

Whoever takes Obama's remark seriously will soon begin to start brooding, especially because Pakistan and its president are indispensable to wear down the terrorists. For sure, Musharraf has made mistakes and various maneuverings, but to pull the domestic political rug out from under him would further deteriorate the situation. The world that is now keenly looking forward to the end of President Bush's administration will find out that-- if a Democrat succeeds him--there are certain continuities across U.S. party lines. Unilateralism is not Bush's invention.

In Germany, a country where Bush's personal approval ratings have long been in the single digits and where the Democrats are widely seen as the forces of good (back in 2004, polls indicated a German preference for John Kerry by a margin of 85-90 percent), a more differentiated assessment of U.S. politics is certainly welcome news. And so Obama's blunt attempt to re-gain vital national security ground after losing out to Hillary Clinton in the recent Democratic debate has backfired in the States and abroad. As another Democratic candidate for the presidency, Joe Biden, said at a National Press Club luncheon last Wednesday:

"The way to deal with it is not to announce it, but to do it."