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Germany to the Rescue?

2:05 PM, Dec 30, 2009 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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For a few Bundestag members who were visiting Washington earlier this month, whether they were on Capitol Hill or at the State Department, the question they heard most often was whether or not Germany would be increasing its troop strength in Afghanistan. "It's understandable," said Stephan Mayer, a CSU member from eastern Bavaria, who could only say that his country supports the ISAF mission one hundred percent, it is committed to that mission, and the government has agreed to extend its deployment of roughly 4,300 troops, the third largest in Afghanistan.

But what about an increase? Wait til the London conference in January, we are told. Considering it took Obama some time to come to his own decision on a surge, the Germans say we can wait until after the conference is held. Not that I would get my hopes up. German popular opinion runs largely against the military presence in Afghanistan. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle recently told Stern that if the meeting in London is simply about whether or not to send more troops, he won't be attending as he believes there needs to be a "broad political approach." SPD chairman Sigmar Gabriel has said his party, now in the opposition, would vote against an increase. Even CSU chairman Horst Seehofer, whose party is a junior partner in the current government, said flat out there would be no surge (though another CSU Bundestag member who asked to remain nameless told me he thought the remark was "wrong" and a "mistake").

Meanwhile, Rainer Stinner, an FDP member and chairman of the NATO Partnership Committee within the Bundestag, says that the German people need to be told exactly why they are in Afghanistan and why it matters not just to the United States but to Germany as well-something he says the previous government did not do. (Stinner was not speaking in an official capacity.) It was a mistake, he claims, for the U.S. side to explain the mission as one of simply building democracy in Afghanistan or give the impression that by defeating the Taliban militarily, the job is done. At the same time, Stinner says, the Germans were mistaken in believing the mission for them was solely about aid and financial assistance and that there would be no fighting involving the Bundeswehr. He also noted that former defense minister Franz-Josef Jung was aware of this misperception, telling others that there were four tasks for the Germans in the region: (1) Help, (2) Support, (3) Mediate. Jung left it at that, prompting questions of the fourth remaining task, to which he would say under his breath, "Oh, and fighting." (But even if the Germans wanted to send more troops, could they? One analyst told me the number of German combat-ready forces in the region is nearing its maximum. "The rest you wouldn't want," he said, noting how a fair number are out of shape.)

Stinner acknowledged that the Germans "need to do their fair share" but that the cultural hurdles to greater German military involvement were great. "Germans are the most risk-averse people in the world," he says. And they are not so easily inclined to go to war, following 60 years of social reengineering: "You wanted to have peaceful Germans. Now you have them. Don't complain."