Libyan Insurrection and German JingoismPosted on March 7th, 2011 1 comment
Back in the day, coverage of U.S. military operations in the German media consisted mainly of a melange of self-righteous posing and predictions of imminent doom. For example, according to Der Spiegel, Germany’s number one news magazine, in an article published less than two weeks before the fall of Baghdad, the U.S. Army was “stuck in the sand,” it faced a “worst case scenario,” the Iraqis were fighting “much harder than expected,” and the war was likely to last “for months,” and then only if the troops already on the ground received “massive reinforcements.” Unabashed when all these prophecies of doom turned out to be so many fairy tales, Spiegel immediately shifted gears to the usual fare comparing Iraq to Vietnam that Americans became familiar with in their own media. Inevitably, as well as being another Vietnam, Iraq was a “quagmire.” By 2006, Spiegel was confidently assuring its readers, in lockstep with the NYT and WaPo, that, “The Iraq strategy of the Bush Administration has failed.”
Fast forward to the next President. The winds of insurrection are blowing in the Middle East and North Africa. In Libya, however, the revolutionary wave has been checked, at least for the time being, by the stubborn refusal of Muammar Qaddafi to play his assigned role and bow out gracefully. Meanwhile, the U.S. President seems in no hurry to take any “unilateral action,” and seems to have a distinct aversion for any action more forceful than declaring that Qaddafi’s bloody massacres of his own people are “unacceptable.” Oddly enough, Der Spiegel seems to have changed its tune. According to the headline of an interview with delegate to the European parliament Martin Schulz, the “opportunism (Taktiererei) of the European states is a scandal.” Schulz thinks that “a military intervention in Libya may be considered as a last resort.” Spiegel has a long history of expressing its editorial opinion via such “expert” mouthpieces. It would seem the Schulz interview is no exception. For example, according to the bolded opening paragraph of another article under the headline, “Qaddafi’s Counteroffensive puts the West under Pressure,” we read,
Intervene or watch and wait? After ever more violent battles, Libya threatens to sink into civil war, and with it into chaos. There is increasing pressure to intervene, and it is falling above all on western states. Meanwhile, Germany, the EU, and the USA are standing idly by.
All this sounds harmless enough by US standards. For the German media, though, it’s positively jingoist. In the past, their MO has always been to wait until we actually do take action, then print a stream of articles about civilian casualties, bombings of hospitals and old folks homes, allusions to Vietnam and “quagmires,” the selfish motives of the U.S and its evil corporations which, in this case as in Iraq, would undoubtedly be oil, etc., etc. But Obama isn’t playing along. By all appearances, it’s starting to get under their skin. A byline of the above article refers to the U.S. as the “Helpless World Power #1.” The U.S. military is portrayed as “skeptical” about intervention, and “playing for time” to avoid it. Pentagon spokesman is using the excuse of Libyan air defenses “more effective than those of the Iraqis in 2003,” to explain this “stalling.” In a word, Der Spiegel is positively egging us on to send in the cavalry.
Somehow, I have a sneaking suspicion that the German media, along with the rest of that of “old Europe,” would turn on us with a vengeance as soon as the first boot of the first U.S. GI touched Libyan soil. I have a better idea. Let’s just stay out of it. Give peace a chance! If the Europeans are so worried about the fate of the Libyan people, I’m all in favor of letting them have a go at saving them, but without our assistance. There are occasions when I feel positively comforted by the fact that Barack Obama, and not John McCain, is our President. This is one of them.
The German articles I’ve read are similar. Insinuating that the US is holding off because we’ve lost our nerve, or that our moral conscience is lacking for whatever reasons. But never ever directly saying what they themselves think would be the right course. As you say, “egging us on” without actually telling us to do so. Like schoolchildren saying “I dare you”.
This time, they can’t figure out what they think the US is going to do, so as long as the US is not intervening, it is implied that it is not for honorable reasons. But I also have little doubt that should the US intervene, it would also be portrayed as for less than honorable reasons.
In a sense the writers are like the legendary particles whose quantum states are superimposed, and first determined as a result of the measurement, as in the Schroedinger’s cat thought experiment.
From some of my German acquaintances, I know that they believed that the US hastily marched into Iraq just a couple weeks after Iraq invaded Kuwait, without taking the time to let the conflict be resolved peacefully. But in fact, the US waited many months and for several UN resolutions before resorting to force. My acquaintances either forgot, or they just weren’t paying attention until the US finally took military action.
This false memory is why many think the US is dragging its heels this time, when in fact it is actually still just going through the usual diplomatic efforts and precautionary military preparations.
The US’ military preparations, by the way, are often mentioned towards the end of the articles, schizophrenically contrasting to the headlines or opening texts, which often complain of the US “only watching”.
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