Playing tug-of-war in world politics can make everyone lose
Hundreds of thousands march against the right wing in Berlin last year. | Fabian von der Mark/Twitter

BERLIN – Tug-of-war is an innocent sport but in world politics, it’s a dangerous game, especially if played like some of the Vikings did – across a fiery pit awaiting the losers.

Trump’s new Decretary of Defense, Mark Esper, was a long-time lobbyist for defense contractor Raytheon. Esper and Trump during a ceremony in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, July 23. | Carolyn Kaster/AP

Two developments this week are cause for concern by anyone who values world peace. One is the U.S. Senate’s confirmation of Trump’s pick, Mark Esper, for the post of Secretary of Defense. Esper is a longtime lobbyist for the defense and weapons industries. Nothing like moving from a position of advocacy for spending on weapons into a position where you can make the decision to spend more on weapons.

On this side of the ocean, there was another “promotion” last week causing concern among the world’s peace advocates. It was the elevation of Ursula von der Leyen, the war-hawk German minister of defense to the position of chief of the EU’S European Commission where she too can make decisions to spend more money on the dangerous military tug of war game.

U.S. and NATO drones and surveillance planes are provocatively skirting the borders of Iran in the east and Venezuela in the west, with missile-bearing carriers closely standing by.

Most often, behind them, rubbing their hands – though never soiling them with tug ropes or triggers – is a team of war-hungry politicians and armament kings. The seizure of oil tankers, first by the UK and then, obviously in reprisal, by Iran, makes them hopeful but most decent people fearful!

This tug-of-war, however, is not really between countries. It is a team itching for confrontation, new bombing missions and new vassals versus all those working for peace. Which side will win out? Or can the thin rope tear?

The provocations against Iran are nothing new. The big one not mentioned enough in the media was Trump’s pulling out of the nuclear deal with Iran and stepping up sanctions that are strangling the Iranian economy and devastating the population.

Germany has also long been struggling with war hawks. There were those who, ever since Konrad Adenauer launched the Federal Republic of Germany, huddled with war hawks in the Pentagon and NATO strategy rooms.

Called “Atlanticists” these days because of their transoceanic connections, they found a slick advocate in Ursula von der Leyen, since 2014, the German Minister of Defense. On July 16 she took a big jump upwards. Her last-minute oratory may have done the trick. She down-played her military obsession, and she evoked stirring emotions about climate protection, women’s equality, European togetherness and “Western democratic values.”

After a painfully narrow secret ballot victory, by just nine votes, 383 to 374, with 23 abstentions, she became president of the European Commission, the powerful cabinet of the European Union, with 28 seats heading 28 departments covering all aspects of European life, one seat to a country (but dropping to 27 if Britain leaves as planned in October).

She becomes the boss of more than 30,000 employees who can determine life patterns for about 500 million Europeans. It is hard to imagine that she has forgotten her major goal, a strong, German-dominated European army, a muscular junior partner of the U.S.-dominated NATO and aiming in the same eastward direction. A good church-goer might well cry out: “God protect us!”

This meant giving up her job as German defense minister. But her immediate successor, a major surprise, was Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the woman who replaced Angela Merkel as chair of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Any hopes for less belligerency were quickly dispersed. AKK, as her long name is shortened, immediately demanded a further increase in armament spending, up to the multibillion-euro, 2 percent budget level demanded of all NATO members.

Less martial in appearance than her predecessor, she nevertheless follows the same line. Gun maker Heckler & Koch (the Mauser offspring), Krupp/Thyssen, super-modern U-boat maker for decades, and Kraus-Maffei-Wegmann, Hitler’s best tank-maker and now exporter of deadly-clanking “Leopards,” can now enjoy untroubled sleep and more billions. Their counterparts in the U.S., Raytheon and Boeing, will be similarly protected by Esper.

Is there hope for the political opposition in Germany? The Greens, it is true, are now stronger than ever but retain few traces of their original pacifist traditions and have moved so far in their hatred for Putin and their yen for trouble with Russia that their criticism has not been against an increase in military financing but rather a demand for a “more efficient, less wasteful” build-up.

But the Social Democrats, still in the government coalition and with a record of support for NATO build-ups, are now fighting for survival as a major party. Their alliance with the ruling Christian Democrats has hurt them badly. The result: unusually forthright statements like those of Karl Lauterbach, a candidate for party leadership, who warned “against an armament policy conforming to the wishes of Donald Trump.”

Some of their delegates voted against von der Leyen, have no love for her successor, AKK, and even echoed the LINKE (Left), who continued to oppose armaments, weapon exports and all military embroilments abroad including those in Afghanistan, Mali, Iraq, and Syria.

Last week, at the annual German-Russian discussion forum in Bonn, the “Petersburg Dialogue,” both foreign ministers attended for the first time since the Ukraine crisis. Heiko Maas, a Social Democrat, after meeting with Sergei Lavrov, spoke of positive signals in the Ukraine and hoped that the truce soon to begin there “will also be respected, that there will be a continuing ceasefire and that we will have further progress in implementing the Minsk Agreement” (to end the conflict). Despite all differences, such as with economic sanctions, Maas said that world political solutions are hard to find without “the constructive participation of Russia”. Could this mean a change in tone? It certainly wouldn’t hurt the chances of making world peace more possible.

Indeed, varied interests offered glimpses of hope on the “peace” side in the tug-of-war. Many manufacturers, not so involved with military gear, retain interest in the huge Russian market as do many in the important fruit and vegetable sector. Both suffered greatly from the sanctions imposed by the U.S. and tried to get around them. Some are hoping to benefit from Russian gas coming from the Baltic undersea pipeline. They have no desire to convert public roads and rails in Germany for use by eastward-bound tanks and artillery nor to send German battalions with inflammatory missions to maneuvers along Russia’s borders. Both of these things have been supported by von der Leyen and by American NATO generals.

And such tendencies, aside from their motivation, conformed with the thoughts and wishes of very many Germans, most probably a majority, who resisted the “hate-Putin, hate-Russia” stress in the mass media, which recalled very similar words and caricatures in the media of eighty years earlier.

Much as in the U.S., these feelings did not lead to the big peace demonstrations of earlier decades. Main attention and activity is rather turned to environmental questions and opposing fascist threats and violence against people of other colors, clothes or churches.

But such issues, also based on internationalism, certainly have their place in the tug-of-war and are close to similar movements in the U.S., where the fight against fascism by that courageous young “Squad” of congresswomen has been greatly admired in progressive German circles.

This fight took a dramatic turn on June 2 when Walter Lübcke, 65, a courageous official in the city of Kassel, a Christian Democrat, was shot dead in front of his home. Four years earlier he had replied angrily to vicious anti-foreigner catcalls in the audience: The murderer, a dyed-in-the-wool fascist, had been waiting to kill Lübcke ever since, stimulated by fascist blogs, one of them that of a prominent adherent of the Alternative for Germany (AfD).

A huge wave of mourning and anger followed. At a state government session even in conservative Bavaria, all present stood in silent mourning for Lübcke – except one AfD delegate who remained demonstratively in his seat. He has been making excuses ever since.

Widespread rejection of the far right increased substantially. A small local pro-Nazi party in Lübcke’s town, Kassel, called for a rally favoring “justice” for the murderer and announced that 500 would attend. In a giant response by all political parties (except the AfD), the churches, unions and every kind of organization, the city filled up on July 20. Some 10,000 anti-fascists were everywhere, many with anti-Nazi T-shirts, flags, banners and noise enough to drown out the downcast-looking neo-Nazis, about 100 of them who, carefully protected by the police, held what they called a meeting and departed in disgrace.

This was a genuine triumph in the tug-of-war. More such triumphs are urgently needed in the next five weeks. The East German states of Saxony and Brandenburg vote on September 1, Thuringia on October 27, and up till now the polls give the AfD a strong possibility of winning first place. Broad alliances of three or even four parties may be necessary to form state governments without them.

Thus far any coalition with the AfD has been ruled out by all the others. But some Christian Democrats (CDU) in Saxony, who have headed every government there since German unification, have long been playing an under-the-table game with the AfD best described as “footsie.”

The feared far-right gains, resembling those in Hungary, France, Italy and often based on lynch-type mobs such as those in the U.S., are truly frightening. And although the AfD, seeking popularity, has publicly advocated detente with Russia, it demands an ever bigger army with ever more modern weapons. To oppose its policy of hatred toward people of color and all those on the left, and its tolerance of violence, thousands from all over Germany are expected in Saxony’s capital, Dresden, on August 2 to help local groups and warn voters of the threatening dangers.

As in so many parts of today’s world, every form of commitment helps. The international tug-of-war demands ever more hands to prevent a fall into a fiery pit of bloody fascism and annihilating war.

John Wojcik contributed to this story.


CONTRIBUTOR

Victor Grossman
Victor Grossman

Victor Grossman is a journalist from the U.S. now living in Berlin. He fled in the 1950s in danger of reprisals for his left-wing activities at Harvard and in Buffalo, New York. He landed in the former German Democratic Republic (Socialist East Germany), studied journalism, founded a Paul Robeson Archive and became a freelance journalist and author. His books available in English: Crossing the River. A Memoir of the American Left, the Cold War, and Life in East Germany. His latest book,  A Socialist Defector: From Harvard to Karl-Marx-Allee, is about his life in the German Democratic Republic from 1949 – 1990, tremendous improvements for the people under socialism, reasons for the fall of socialism, and importance of today's struggles.

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