The Sum of All Year

With war penciled in for January, the US keeps the heat on Germany to get on board

As the year comes to an end, Germany, like much of the rest of the world, finds itself still wrestling with two issues that have dominated the second half of 2002: imminent war in Iraq (see The Cowboy in the Castle and a severely ailing economy (see The Scope of the Crisis).

The US keeps pressuring Chancellor Schröder, baby step by baby step, to break his campaign promise to keep Germany out of the war which, evidently, is now scheduled for late January. Following the US requests for use of German air space, then German AWACs -- which, Schröder has said, would naturally be flown by German pilots, leading to the government and its critics splitting hairs over just where pacifist non-involvement ends and active participation begins -- the US has now asked Germany to protect US interests on German soil. Unconfirmed reports put the number of German soldiers guarding US equipment, planes, etc., on their way to and from Iraq at 2000. The conservative opposition seeks to have its cake and eat it, too, saying that agreeing to these requests is the right thing to do but let's not forget that Schröder is still breaking his promise.

While they quibble on, there was a more interesting development last week. The tageszeitung, the little leftish Berlin-based paper affectionately referred to as the taz, became the first newspaper in the world (why? how?) to report on details of that 12,000-page report Iraq handed over to the UN (via US authorities who held it for 24 hours first because, they said, they had the best copy machines. Whatever.). Specifically, the taz claims that over 80 German companies, labs and individuals, flying in the face of official sanctions, have sold equipment, tech savvy, parts, you name it to Iraq, all of which could be used to develop nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

German firms are not alone in such dealings, but they are the most numerous by far (the US itself comes in second with a mere 24 companies). The news played straight into the Bush administration's hand, first by arousing heated discussion in the US of Germany's stance on Iraq, and secondly, there was the matter of timing. Germany was set to head the UN Security Council panel on the very sanctions many of these companies have violated when it takes its UNSC seat in January. The US was dead set against it, rooting for Chile instead. In the end, Germany got the post anyway.

A tragedy is a tragedy, but if any good can come out of Saturday's helicopter accident in Kabul, it may be that, within the context of the revived rift between the US and Germany, it serves as a reminder that Germany distinguishes between what Schröder calls the US's "military adventure" in Iraq and what he perceives as the legitimate "war on terror" -- for which Germany is willing to make sacrifices.

Now then, the economy. With the prospect of strikes by public workers looming in the short term, the Munich-based Ifo institute unveiled long-term bad news. Per capita, Germany's GDP will soon fall behind that of France, Britain, the Netherlands, Austria, Finland and Ireland. But this is "not the time for schadenfreude," the Guardian warned its readers, presuming that would be their natural first reaction. "Germany is the cornerstone of the European economy and if it is damaged there is not much chance for the rest of Europe."


Donald Kuspit dives deep into new work by Anselm Kiefer and asserts that it "shows that German art still has the courage of its mystical convictions, which is why his art is vital for all its devitalizing gray, while Richter's art seems to have 'Americanized' German art, for it has abandoned itself to the everyday shallowness that engulfs us all."

James Poniewozik reviews Hanns Zischler's Kafka Goes to the Movies: "The book is nearly worth it for that image alone: Franz Kafka, chronicler of alienation and dread, in Prague's darkened Kinematographen Theater laughing his head off at 'Dude, Where's My Prisoner?'" (David Hudson)