|« German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg faces political attacks in the lead up to elections.|
(Rainer Jensen/AFP/Getty Images)
Predictably, a rash of items has hit the press stimulated by enemies of Germany’s defense minister on the eve of important state elections in February and March. By Ron Fraser
It’s like a rerun of the Kunduz affair. As Germany approaches important elections that could result in changes in its state governments impacting heavily on the makeup of its federal coalition government, the enemies of Germany’s most popular politician are seeking to blacken his name.
Polls indicate that Merkel’s coalition partner, the Free Democratic Party (fdp), led by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, is in deep trouble in terms of loss of voter support. Her own party, the Christian Democratic Union (cdu), is also lagging in the polls. A stream of bad results in the February and March elections—especially in the crucial Baden-Wurttemberg and Rhineland industrial region—could even lead to pressure being put on Westerwelle by his being scapegoated for the result, thus forcing him to step down as fdp leader. This would place his government portfolio, the crucial Foreign Ministry, up for grabs.
Realizing that he is treading a political tightrope—a situation not lost on Chancellor Merkel—Westerwelle and his party allies may well be resorting to dirty tricks to impact the huge popularity of his political enemy, the Christian Social Union bright light, Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. Of course it would not be beyond possibility that the Greens and others who might vie for the position of Westerwelle’s replacement could also be up to tricks to besmirch Guttenberg’s name.
Why consider such a possibility? Firstly, it’s unusual for such a rash of negative headlines to hit the press over such a short span of time geared against one particular politician and in such close proximity to the upcoming state elections in Germany. Over the past few days, rumors of a mutiny at sea involving a German naval crew, a story regarding the mail of German troops based in Afghanistan being tampered with in transit, and an alleged cover-up on the questionable mode of death of a Bundeswehr soldier serving in Afghanistan, have all suddenly surfaced. This leaves the defense minister having to seek answers for his own political defense. The timing appears to be no mere coincidence. There are undoubted politics at play here, and politics is a dirty game, even dirtier when someone’s political future is at stake.
Last week the tension between Guttenberg and Westerwelle came to the fore over what Spiegel Online termed the “continuation of the petty war between Guttenberg and Westerwelle” (translation ours, January 14). The subject was disagreement over the use of Bundeswehr personnel in the planned ifor awacs deployment in Afghanistan. In this and other political “spats,” Spiegel Online notes that “Guttenberg, in opinion polls on the very top, has a critical advantage. With his open attitude … he will end up being on the safe side.”
Based on past performances, Guttenberg will ride out these latest storms and come up smiling, squeaky clean once again in the public eye, as has been his politically elegant habit to date.
So what’s at stake here?
Of the 12 chancellors that Germany has had since the end of World War ii, five first held the office of minister for foreign affairs. Of the 15 ministers of defense, only two gained the chancellorship, Schröder and Schmidt, who, coincidentally, each also had held the Foreign Ministry portfolio. This history is interesting to note in relation to Guttenberg’s political future.
In 2011 Germany heads into rough economic waters which stand to heavily impact its international relations globally as the Fatherland works to consolidate its hold on European economies. In the process, the German government will have to maintain a delicate balance with its global financial and trading partners.
Foreign affairs are going to be of prime importance to Germany during this vital year. It is a year that will see Germany work to restructure Europe to its own preferred model. This will require real finesse in the foreign-policy arena. It has become patently obvious that Guido Westerwelle is not up to the job. It is difficult to see him lasting beyond March, if that. Public support for Westerwelle within Germany could hardly be lower at present. Also, he has won few if any friends among the cadre of his fellow foreign ministers on the international scene.
Where can Chancellor Merkel turn for a replacement foreign minister, faced as she is with a drubbing at the upcoming state polls in Germany, much of it perhaps due to the weak performance of the minister presently holding that portfolio?
Can anyone match Defense Minister Guttenberg for the Foreign Ministry? He has for long been the foreign-policy guru of his own party, the Bavarian-based Christian Social Union. Is it feasible that Merkel would call on him and place him at the tender age of 39 in the foreign minister’s role? This is the vice chancellor’s spot. If Merkel does make this choice—and if Guttenberg’s popularity continues at its present high level—she would have to then know that this young Frankish aristocrat would soon be breathing down her neck with his eye on the chancellorship.
In reality, with pending losses for the cdu/fdp alliance at the February-March polls, Merkel would also have to know that her chances for reelection in 2013 range between slim and none. So why would she not seek to make the most obvious and popular choice in replacing Westerwelle with Guttenberg, in the process raising her own popularity? The nation would toast her choice and she could then comfortably cruise in the shadow of Germany’s rising political star on into retirement within two years.
Time will tell. But this is certainly an interesting scenario to contemplate.
Watch Germany over the next two months for the outcome. It may have very significant bearing on not only European, but global affairs over the next few years.Our booklet Nahum—An End-Time Prophecy for Germany would be a timely read in the meantime.