Diary

Senator Obama's Overlooked Germany Gaffe on O'Reilly

Due to lipstick on pigs, shifts in polls, or who knows what, the public and media have missed a huge foreign policy — and world history — gaffe by Senator Obama in the fourth segment of Bill O’Reilly’s interview.

Bill O’Reilly: Why won’t the Germans fight against the Taliban?

Senator Obama: You know, part of the reason. . .

Bill O’Reilly: What?

Senator Obama: Part of the reason is that we soured our relationship with the Europeans after Iraq . . . [followed by some comments about his speech in Berlin]

In his answer, Senator Obama proved to be woefully ignorant of the limited role of German military engagement post-World War II. He also showed that he is ignorant of another fact that any true foreign policy expert should know if he served in the Senate from 2005 onwards, namely that the Germans progressed the farthest in their modern history toward approving a quasi-combat role after the Iraq invasion — indeed after the war turned sour in 2006. Thus, Senator Obama was wrong in both the general and specifics of his answer to Bill O’Reilly.In Article 87A, the German Basic Law or Grundgesetz (the nation’s defacto Constitution), expressly limits the nation’s military to defensive purposes. Over time, the German Supreme Court defined participation in NATO exercises as consistent with the Basic Law and authorized the first foreign expeditionary deployments in 1994 to the former Yugoslavia. Under the law, the military mission had to be expressly approved by the German Bundestag, and was limited to peacekeeping and supporting functions. Here’s a summary from the Christian Science Monitor:

In 1994, Germany’s Constitutional Court ruled that German forces could deploy beyond the NATO area if the security of Germany or its allies’ was at stake, and if the parliament approved. But German sensitivity to its militant Nazi history has held it back, with German forces taking mostly peripheral positions abroad.

This same arrangement was followed in the deployment of German forces to Afghanistan in 2002. The German Parliament approved a limited peacekeeping and supportive role for German troops consistent with the Basic Law. It was in this role that the German military served in a peacekeeping capacity in relatively quiet areas in the Afghan north.

In 2006, however, something remarkable happened. The German government issued a new policy that broadened the military’s ability to work in an integrated capacity with a multinational force when deployed on a foreign expedition. The new policy, which put German forces as close as ever to combat missions with NATO allies, was issued in 2006 — long after the invasion of Iraq and long after the war had begun to go badly.

Within a year, with Iraq more controversial than ever, the German government deployed six Tornado reconnaisance jets to Afghanistan to provide direct support to ground troops. As Reuters reported on February 7, 2007:

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany’s cabinet agreed on Wednesday to send six Tornado reconnaissance jets to Afghanistan as requested by NATO to help boost intelligence gathering ahead of an expected spring offensive by Taliban insurgents.

About 500 crew and maintenance staff will accompany the aircraft to Afghanistan where Germany already has about 3,000 troops stationed, mainly in Kabul and the relatively stable northern region, as part of the NATO-led peacekeeping mission.

Although the spy planes are not directly used in combat, they are used to support combat operations by NATO allies. The decision was not without controversy as the German Supreme Court had to issue a ruling to say the deployment was not inconsistent with a defensive mission and the Basic Law.

As shown above, Senator Obama’s answer to Bill O’Reilly’s question was wrong in almost every respect. Antipathy toward the war in Iraq has nothing to do with the German unwillingness to engage in direct combat with the Taliban. The German Basic Law and the Bundestag authorization are the reasons why. Moreover, if anything, the Germans’ ability to engage in Afghanistan has only increased since the Iraq war.