A warning from Germany about our new cold war: “The West on the wrong path”

Summary: The publisher of a major German newspaper wrote a bold, brave editorial about the emerging Cold War 2. He identifies the useful idiots in the media who help drive this conflict, and places this madness in a historical context. Can you imagine the publisher of a US newspaper writing something of this depth? Time will tell if this he writes as an individual, as spokesman for a fraction of Germany’s elites, or speaking for German’s leadership.

Relive the cold war


The West on the wrong path

Gabor Steingart (publisher)

Editorial in Handelsblatt
(Germany’s leading financial newspaper)

8 August 2014

Summary: In view of the events in Ukraine, the government and many media have switched from level-headed to agitated. The spectrum of opinions has been narrowed to the width of a sniper scope. The politics of escalation does not have a realistic goal – and harms German interests.

Every war is accompanied by a kind of mental mobilization: war fever. Even smart people are not immune to controlled bouts of this fever. “This war in all its atrociousness is still a great and wonderful thing. It is an experience worth having“ rejoiced Max Weber in 1914 when the lights went out in Europe. Thomas Mann felt a “cleansing, liberation, and a tremendous amount of hope“.

… The US Congress is openly discussing arming Ukraine. The former security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski recommends arming the citizens there for house-to-house and street combat. The German Chancellor, as it is her habit, is much less clear but no less ominous: “We are ready to take severe measures.“

German journalism has switched from level-headed to agitated in a matter of weeks. The spectrum of opinions has been narrowed to the field of vision of a sniper scope. Newspapers we thought to be all about thoughts and ideas now march in lock-step with politicians in their calls for sanctions against Russia’s President Putin. Even the headlines betray an aggressive tension as is usually characteristic of hooligans when they ‘support’ their respective teams.

The Tagesspiegel: “Enough talk!“ The FAZ: “Show strength“. The Süddeutsche Zeitung: “Now or never.“ The Spiegel calls for an “End to cowardice“: “Putin’s web of lies, propaganda, and deception has been exposed. The wreckage of MH 17 is also the result of a crashed diplomacy.“ Western politics and German media agree.


Every reflexive string of accusations results in the same outcome: in no time allegations and counter-allegations become so entangled that the facts become almost completely obscured.

Who deceived who first?

Did it all start with the Russian invasion of the Crimean or did the West first promote the destabilization of the Ukraine? Does Russia want to expand into the West or NATO into the East? Or did maybe two world-powers meet at the same door in the middle of the night, driven by very similar intentions towards a defenseless third that now pays for the resulting quagmire with the first phases of a civil war?

If at this point you are still waiting for an answer as to whose fault it is, you might as well just stop reading. You will not miss anything. We are not trying to unearth this hidden truth. We don’t know how it started. We don’t know how it will end. And we are sitting right here, in the middle of it.

… Our purpose is to wipe off some of the foam that has formed on the debating mouths, to steal words from the mouths of both the rabble-rousers and the roused, and put new words there instead. One word that has become disused of late is this: realism.

The politics of escalation show that Europe sorely misses a realistic goal. It’s a different thing in the US. Threats and posturing are simply part of the election preparations. When Hillary Clinton compares Putin with Hitler, she does so only to appeal to the Republican vote, i.e. people who do not own a passport. For many of them, Hitler is the only foreigner they know, which is why Adolf Putin is a very welcome fictitious campaign effigy. In this respect, Clinton and Obama have a realistic goal: to appeal to the people, to win elections, to win another Democratic presidency.

Angela Merkel can hardly claim these mitigating circumstances for herself. Geography forces every German Chancellor to be a bit more serious. As neighbors of Russia, as part of the European community bound in destiny, as recipient of energy and supplier of this and that, we Germans have a clearly more vital interest in stability and communication. We cannot afford to look at Russia through the eyes of the American Tea Party.

Gabor Steingart

Every mistake starts with a mistake in thinking. And we are making this mistake if we believe that only the other party profits from our economic relationship and thus will suffer when this relationship stops. If economic ties were maintained for mutual profit, then severing them will lead to mutual loss. Punishment and self-punishment are the same thing in this case.

Even the idea that economic pressure and political isolation would bring Russia to its knees was not really thought all the way through. …

Of course, the current situation requires a strong stance, but more than anything a strong stance against ourselves. Germans have neither wanted nor caused these realities, but they are now our realities. Just consider what Willy Brandt had to listen to when his fate as mayor of Berlin placed him in the shadow of the wall. What sanctions and punishments were suggested to him. But he decided to forgo this festival of outrage. He never turned the screw of retribution.

When he was awarded the Noble Prize for Peace he shed light on what went on around him in the hectic days when the wall was built: “There is still another aspect – that of impotence disguised by verbalism: taking a stand on legal positions which cannot become a reality and planning counter-measures for contingencies that always differ from the one at hand. At critical times we were left to our own devices; the verbalists had nothing to offer.“

The verbalists are back and their headquarters are in Washington D.C. But nobody is forcing us to kowtow to their orders. Following this lead – even if calculatingly and somewhat reluctantly as in the case of Merkel – does not protect the German people, but may well endanger it. This fact remains a fact even if it was not the American but the Russians who were responsible for the original damage in the Crimean and in eastern Ukraine.

… The Americans – Kennedy, Johnson, then Nixon – followed the German {reconciliation movement, which they began in 1961}; it kicked off a process which is unparalleled in the history of enemy nations. Finally, there was a meeting in Helsinki {1975} in order to set down the rules. The Soviet Union was guaranteed “non-interference into their internal affairs“ which filled party boss Leonid Brezhnev with satisfaction and made Franz Josef Strauß’s blood boil. In return, the Moscow Communist Party leadership had to guarantee the West (and thus their own civil societies) “respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including that of thought, conscience, religion or belief“.

In this way “non-interference“ was bought through “involvement“. Communism had received an eternal guarantee for its territory, but within its borders universal human rights suddenly began to brew. Joachim Gauck remembers: “The word that allowed my generation to go on was Helsinki.“

It is not too late for the duo Merkel/Steinmeier to use the concepts and ideas of this time. It does not make sense to just follow the strategically idea-less Obama. Everyone can see how he and Putin are driving like in a dream directly towards a sign which reads: Dead End.

Memories of the Cold War

“The test for politics is not how something starts but how it ends“, so Henry Kissinger, also a Peace Nobel Prize winner. After the occupation of the Crimean by Russia he stated: we should want reconciliation, not dominance. Demonizing Putin is not a policy. It is an alibi for the lack thereof. He advises condensing conflicts, i.e. to make them smaller, shrink them, and then distill them into a solution.

At the moment (and for a long time before that) America is doing the opposite. All conflicts are escalated. The attack of a terror group named Al Qaida is turned into a global campaign against Islam. Iraq is bombed using dubious justifications. Then the US Air Force flies on to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The relationship to the Islamic world can safely be considered damaged.

… The American tendency to verbal and then also military escalation, the isolation, demonization, and attacking of enemies has not proven effective. The last successful major military action the US conducted was the Normandy landing. Everything else – Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan – was a clear failure. Moving NATO units towards the Polish border and thinking about arming Ukraine is a continuation of a lack of diplomacy by the military means.

This policy of running your head against the wall – and doing so exactly where the wall is the thickest – just gives you a head ache and not much else. And this considering that the wall has a huge door in the relationship of Europe to Russia. And the key to this door is labeled “reconciliation of interests“.

The first step is what Brandt called “compassion“, i.e. the ability to see the world through the eyes of the others {Ostpolitik, while he was Chancellor 1969-1974}. We should stop accusing the 143 million Russian that they look at the world differently than John McCain.

What is needed is help in modernizing the country, no sanctions which will further decrease the dearth of wealth and damage the bond of relationships. Economic relationships are also relationships. International cooperation is akin to tenderness between nations because everyone feels better afterwards.

It is well-known that Russia is an energy super-power and at the same time a developing industrial nation. The policy of reconciliation and mutual interests should attack here. Development aid in return for territorial guarantees; Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier even had the right words to describe this: modernization partnership. He just has to dust it off and use it as an aspirational word. Russia should be integrated, not isolated. Small steps in that direction are better than the great nonsense of exclusionary politics.

Brandt and Bahr never reached for economic sanctions. They knew why: there are no recorded cases in which countries under sanctions apologized for their behavior and were obedient ever after. On the contrary: collective movements start in support of the sanctioned, as is the case today in Russia. The country was hardly ever more unified behind their president than now. This could almost lead you to think that the rabble-rousers of the West are on the payroll of the Russian secret service.

One more comment about the tone of the debate. The annexation of the Crimean was in violation of international law. The support of separatists in eastern Ukraine also does not mesh with our ideas of the state sovereignty. The boundaries of states are inviolable.

But every act requires context. And the German context is that we are a society on probation which may not act as if violations of international law started with the events in the Crimean. Germany has waged war against its eastern neighbor twice in the past 100 years. The German soul, which we generally claim to be on the romantic side, showed its cruel side.

Of course, we who came later can continue to proclaim our outrage against the ruthless Putin and appeal to international law against him, but the way things are this outrage should come with a slight blush of embarrassment. Or to use the words of Willy Brandt: “Claims to absolutes threaten man.“

In the end, even the men who had succumbed to war fever in 1914 had to realize this. After the end of the war, the penitent issued a second call, this time to understanding between nations: “The civilized world became a war camp and battle field. It is time that a great tide of love replaces the devastating wave of hatred.“

We should try to avoid the detour via the battle fields in the 21st century. History does not have to repeat itself. Maybe we can find a shortcut.


The War For Wealth

About the author

Gabor Steingart, 48, is an international bestselling author and the editor-in-chief of the Handelsblatt, the leading business and financial newspaper in Germany. Steingart has been awarded the Economic Writer of the Year Award 2004 in Germany, and in 2007 he won the Helmut Schmidt Award for Advanced Journalism.

His op-ed pieces are published in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. Steingart´s weekly column “West Wing – The Battle for the White House” appeared for three years on Spiegel Online, BusinessWeek and RealClearPolitics.

… He has written six books, the first one at the age of 19. His book Germany: The decline of a superstar (2004) was on the German Bestseller list for nearly one year and became the 8th best selling non-fiction book of the year 2004 in Germany. The premise for the film “The Fall of Germany” produced by Stefan Aust and Claus Richter was based on his book. This documentary won the German TV Award of the year 2006.

The book The War for Wealth: The True Story of Globalization, or Why the Flat World Is Broken was also a bestseller in Germany and has been published in ten countries around the world …

Steingart is the son of a German mother and a Hungarian father. His father was an armed activist against the Communist party in Budapest 1956. After the Soviet tanks invaded, he escaped to West-Berlin.

— From the “About” page of his website.

Other posts about the Ukraine crisis

Let’s stop the 2-minute hate on Putin & think before we reignite the Cold War, 11 August 2014

For More Information

(a)  Posts about Russia:

  1. More news about Russia’s demographic collapse, 6 June 2008
  2. Rumors of financial war: Russia vs. US, 22 September 2008
  3. More weekend reading; information you want to have!, 23 December 2008 — Russia as the last man standing in a region of demographic collapse.
  4. A free lesson from Russia: how to manage a banking crisis, 6 February 2009
  5. “The Russian Economy and Russian Power” by George Friedman of Stratfor, 2 August 2009
  6. A view of the world from Russia, 30 May 2010
  7. The Truth and Beauty about the Pussy Riot, 26 September 2012
  8. The Truth and Beauty about Russia, 1 October 2012

(b)  Posts about the Russia-Georgia conflict:

  1. Perhaps *the* question about the Georgia – Russia conflict, 10 August 2008
  2. Keys to interpreting news about the Georgia – Russia fighting, 12 August 2008
  3. What did we learn from the Russia – Georgia conflict?, 13 August 2008
  4. Comments on the Georgia-Russia fighting: Buchanan is profound, McCain is nuts, 15 August 2008
  5. Best insight yet about America and the Georgia-Russia fighting, 15 August 2008
  6. Georgia = Grenada, an antidote to Cold War II, 16 August 2008
  7. Before we reignite the cold war, what happened in Georgia?, 12 December 2008




9 thoughts on “A warning from Germany about our new cold war: “The West on the wrong path””

  1. OldSkeptic_New

    ” The last successful major military action the US conducted was the Normandy landing. Everything else – Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan – was a clear failure. ”

    With 3 of the 5 beaches landed by UK and Canadian soldiers. Using a plan created by a British General…oh and all forces being led by a British general too (Ike didn’t take over until Sept after Normandy was won, then proceeded to completely stuff up).

    Oh and almost entirely landed and supported by British ships…..all following a naval plan by a British admiral, with all the ships under his command.

    So the Americans didn’t even win that.

    Americans are bad at war, which is a compliment, civilised countries should be bad at war. The, post WW2, the American love of war is an aberration in its culture. But here is the silly thing, they worse they are at it they more the elites love it.

    FM crew, many of you are ex Marines (etc) why the ‘love of war’? Bill Lind, for example has been endlessly critical of the US army and the Marines.

    Now the Marines did a Heer (Wehrmacht was the name for the entire German forces in WW2) in Fallujah (shooting fish in a barrel) , but how would they perform against ISIS?

    ISIS are total monsters, as bad as Pol Pot (which the US also supported) but there is a difference. These people can fight, really well. They have obviously mastered 3G warfare. I’d expect them to go through western forces, including the US Marines, like a dose of salt.

    1. oldskeptic,

      I almost stopped reading at your fantasies about WW2. You appear allergic to work by actual military experts, but for other readers I’ll cite some:

      1. Martin van Creveld’s Fighting Power (1980) comparing US and German armies in WW2.
      2. Jörg Muth’s Command Culture: Officer Education in the U.S. Army and the German Armed Forces, 1901-1940, and the Consequences for World War II (2011)

      But I did get to the rest of your comment, which was also quite wrong.

      (a) “{ISIS} can fight, really well.”

      Perhaps, perhaps not. Much of the fighting has been done against the Iraq government by Sunni Arab tribes (they have a lot of experience, including many ex-Army). The relative contributions are not known. Reporting on such things is quite unreliable.

      “they have obviously mastered 3G warfare”

      You’re just making stuff up. The sketchy data so far is insufficient to say that. It’s not clear the Iraq Army has been willing to fight.

      “Americans are bad at war”

      Despite your delusions, US forces did quite well in WW2 after gaining experience. Since then wars have mostly been 4GW. Almost without exception, every army that has fought foreign local insurgencies has failed. Which is why the West lost its colonies. From Chapter 6.2 in Martin van Creveld’s Changing Face of War (2006):

      What is known, though, is that attempts by post-1945 armed forces to suppress guerrillas and terrorists have constituted a long, almost unbroken record of failure … {W}hat changed was the fact that, whereas previously it had been the main Western powers that failed, now the list included other countries as well. Portugal’s expulsion from Africa in 1975 was followed by the failure of the South Africans in Namibia, the Ethiopians in Ertrea, the Indians in Sri Lanka, the Americans in Somalia, and the Israelis in Lebanon. … Even in Denmark {during WWII}, “the model protectorate”, resistance increased as time went on.

      Many of these nations used force up to the level of genocide in their failed attempts to defeat local insurgencies. Despite that, foreign forces have an almost uniform record of defeat. Such as the French-Algerian War, which the French waged until their government collapsed.

    2. In WWII, every 4 out of 5 German soldier was killed by the Red Army.
      On D-Day, the Allies landed around 156,000 troops in Normandy. The American forces landed numbered 73,000: 23,250 on Utah Beach, 34,250 on Omaha Beach, and 15,500 airborne troops. In the British and Canadian sector, 83,115 troops were landed (61,715 of them British): 24,970 on Gold Beach, 21,400 on Juno Beach, 28,845 on Sword Beach, and 7900 airborne troops.
      I agree with you, that we could do with some facts instead of the delusions regarding to how well the US army did in the invasion of Europe. And not diminish to the US role the war, but merely provideing more realistic view.

  2. “Every mistake starts with a mistake in thinking. And we are making this mistake if we believe that only the other party profits from our economic relationship and thus will suffer when this relationship stops. If economic ties were maintained for mutual profit, then severing them will lead to mutual loss. Punishment and self-punishment are the same thing in this case.”

    This is the central point of this article, which has been buried.

    FM: May I petition you not to discuss ISIS in this tread because it is too important and too distinct? To conflate ISIS with Putin/Ukraine/Germany garbles matters. On the other hand, we should clearly discuss ISIS in response to another thread.

  3. I generally agree with the author of the article. In my opinion, the West should have moved to integrate Russia into the EU sphere of influence before going any further east than the old Warsaw Pact countries. This would have completely changed the dynamic of the EU’s expansion, even if Russia was only loosely tied to EU policies (which is the most likely outcome of any such attempt).

    Right now Russia can only view the EU/Ukraine agreement as the EU pushing into Russian turf. If they’d integrated Russia first, Russia could view themselves as being a key element of the EU (regardless of the truth of the matter) and the Ukraine joining the EU with Russian sponsorship.

    Much less isolationist and giving the Russians more of a feeling of control being part of the world than by being trouble-makers. I believe Boyd would approve of this strategy but I do not know if I was ever discussed.

    1. “For many of them, Hitler is the only foreigner they know, ”

      Hah, maybe a bit of hyperbole, but not far off. Really, is it exaggeration to say that Americans have a ludicrously cartoon-ish view of the people we are told that need killing — Russians, of Arabs, whoever it is? It would be funny, if it weren’t just a horror – something I feel with my own middle age as I see the pattern. Demonizing, bombing, war, death, over and over and over again.

      “The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil, and it followed that any past or future agreement with him was impossible.”
      ― George Orwell, 1984

      Orwell, you genius you. What a mind, wrong on the big picture in some ways, but so many details, so so so brilliantly spot on. I’ll tell you — I ask myself, do I really really care if the Crimea is part of Russia. Does it really matter to me? Perhaps this is insanity.

    2. I think (hope?) that line was for the German audience. As far as I can see Democrats have been going along with the same NeoCon foreign policy. The difference is that they’re smoother about their public image, compared to someone like John McCain.

      I mean, if Hillary Clinton gets elected in 2016, are they also going to give her a Nobel Peace after 6 months as well? I don’t hate her the way some people do, but she is in fact responsible for good part of the US State Dept.’s current staffing, and at least some of their diplomatic strategy documents that function as the checklist for decision making now. Because of that, she and the group of people she represents, should take a good part of the blame for Syria, ISIS, and Ukraine, and uphevals in Egypt and Libya too.

      I’m sure they learned lots of lessons compared to the 2003 Iraq plan, but the fundamental concept — that you can just flip over a regime you don’t like and assume that an improvement will take place (especially if the change is led by the US, with our oh-so-great reputation, and our habit of picking the nastiest people available as our allies…) Anyone who’s bothered to look for a pattern should see it by now.

      Ok, rant off, sorry about that.

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