Clemens Wergin, the Washington bureau chief of Die Welt, laid bare some uncomfortable truths in the New York Times earlier this week:
In recent years two successive German foreign ministers have warned against engagement in Syria and against arming moderate parts of the opposition. The results were predictable: While Mr. Assad has been propped up by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, and while the Islamic State has seen radical Islamists from Europe and elsewhere rallying to its flag, the moderate forces, which should have been natural allies of the West, have been crushed.
Berlin has repeatedly argued that Western intervention of any kind would just make the situation worse. But Germany and the United States failed to understand that not acting was itself a form of action, and that it has led directly to the battlefield escalation and refugee outflows that the West tried to avoid.[..]
After World War II, Europeans grew accustomed to the United States’ taking the lead in addressing security threats in and around Europe. That has nurtured a complacency in Europe’s foreign and security posture, the dangers of which have now been fully exposed. With Washington unwilling to act, Europe could no longer pretend that someone else would step in, as happened so often in the past.
The Syrian conflict, and the resulting refugee crisis, should serve as a reminder that Germany’s foreign policy doctrine of recent decades, a much softer version of the Obama doctrine, urgently needs a reassessment.
Kudos to Mr. Wergin for raising issues others would rather not look at. And he is not alone—as Germany matures into a self-confident democracy, some of its leaders are starting to rethink whether the traditional embrace of pacifism—necessary after the Nazi horrors—should endure forever. Surely there is a line between total aggression and total passivity that powerful, fully-fledged democracies can and should walk.
But those thinking like Herr Wergin have a long way to go; conventional wisdom, we fear, remains firmly on the side of passivity.