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Among allies, Germany is the odd man out in UN vote on Libya

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"Germany will be a reliable, responsible and engaged partner," said Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, about his country's seat on the Security Council. "We will do our part to ensure that the world continues to see the Council as the central body for peace and security in the world."

Muammar Qaddafi has praised Germany for its position. What an embarrassment for a country that sustained one of the colonel's terrorist bombings (his agents blew up the La Belle nightclub in West Berlin in 1986).

So why did Germany abstain? There are several official reasons. It is in the middle of restructuring its defense forces. Adding another mission outside of Afghanistan, where it has the third largest troop presence after the Americans and the British, would stretch it too far.

Mr. Westerwelle has also warned against the "slippery slope" of another war in a Muslim country with perhaps unintended consequences. Germany will not participate in the UN mission, although it is considering how it can help more with tasks in Afghanistan, such as radar flights, to free up personnel or equipment for Libya.

The unofficial reason for abstaining is because this is the popular position to take in a year chock full of important German state elections, including one on Sunday. This vote is entirely consistent with populist positions taken by Chancellor Angela Merkel – no bailout for deadbeat, debt-ridden European countries, a rethinking of nuclear power, and no support for military action, even to stop a bloodbath.

This all sounds like pretty high-and-mighty criticism, so let's just take the German position for a minute, because nothing is ever as black and white as it looks.

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