In Germany, elections have turned more on the fate of Opel Motors, than on the increasing penetration of Taliban into the Afghan north where the Bundeswehr is deployed. Neither Mrs. Merkel’s Christian Democrats nor her main opponents, the Social Democrats led by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, have engaged a deeply pacifist electorate on the subject.
Berlin is an advocate of civil reform – “Afghanization” – and nonmilitary solutions to Afghanistan’s problems. It has also been the European state least publicly engaged and most shielded from war realities.
“In Germany, they aren’t even calling Afghanistan a war,” says Mr. Klau.
War hits home
But now the war has come to the election, though it is unclear whether new questions over the rules of engagement or the performance of a commander who has said he acted to protect German soldiers, are enough to unseat Merkel.
Horst Bacia, defense columnist for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, offered a typical reaction: The bombing “is having a sobering effect on the home front, where people have long viewed the [Afghan] mission through rose-tinted spectacles. Why is it so hard for politicians to give convincing reasons for it?”
Across Europe, politicians may be chary of raising the unpopular war with the public, but they strongly back the UN and NATO deployment. French defense minister Hervé Morin, when asked Sept. 3 if there should be a debate on the French mission, said the debate had already taken place in parliament.
“What would happen if the international community left?,” Mr. Morin asked. “The bell would toll ... there would be absolute chaos in Afghanistan,” he said, and the state could again be a terrorism stronghold.