By Marius Ostrowski Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit: Germany, the unlikely mediator in the Middle East
You know, sometimes when I read the coverage that the major countries in Europe get in the British press, I feel more than a little sick. It simply abounds with negative stereotypes, and there seems to be little that pleases institutions like the Telegraph, the Daily Mail (I hasten to add I’m not exactly a regular reader) or even the BBC more than when things are going thoroughly pear-shaped on the other side of the Channel. The French are either pseudo-imperialist government ministers or krypto-anarchist students on opposing sides of impromptu barricades in the Parisian banlieues, the Russians are all ex-KGB agents with a genetic predisposition for corruption and imaginative assassination methods, the Germans are thinly-veiled Nazis who are trying to create some more Lebensraum using the European Central Bank in Frankfurt and their car industry, the Dutch are all gay potheads, the Poles are all lumberjacks and plumbers, Scandinavians have antlers and graze on the local tundra, and the Italians all think they're Mussolini. And it doesn't matter if the British economy's screwed, because all their economies are even more screwed exclusively because of the French farmers and their precious Common Agricultural Policy. And all the other countries are completely irrelevant because they probably don't exist.
So when I saw the phrase "Germany's success as the Middle East's hostage negotiator" tucked away at the bottom of the page under "Features, Views, Analysis", I actually rubbed my eyes to check I hadn't imagined it. But no, there it was - possibly the most eloquent eulogy to the 'quiet diplomacy' the German foreign ministry has practised since the 1980s I've read in any language (and perhaps I should point out that the French and Russians realised this at least a year ago, judging by the articles I read in Izvestia and Le Monde last summer). The most recent example, of course, is the prisoner swap deal arranged this week between Israel and Lebanon - and perhaps the best indication of the German agents' success (as the article implies) is that no-one had any idea they were even involved until now.
There are three main reasons why Germany enjoys such a uniquely favourable position. History is the most important by far - instead of "not mentioning the war", German politicians took the mistakes on board and thus shaped a new Aussenpolitik that emphasised coordination and proactive neutrality (and in this respect, countries like Italy and France have begun to follow the German lead); instead of sending the soldiers in as aggressors, they're now there as peacekeepers and mediators (the former Yugoslavia being a good example), a role partly enforced due to the continued nonexistence of a German nuclear arsenal.
The second reason is that Germany, due to its acceptance of Gastarbeiter in the 1950s from Turkey and various Arab states, and (more importantly) lack of any past colonial interest in the Middle East, can intervene without accusations of imperialism, further aided by positive historical relations with what is now Iran, Syria and Turkey.
And last of all, the actual success of German mediation would not be possible without the close and long-standing contacts the German secret service (BND) has in their equivalents in Israel and Iran, coupled with the unambiguously positive relations at government level between the German and Israeli cabinets (viz Angela Merkel's well-received recent address to the Knesset as proof) and long-running overtures to the Bundesregierung on the part of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
In short, Germany is succeeding, pretty much single-handedly, in preserving at least some semblance of dignity in the involvement of Europe in Middle Eastern affairs - for all the critics who sneer at what they see as Germany crawling prostrate to Israel to forestall any post-Holocaust vindictiveness or (apparently simultaneous) German flirtation with the Islamic world to protect its corporate interests, the fact remains that it is Germany which has developed the most appropriate policy currently being pursued anywhere in the West. So Jeremy Clarkson and Piers Morgan can make all the derogatory remarks they want, because it appears that somewhere, deep down in the bowels of the British media, someone's realised that Germany have got their approach absolutely right, while Britain (and the USA) have got it very, very wrong...