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Opinion: Germany Jeers at Poland’s Good Will over Iraq

Poland is set to lead one of the occupied sectors in Iraq. German commentators greeted the proposal that it help its neighbor patrol Iraq with jeers, speaking of a wannabe great power bankrolled by the United States.

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German Defense Minister Struck (left) was angered by his Polish colleague Szmajdzinski's (right) proposal to work together in Iraq.

The German media has gushed with mockery, jeers and cynicism about its Polish neighbor since the beginning of the week. The occasion was last week's news that the U.S. wanted to entrust Poland with one of the three occupied zones in Iraq.

German commentators observed with amusement that Poland had only sent 200 soldiers to Iraq. No country had ever risen to the position of a victorious war power with such little effort, they said, without failing to remark that Poland would only be able to undertake its new functions because the U.S. would cover the costs. Germany fell back on the well-cultivated stereotype of the poor neighbor, who now -- how laughable -- strove to become an international player, but only thanks to the grace of the United States.

Mockery and indignation found new nourishment on Monday when, in an interview with the Washington Times newspaper , the Polish defense minister proposed that the German-Danish-Polish corps be deployed in Iraq. (Editor's note: Stationed in northwestern Poland since 1999, the corps is a joint effort between the three countries within the realm of NATO.) German soldiers under Polish command in Iraq? For many German opinion-makers it was a downright outrageous idea.


Again the Poles were accused of various motives that supposedly revealed their hubris. The German-Danish-Polish corps had only been chosen, the German commentators said, because they were the only troops in the Polish Army that had modern equipment -- and that thanks to German money.

It fit the picture that the German defense minister, visiting Washington at the same time as his Polish colleague, claimed that he had learned of the Polish proposal from the newspaper. So the German cabinet member’s rejection of the Polish initiative seemed like a logical consequence, the pundit maintained.

Mediator between Washington and Berlin


The Polish perspective, however, has been largely ignored in Germany. For one, Poland did not push to become an occupying power in Iraq; the idea was born in Washington. Poland knew from the start that it had neither the money nor the military capacities to station thousands of soldiers in Iraq for very long. But Poland accepted the assignment with a certain pride, easily explained by Polish history.

But more than anything else, Poland saw in the assignment and its implementation proposal the singular opportunity to mediate in the transatlantic relationship, especially between Germany and the U.S. For Warsaw made it clear that it wanted to send its troops to Iraq on the basis of a U.N. mandate. And it’s apparent to all concerned that the necessary Security Council resolution must then take a particular shape and the U.N. must also play a central role in rebuilding Iraq. In such a case the German government’s main demand would be fulfilled, which would make rapprochement between Washington and Berlin possible.

The Polish had good intentions with their proposal. But the way it was communicated was problematic -- fragmented and, above all, at short notice.

And it would have been better not just to look toward the Germans and the Danes, but to get more countries involved within the scope of NATO or the European Union. Mockery, jeers and indignation are in any case out of place. Poland is trying to fulfill the role that Germany had played for decades, but in which it currently fails. That is, to mediate between European and American interests.

Felix Steiner is an executive editor at Deutsche Welle.



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