Germany has become so rich that "it has completely lost its fighting spirit," Turkey's Turgut Ozal observed the other day in an Ottomanesque blend of envy and disdain. Visionary on other aspects of the Gulf war, the Turkish president confuses solution with problem in the case of the Germans.
Americans and Europeans have labored for 40 years to smother the German fighting spirit under the pillow of prosperity. The Common Market was conceived to do just that. The bedrock of European unity and of Allied support for German unification has always been fear -- fear of isolated, resentful Germans regaining fighting spirit. No need to kick that sleeping dog.
It is what the Gulf war says about Germany's political spirit that should concern Bonn's partners and friends. After managing unification with strategic vision and tactical brilliance, the coalition government of Chancellor Helmut Kohl has been parochial and timid in its political responses to the Gulf War.
The actions of the Bonn government undercut its professions of solidarity. More important, those actions encourage a sense of German apartness, or singularity, in matters of war and peace that is a troubling omen for the Atlantic community at a crucial moment of transition.
The Gulf war has already dealt a heavy blow to European unity. Belgium's refusal to sell Britain extra munitions for the Gulf is only the most flagrant example of the every-man-for-himself attitude that has infected continental Europe's response to the war. Domestic political considerations drive decisions about alliance solidarity in France and Germany as well.
President Francois Mitterrand authorized French forces to hit targets in Iraq as well as occupied Kuwait only after his most important political rival, former president Valery Giscard d'Estaing, scored a laser-guided hit on the policy of bombing Kuwait only. That would be like a World War II decision by the Allies to bomb occupied France and spare Germany, Giscard observed.
Kohl irritated American officials by ducking the Jan. 16 telephone call from President Bush announcing the start of the war. That same night, the German government joined France in blocking an American call for a NATO resolution of support for the war effort. Bonn and Paris argued that NATO should not give even verbal support to operations outside Europe.
Germany denies that it is obligated to help NATO member Turkey in the event of an Iraqi attack. Bonn argues that the North Atlantic Treaty is only an East-West document. Only attacks in Europe by the Soviet Union qualify for NATO retaliation.
German officials portray the Gulf war as an unfortunate distraction from the larger business of dismantling East-West conflict and converting the Soviet Union to a more democratic society. By keeping out of the Gulf, they preserve their energies and resources for East-West matters.
That misses the essential point about the future of the American presence in Europe. The Gulf war and the end of the Cold War reinforce each other. This war is a defining moment not only for America's position in the Middle East but also for American-European relations.
Numbers tell part of the story. The United States has pulled about 100,000 troops and large amounts of armor and artillery out of Europe for duty in the Gulf. Pentagon, State Department and congressional officials predict that neither soldiers nor equipment will be res/tationed in Europe after Desert Storm is finished. They will be sent back to the United States, left in the Gulf or demobilized, depending on the outcome in the Gulf.
Other cuts under discussion in Washington would bring the U.S. troop level in Europe down from 320,000 last August to about 100,000 by the end of 1991. But U.S. officials acknowledge that if Americans conclude that Europe has not done its share in Desert Storm -- that American blood has been shed for European oil -- a bitter American backlash will develop and bring all the boys home abruptly.
The end of the Cold War suddenly makes that course of action credible. A complete American withdrawal from Germany depends on the Soviet Union continuing its withdrawals from Eastern Europe. But the future American military presence does not depend on the reversibility of political reform inside the Soviet Union or what happens in the Baltics. If the Soviet threat to Europe is not reconstituted, America will have no military reason to stay in Europe.
Only a shared sense of commitment and values will keep America in Europe beyond the Cold War. It is this sense that is endangered by the loophole approach to NATO that Germany is pursuing in a moment of crisis. It is this solidarity that is endangered by the moral superiority claimed by so many German protesters, politicians and editorialists, compensating for the guilt of another generation.
Kohl's steady drive for unification demonstrated what determined, imaginative leadership can accomplish. His wobbly course on the Gulf makes the same point, but in the negative. The future of the European-American partnership that endured a half-century of Cold War will be decisively affected by Kohl's choices to come.