"Excuse me. I am not convinced."
-- German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, lecturing to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in Munich last week, after Rumsfeld's argument for war against Iraq.
Mr. Rumsfeld may have convinced the leaders of 18 European nations, but not you, Mr. Fischer. It's personal. This seems to me the right way to look at it. The question of failing to convince must be seen in the context of whom we have failed to convince. Sometimes "who" explains "why."
Mr. Fischer, who are you?
You are the foreign minister of Germany. You have been that since 1998, when Germany's left-wing Greens party, of which you are a leader, won enough in the polls to force the Social Democratic Party into the so-called Red-Greens coalition government.
But for the formative years of your political life, you were no man in a blue government suit. You were a man in a black motorcycle helmet. That is what you were wearing on that day in April 1973 when you were photographed, to quote the New Left historian Paul Berman, "as a young bully in a street battle in Frankfurt."
In 2001, Stern magazine published five photographs of you in action that day. What these pictures depicted was described by Berman in a deeply informed 25,000-word article, "The Passion of Joschka Fischer" (The New Republic, Sept. 3, 2001). The photos showed you, Mr. Fischer, inflicting a "gruesome beating" on a young policeman named Rainer Marx: "Fischer and other people on the attack, the white-helmeted cop going into a crouch; Fischer's black-gloved fist raised as if to punch the crouching cop on the back; Fischer's comrades crowding around; the cop huddled on the ground, Fischer and his comrades appearing to kick him . . ."
As Berman reported, Mr. Fischer, you rose in public life as an important figure in the anti-American, anti-liberal, neo-Marxist, revolution-minded German radical left of the generation of 1968. This was the left that produced and supported the Baader-Meinhof Gang (or Red Army Faction), which, as Berman wrote, "refrained from nothing," including "kidnappings, bank holdups, murders." You were not a terrorist yourself, but you were a good and active friend to terrorists, weren't you, Mr. Fischer?
In 1976, to protest the death in prison of Baader-Meinhof founder Ulrike Meinhof, you planned and participated in a Frankfurt demonstration in which, Berman wrote, "somebody tossed a Molotov cocktail at a policeman and burned him nearly to death." You were arrested but not charged. In 2001, Meinhof's daughter, Bettina Rohl (who gave those damning photos to Stern) told the press that you were responsible for the throwing of that firebomb. Other contemporary witnesses, Berman reported, said that you "had never ruled out the use of Molotovs and may even have favored it." You denied it, for the record.
In 2001 the German government put on trial your old friend Hans-Joachim Klein, who had been an underground "soldier" in the Revolutionary Cells, an ally of the Red Army Faction and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The Revolutionary Cells helped in the murder of the Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich in 1972, and Klein himself took part in a 1975 joint assassination operation with Carlos the Jackal in which three were killed.
During your testimony at Klein's trial, you were accused of having harbored Red Army Faction members in your Revolutionary Struggle house, the Frankfurt center for the group Revolutionary Struggle, which you co-founded with housemate Daniel "Danny the Red" Cohn-Bendit. You were forced to admit there was some truth in the accusation after it was revealed, as Berman reported, that Margrit Schiller, "who had served jail time for her connections to the Red Army Faction," had in her memoirs "plainly stated that she had spent a 'few days' in the early 1970s living in the Revolutionary Struggle house." (After your testimony, you shook hands with your old terrorist friend Klein. Sweet.)
In 1969, you attended the meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization in which the PLO resolved that its ultimate aim was the extinction of Israel -- that is to say, the extinction or expulsion of the Jews of Israel. Seven years later, Revolutionary Cells terrorists led by your Frankfurt colleague, Wilfried Boese, hijacked an Air France plane to Entebbe, Uganda. The hijackers intended to murder all the Jewish passengers on that flight but were killed by Israeli commandos. "Suddenly," Berman wrote, "the implication of anti-Zionism struck home to [Fischer]. What did it mean that, back in Algiers in 1969, the PLO, with the young Fischer in attendance, had voted the Zionist entity into extinction? Now he knew what it meant."
So, that's who you are, Mr. Fischer, the man we haven't convinced. You are the man for whom Munich wasn't enough, the man who needed Entebbe to convince him that murdering Jews was wrong. You ask to be excused. You have been excused.