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A response to Heinrich August Winkler by Bernd Ulrich:

Can German refugee policy be explained by our heavily burdened history, which, working in some way through the governing protagonists, causes them to act morally in an imperialist manner and thereby lead the country into isolation? No. Does particularly this type of pseudo-historical criticism prove that the old policy of dealing with Germany’s past no longer works? Yes.

Heinrich August Winkler belongs to that meritorious guard of German historians who have meticulously traced the Germans’ path toward the West. And that means dictated the path in a country, which, due to its past, is also always fundamentally uncertain over long periods. Deviations from this path were severely dealt with. In Mr. Winkler’s essay on the refugee policy for DIE ZEIT (No. 18/16), the warning words "special path" appear after a few lines. Meant, of course, is the wrong path. In line with the rule of thumb that simply everything the Germans do is, with high probability, wrong – and dangerous. Such also being the case with the refugee policy.

In line with this thinking, the West functions as a kind of forensic psychiatric ward of world history, with an American in charge of the clinic in which the Germans have worked themselves up to a certain outpatient existence. For decades all of that was right and reasonable, and it certainly did no harm to the Germans. It would have been nice to stay that way.

But it’s all over now. Not because the Germans have been released as healed. Who wants to claim that? Certainly no German, then by doing so, he would forgo the remaining productive uncertainties about himself and his own history. No, the Germans haven’t been healed; the clinic was closed down. And the one to do it was the man in charge: Barack Obama.

Under his leadership, the Americans have begun to gradually withdraw from the Europeans’ eastern and southern neighborhood conflicts. The Americans are no longer prepared to do what they have been accomplishing for decades, namely stabilizing Europe from the outside while, to some extent, leading from behind.

This partial withdrawal was obvious in the three major crises of recent years (although there are many making every effort not to see it).

  • The Americans visibly represented only their own interests in the euro crisis. From Wall Street and the White House all the way to the editorial offices of almost every newspaper, there was only one shrilly-stated opinion: The Germans have to print money – and thus feed the American-dominated financial system with fresh money to play with. Irrespective of what would have been best in the matter, one thing was obvious, namely that a German government could not give in to this nationally-motivated shoving by the Americans.
  • In the Ukraine crisis, the American president left the leading of the West in the negotiations with Vladimir Putin to the Europeans – meaning, as things stood, the Germans. The role of the Kremlin boss’ major counterpart fell to Angela Merkel – and was accepted by Mr. Putin.
  • Again in the refugee crisis, Mr. Obama was delighted that anybody was prepared to maintain the humanitarian face of the West and be the first to grant protection to large number of refugees. Only the Germans seemed suitable for this role because they were strong enough to do it and, unlike the British and French, didn’t have such a poisoned history of colonial rule with the Arabs. At any rate, Mr. Obama didn’t want to do it himself, although the USA certainly is far more responsible for the chaos in the Middle East than the Europeans.

All three crises show that the Europeans are being largely left alone by the already globally-overtaxed USA, with the exception (hopefully) of the defense of the NATO territories. Which, in turn, marks an historic change for the Germans that they didn’t seek out for themselves: from being on parole from world history to being the indispensable leading power in Europe or, as Mr. Obama expresses it, to being the third most powerful country in the world. Considering the condition the world is in, you want to shout back at him: Thanks a lot, Mr. President. "You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille."

But that also renders Mr. Winkler’s yardstick, "The West" – do what the others do – for the most part useless. Given that the other major powers in Europe are apparently hardly less unsure than the Germans. In the refugee policy, for example, François Hollande certainly appeared like a president placed under house arrest in Élysée by Marine Le Pen and not like a free man. David Cameron’s soul, as well, seemed gnawed by his fear of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson. That doesn’t mean they were wrong and the German government right, it only means that neither the French nor the British nor the Germans represent the original standard measure of political reason in Europe.

So when the Germans do things completely different than all the others, be it an energy transition or a relatively liberal refugee policy, it can mean three things: Either the Germans are wrong; or the others are wrong; or no one is wrong and the differences result from the differing roles and options of the actors.