According to this roundup in the German magazine Der Spiegel, German commentators are roundly disappointed in Barack Obama’s apparent decision to continue trying GTMO detainees in special military commissions. The major German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung states:
Obama is thus discrediting both himself and the US. It would be better were he to gather the necessary political courage to initiate criminal proceedings before regular courts. Legally, it will be incredibly complicated and possibly untenable in some cases. But the country cannot get around the purification process. Otherwise, the poison from the Bush era could continue to infect America’s image for years to come.
In other words, this German newspaper thinks we should let the leaders of the 9/11 plot go free, and implicitly leave ourselves defenseless moving forward, for no other purpose than to improve the Germans’ opinion of us.
Well, allow me to retort. The fact that the leaders of all four 9/11 cells were the product of German universities continues to infect Germany’s image in my mind. And the poison of German cultural intolerance, in particular their inability to assimilate the “outlanders” among them, continues to infect the world, to say nothing of their image. And don’t even get me started on their embarrassing performance in Afghanistan, where they have managed to be upstaged by their tiniest European neighbors. Maybe one day I will worry about what the Germans think of us; for the moment, I’m more worried about what I think of them.
On the other hand, Obama asked for this, didn’t he? He did nothing to restrain the criticisms of Bush policies in the months and years before his inauguration, seeking instead to capitalize on even the most unhinged of them. If his stance during the campaign had been, “Yes, Bush made mistakes, but some of these bad policies are better than the alternatives, and these are good people trying to do a hard job,” he might have left himself more room to adopt those policies once he was faced with reality. But instead he chose to maximize his chances of winning the election by abetting the impression that there was truth to virtually ever criticism and conspiracy theory about the Bush administration, and that the Bush team was full of idiots and evildoers.
German veterans of the First World War would be all too familiar with the moral of this story: poison gas blows both ways.