Candor Costs Germany's President His Post
by Charles Lemos, Mon May 31, 2010 at 12:22:37 PM EDT
Such candor is rare in geo-politics and it is rarely welcomed. Today, Horst Köhler, the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, resigned his largely ceremonial post of head of state over remarks made while on a visit to Afghanistan. Mr. Köhler had noted that “a country of our size, with its focus on exports and thus reliance on foreign trade, must be aware that military deployments are necessary in an emergency to protect our interests, for example, when it comes to trade routes, for example, when it comes to preventing regional instabilities that could negatively influence our trade, jobs and incomes.”
The reference is clear. NATO is in Central Asia to secure access to the region's vital energy supplies.
The story in Der Spiegel:
German President Horst Köhler, under fire for controversial comments he made about Germany's mission in Afghanistan, resigned with immediate effect on Monday in a shock announcement that comes as the latest in a series of blows to Chancellor Angela Merkel.
German President Horst Köhler announced his resignation on Monday in response to fierce criticism of comments he made about Germany's military mission in Afghanistan.
"I declare my resignation from the office of president -- with immediate effect," Köhler, with tears in his eyes and speaking in a faltering voice, said in a statement, flanked by his wife Eva-Luise. The president is the head of state and his duties are largely ceremonial. But the resignation is the latest in a string of setbacks for Chancellor Angela Merkel since her re-election last September. The German federal assembly -- made up of parliamentary MPs and delegates appointed by the country's 16 federal states -- will have to vote for a successor to Köhler within 30 days, according to the federal constitution.
The president had become the target of intense criticism following remarks he made during a surprise visit to soldiers of the Bundeswehr German army in Afghanistan on May 22. In an interview with a German radio reporter who accompanied him on the trip, he seemed to justify his country's military missions abroad with the need to protect economic interests.
"A country of our size, with its focus on exports and thus reliance on foreign trade, must be aware that ... military deployments are necessary in an emergency to protect our interests -- for example when it comes to trade routes, for example when it comes to preventing regional instabilities that could negatively influence our trade, jobs and incomes," Köhler said.
It sounded as though Köhler was justifying wars for the sake of economic interests, in the context of the Afghan mission which is highly controversial in Germany and throughout Europe.
Horst Köhler is a former director of the International Monetary Fund and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. He was elected to his second five-year term in May 2009 by a single vote. Under German law, a successor must be chosen within 30 days by the so-called Federal Assembly composed from members of the Bundestag and from representatives chosen by Germany’s 16 länder or states.
One wonders if we will ever hear such candor from our own leaders.