How could this best of the “good European” countries turn its back on France and England, let alone the U.S., and choose to side instead with the likes of Russia and China? ~Russell Berman

At first glance, this is a stupid question. On reflection, it is also insulting.

It is stupid because “good European” countries can and will differ on contentious foreign policy questions. For good or ill, there is not one line on foreign policy that defines a nation as a “good European” nation. That is what pro-war propagandists tried to do in 2002-03 when “old Europe” was identified as the corrupt “bad Europe” in contrast to the new EU and NATO members that were supposedly motivated by principle and idealism to launch an unprovoked invasion of another country. Inevitably, the governments that dissent from the pro-war line are tarred as cowardly or treacherous or some combination of the two. The idea that Germans would be getting lectured because it refused to authorize an attack on another country that had done nothing to them is quite bizarre. In light of modern European and especially German history, the notion that a willingness to start wars (for whatever reason) should be taken as the standard for judging a state worthy of the name “good European” is twisted.

The insult comes in linking a position consistent with support for maintaining international peace to “the likes of Russia and China,” as if the choice is between starting unprovoked wars or imitating authoritarian governments. Germany also chose to stand with “the likes of India and Brazil,” and Poland and Turkey, among others, and yet for some reason critics often forget to mention that all of these democratic governments were firmly against military action in Libya. Their reasons varied, and some of them were acting out of direct self-interest, but we still have many of the more significant democratic governments in the world taking a different position on Libya than the U.S. and a few western European governments.

It’s also worth pointing out that the German government “failed” to support or join in the attack on Libya because it was reacting to very strong public opposition to military action. Germany’s “failure” to support the war was a reflection of what its electorate wanted. Democratists never tire of telling us about the pacific virtues of democratic government, but as soon as any democratic government offers them some supporting evidence for this by refusing to start a war they are scandalized and horrified at how treacherous and weak that government is being. In the end, the Union-FDP coalition’s efforts to appeal to antiwar and anti-nuclear sentiment ahead of state elections proved to be a flop electorally, but there’s no question that the governing coalition would have fared worse had it approved or participated in bombing Libya. Unlike 2002-03, Germany was very circumspect in not denouncing its allies for what they doing, and it went out of its way not to impugn their motives. There was no way Germany was going to be able to participate in the Libyan war, but it did everything else that it could not to get in the way of the states that were intent on war. Instead of respecting Germany’s position, there has been considerable whining about German perfidy in the countries involved in attacking Libya.