Again and again the US media tear themselves apart over Chancellor Olaf Schlolz’s hesitation. Now the New York Times is trying to decipher the “mystery surrounding Olaf Scholz”. It is said that Germany has not been as important as it is today for a long time.
“Who is the man leading Germany? Is Olaf Scholz a strategic genius or a cowardly procrastinator?” asks the New York Times in a recent editorial about the German chancellor. After a series of articles critical of the Chancellor in the “Wall Street Journal”, the influential, more liberal “New York Times” is now attempting to decipher “the riddle of Olaf Scholz” in a somewhat more moderate way for American readers.
“In Europe’s most bitter conflict since World War II, will Germany be led by a strategic genius – or by a despondent hesitator?” The “Times” judges that the answer is still pending – and is thus far more moderate than the “Wall Street Journal”. In the Wirtschaftsblatt of the conservative Murdoch media group, one negative report about the German chancellor followed the next.
According to the Times, Scholz’s decision to finally deliver the Leopard tanks to Ukraine was of enormous importance: it was a long time coming. In a country that wanted to be wary of active military involvement in conflicts, a taboo was “broken” for the first time.
On the one hand, Scholz’s agreement with the United States would give Ukraine more military power than originally expected. On the other hand, the Chancellor was only able to bring himself to do so after six months of constant pressure from allies, coalition partners and the German media – and thus stole valuable time from Ukraine.
So you can see him as both a “strategic genius” and a “faint-hearted procrastinator”. One way or another, “the Scholz enigma” has to be deciphered: For Berlin and NATO as a whole, the important question is less about tank deliveries. The behavior of the West will be much more decisive as soon as Ukraine also uses these tanks – especially in the case of military advances in Crimea. This test is still pending.
So far, Scholz has been remarkably hesitant, one judges. After neologisms such as “Scholzing” (the historian Timothy Garton Ash defined “scholzing” as “proclaiming good intentions and then inventing reasons why the intentions cannot be kept”) and “Scholz bashing” (devastating criticism of the Chancellor), the recent “Times” article now another play on words: “Till push comes to Scholz”. The English expression “till push comes to shove” meaning “when the going gets tough” translates here as “when the going gets tough on Scholz”.
The chancellor only gets up to act at the last possible minute, the Americans are told: After a long, bitter dispute between his green and liberal ministers about an extension of nuclear energy, Scholz only intervened at the very last moment – and also the clear miscast of his Defense Minister only want to see after a year: Even after her many obvious mistakes, Scholz preferred to wait for her resignation than to intervene herself.
Nowhere, however, would Scholz’ “strategically uninvolved spectatorship” and hesitation cause worse damage than in relation to Ukraine: while he was hesitating to deliver tanks, thousands of Ukrainians had to die from Russian bombs, rockets and artillery, they say. And until the German and US tanks are now operational, countless more Ukrainians and Russians could perish in the coming months.
One cannot blame Scholz for these deaths. But quicker decisions could have given Ukraine decisive breakthroughs and shifted battlefield dynamics in its favor. But now there is a risk of an “escalating dead end”.
The German population was also divided on the leopard question because of fear of nuclear attacks, the US readers are told – but was Scholz wise to use this fear against a stable partner like America? A true leader would have used the alliance with the US to allay German fears. In the future, neither Washington nor Moscow will forget that Scholz did not do this.
As an exception among Western heads of state, Scholz refuses to address a Ukrainian victory. “Ukraine must not lose,” he said instead. Scholz’ caution may be appropriate, it is said. A Ukrainian conquest of Crimea could be interpreted by Putin as the ultimate humiliation and tempt the Kremlin boss to launch nuclear attacks.
Accordingly, the conclusion is: “Mr. Scholz likes to sell his slowness as prudence, which others only understand in retrospect. But his strategic caution will not pay off in Crimea. Then he has to act and stop playing the spectator”.