The long-anticipated move by leftist MP Sahra Wagenknecht to form a new left-populist party opens the prospect of a more active debate within Germany on the policy course taken by the now highly unpopular coalition of Social Democrats, Greens and liberal Free Democrats (FDP).
The potential appeal of this new party will depend largely on whether voters agree that the policy of supporting Ukraine is responsible for Germany’s economic downturn.
The German political scene has evolved in recent decades away from the alternation in power of the center right Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and the center left Social Democrats (SPD), often with the FDP in coalition with one or the other of these, to present a spectrum of parties including the center left Green party, the far-left Die Linke (the Left) party and the right-wing nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD).
With the lone exception of AfD, these parties all broadly support Ukraine’s war effort, until Ukraine itself is ready to seek a negotiated settlement. CDU/CSU support now stands at 29.4%. The AfD comes second with 21.2%. Support for the three governing parties together has fallen to 35.6%.
The AfD’s spectacular rise in polls seems to many analysts to suggest a generalized dissatisfaction with the status quo, and not necessarily the sudden conversion of many Germans to far-right extremist views. Wagenknecht has called this a “representation gap,” one that her party would seek to exploit.
The long-anticipated announcement on October 23 of the launch of a new party led by Die Linke MP Sahra Wagenknecht makes the course of German politics much less predictable. Even more than the AfD, the new party foregrounds its opposition to the prevailing stance on the war in Ukraine.
Antiwar politics and the "representation gap"
A majority of Die Linke’s Bundestag delegation has backed tough sanctions against Russia, while still opposing weapons exports to Ukraine. Tensions within the parliamentary delegation grew as Wagenknecht, in public and in the Bundestag, assailed the sanctions policy and called for the opening of negotiations to end the war in Ukraine. The party has hovered since the last election just below the 5% threshold of support needed to win representation in the Bundestag. The breaking away of Wagenknecht and her nine colleagues from the Die Linke faction reduces that party to a parliamentary group, rather than a faction, affecting its funding and other prerogatives in the Bundestag.
Wagenknecht and the nine other Die Linke MPs who have joined her effort to form the new party have provisionally named it the Sahra Wagenknecht Alliance. They plan to have the party officially formed and ready to contest the European Parliament elections of June 2024 and three state elections in Saxony, Thuringia, and Brandenburg (all in the former East Germany) later next year. This timing seems well chosen: European Parliament elections are typically favorable to smaller parties, and many voters in the eastern states are, for various reasons, favorable to the Wagenknecht initiative.
A snap poll reported on October 31 found that 14% of voters could imagine themselves voting for the new party. This would immediately place it in fourth place, behind the CDU/CSU, AfD, and the SPD, and ahead of the Green party. The new party’s impact would be felt mostly on the AfD, but would attract support from all parties other than the Greens and Die Linke itself.
Wagenknecht’s stated aim is to fill a “representation gap,” which means her party will seek to represent those German voters who do not support further arming of Ukraine and who favor efforts to settle the conflict through diplomacy. Evidence of the existence of this gap is the spectacular rise of AfD which began just after Russia’s invasion in February of 2022 (when AfD support stood at 9.5%) and more recent polls placing AfD support above 20% since mid 2023.
As of March of this year, about 30% of Germans found the arming of Ukraine to have been excessive, and a small majority — 52% — said diplomatic efforts to end the conflict had not been adequate. More recently, a majority (52%) opposed providing Taurus missiles to Ukraine.
Wagenknecht's anti-war popularity
Wagenknecht has been an MP since 2009 and was co-leader of Die Linke in the Bundestag from 2015 to 2019. Born in East Germany, she became active after 1989 in the post-communist Party of Democratic Socialism, initially heading its leftmost, avowedly communist wing. The PDS merged with disaffected leftists of the west German SPD in 2007 and became Die Linke, which for some time enjoyed some electoral success, including in western Germany. Former SPD leader and finance minister, Oskar Lafontaine, was co-founder of Die Linke and is Wagenknecht’s husband.
Because of her frequent appearances on political talk shows, Wagenknecht is fairly well known to the German public. Often the lone dissenter against the prevailing posture on Ukraine, her arguments are always persuasive, articulate and above all dispassionate. She is a controversial figure, but one that remains among the most popular German politicians. A recent poll showed her finishing third behind Defense Minister Pistorius and CSU leader Markus Söder in national approval ratings.
Ukraine War positions: AfD and Wagenknecht
Although AfD’s published program states that there can be no viable security order in Europe that excludes Russia, this issue is not often emphasized in their appeal to voters. By contrast, Sahra Wagenknecht’s notoriety is entirely wedded to her very public antiwar stance. In February 2023, Wagenknecht joined Alice Schwarzer, a leading anti-war activist and editor of the feminist journal EMMA, to put forward a Manifest für Frieden (Manifesto for Peace) and inviting signatures online.
The antiwar demonstration in Berlin on February 25, led by Wagenknecht and Schwarzer, attracted participation by about 10,000 people, but did not produce the momentum that the organizers might have hoped for.
Wagenknecht has called herself a “conservative leftist,” faulting Die Linke with having built its support base among younger, urban progressive voters while allegedly neglecting voters of the working class. This dispute has taken the form of a contest between an identity vs a class basis of leftist politics. Wagenknecht argues for the refocus of the left on defense of the interests of the German working class. She has sounded some caution about what she sees as excessive openness to flows of migrants.
What does it mean?
The launch of organizational efforts to form Wagenknecht’s new party opens the prospect of a more active debate within Germany on the policy course taken by the weak governing coalition. Wagenknecht has stated that she and her party will not cooperate with AfD. The AfD made a very strong showing in recent state elections in the prosperous western states of Hesse and Bavaria, suggesting that its own potential is not confined to eastern Germany. By filling a tempting “gap” in German politics, the Wagenknecht alliance could endeavor to to curb the rise of AfD.
Molly O’Neal is a university lecturer and research scholar, with a long diplomatic career focused on Central Europe, Russia and Eurasia. A Fulbright professor in Warsaw and in Dresden, she has a PhD from Johns Hopkins University.
DOHA, QATAR — In remarks Sunday at the 21st Doha Forum in Qatar, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov seemed to revel in what is becoming a groundswell of international frustration with the United States over its policies in Israel. Despite Russia’s own near-isolated status after its 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Lavrov glibly characterized the U.S. as on the wrong side of history, the leader of the dying world order, and the purveyor of its own brand of “cancel culture.”
“I think everybody understands that this (Gaza war) did not happen in a vacuum that there were decades of unfulfilled promises that the Palestinians would get their own state,” and years of political and security hostilities that exploded on Oct. 7, he charged. “This is about the cancel culture, whatever you don’t like about events that led to the current situation you cancel. Everything that came before February 2022, including the bloody coup (in Ukraine) and the unconstitutional change of power … all this was canceled. The only thing that remains is that Russia invaded Ukraine.”
Lavrov, beamed in from Russia to the international audience in Doha, went fairly unchallenged, though his interviewer James Bays, diplomatic editor at Al Jazeera, attempted to corner him on accusations stemming from Russia’s own bloody record in Chechnya in the 1990s and and 2000s and its ongoing military campaign in Syria, which Lavrov noted was at the “behest” of the Syrian government.
On the issue of the failed ceasefire vote at the UN Security Council, of which Russia is a permanent veto member, Lavrov said, “we strongly condemn the terrorist attack against Israel. At the same time we do not think it is acceptable to use this (terrorist) event for collective punishment of millions of Palestinian people.” Did he condemn the United States for vetoing the ceasefire measure? “It’s up to the regional countries and the other countries of the world to judge,” he declared.
When asked if there was a “stalemate” in the Russian war in Ukraine, and what the Russians may have gained from their invasion in 2022, he said simply, “it’s up to the Ukrainians to understand how deep a hole they are in and where the Americans have put them.”
On whether a ceasefire may be in the offing in that war Lavrov said, “a year and half ago (Zelensky) signed a decree prohibiting any negotiations with the Putin government. They had the chance in March and April 2022, very soon after the beginning of the special military operation, where in Istanbul the negotiators reached a deal with neutrality for Ukraine, no NATO, and security guarantees…it was canceled,” he added, because the Americans and Brits wanted to “exhaust (Ukrainians) more.”
Lavrov gleefully piggybacked on themes from an earlier forum panel on the Global South. He accused “the United States and its allies” of building “the model of globalization, which they thought would serve them well.” But now, Lavrov contends, the unaligned are using “the principles and instruments of globalization to beat the West on their own terms.” As for Russia, Lavrov deployed a little “cancel culture” of his own, cherry picking the high points of his country's history over the last 200 years to project a nation that he boasts will emerge unscathed by Western assaults today.
“In the beginning of the 19th century Napoleon (rose European armies) against Russia and we defeated him; in the 20th century Hitler did the same. We defeated him and became stronger after that as well,” he said. With the Ukraine war, the West will find “that Russia has already become much stronger than it was before this.”
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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks in opening session of the Doha Forum in Qatar, December 10. (vlahos)
DOHA, QATAR — The U.S. veto of the UN Security Council vote for a ceasefire in the war in Gaza is being met with widespread anger and frustration by the international community and especially in the Arab world, as reflected in opening remarks at the 21st Doha Forum in Qatar on Sunday.
Addressing the forum, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the vote was “regrettable…that does not make it less necessary. I can promise that I will not give up.” He said since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas in Israel and the ensuing Israeli retaliation in Gaza, “the Council’s authority and credibility were seriously undermined” by a succession of failed votes to respond to ongoing civilian carnage on the Strip.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, foreign minister of Qatar, said the current crisis and the U.S. reaction to it, including its thwarting of the ceasefire call (it was the only vote of disapproval; the UK abstained) was exposing the “great gap between East and West ... and double standards in the international community.” He pointed to those drawing attention to war crimes in “other contexts” (no doubt referring to Russia in Ukraine ) “hesitating to call for the end of these crimes in the Gaza strip.”
He repeatedly called for the creation of new multipolar world order that "respects justice and equality between the people where no people are more powerful than the other."
The U.S. said it did not approve the ceasefire resolution Friday because of the lack of condemnation of Hamas in the language, and that it not include a declaration of Israel’s right to defend itself. U.S. ambassador Robert Wood said halting Israel’s military action would “only plant the seeds for the next war.”
The result is that people here at the forum say they are more convinced than ever that U.S. policy is reflexively and intimately intertwined with Israel's activities in Gaza. As Mohammad Shtayyeh, prime minister of Palestine, charged, Washington has given the “greenest of green lights” to what Israel is doing on the ground. This was exacerbated this weekend with news that the Biden Administration is bypassing Congressional review to send 13,000 tank rounds to Israel. This, despite efforts by Democrats in his own party to condition the transfer of offensive weapons to prevent their use against civilians.
Meanwhile, humanitarian advocates repeatedly called the situation on the ground “unprecedented.” In an interview with Al Jazeera reporter Stefanie Dekker on the dais, Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, said his own organization is “on the brink of collapse.” They have lost 134 relief workers in Gaza since Israeli operations began. He described staff in silent stupefaction over the loss of homes, families. “There is no doubt a ceasefire is needed; we want to put an end to hell on earth right now in Gaza.”
Khaled Saffuri, executive director of the National Interest Foundation in Washington, told RS he was struck by the backlash against American brands in his own travels in Kuwait and Qatar over the last week, citing customer and restaurant boycotts of Coke, Pepsi, MacDonald’s, and Starbucks. “It’s horrible,” he said of the lopsided UN vote. “America is losing a lot in the Muslim world.”
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Journalists in the press room watch as Republican presidential candidate and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and fellow candidate and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy discuss an issue during the fourth Republican candidates' debate of the 2024 U.S. presidential campaign hosted by NewsNation at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, U.S., December 6, 2023. REUTERS/Alyssa Pointer
It's as if the Ukraine War has all but ended — at least for American politics.
If the Republican debates had occurred last year, they would have been consumed with talk over whether Vladimir Putin was readying to roll across Europe and how weak President Biden was for not giving Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky our best tanks, our most powerful fighter aircraft, the longest range missiles we had — maybe even access to nukes.
But Zelensky wasn’t anywhere near the debate stage in Alabama last night, his name not even invoked. Fitting, we guess, since the Senate failed to pass an aid package yesterday that would have sent another $60 billion to Ukraine. This, despite administration claims that the war effort is literally running out of money. Biden even took to the airwaves Wednesday to warn of a NATO war if the funding wasn’t approved.
Republicans have been souring on the aid for months now, which might account for Ukraine’s diminished importance in the conversation. It was outweighed last night by the conflict in Israel, which in itself only drew three questions: Do we send in special forces to get the eight remaining American hostages back from Hamas? What kind of punishment could be slapped on university presidents who allow “pro Hamas” protests on campus? And how do we “get” Iran for purportedly being behind it all?
Ukraine was wielded, albeit briefly, as a blunt instrument. At the very least it gave us the tiniest of glimpses into the competing world views of the hawks on the dais (Chris Christie and Nikki Haley) and their chief agitant, Vivek Ramaswamy.
Haley raised the issue (without being asked about it) by fitting it into her usual stream of Domino Theory conciousness:
“The problem is, you have to see that all of these are related. If you look at the fact Russia was losing that war with Ukraine, Putin had hit rock bottom, they had raised the draft age to 65. He was getting drones and missiles — drones from Iran, missiles from North Korea. And so what happened when he hit rock bottom, all of a sudden his other friend, Iran, Hamas goes and invades Israel and butchers those people on Putin's birthday. There is no one happier right now than Putin because all of the attention America had on Ukraine suddenly went to Israel. And that's what they were hoping is going to happen. We need to make sure that we have full clarity, that there is a reason again that Taiwanese want to help Ukrainians because they know if Ukraine wins China won't invade Taiwan. There's a reason the Ukrainians want to help Israelis because they know that if Iran wins, Russia wins. These are all connected. But what wins all of that is a strong America, not a weak America. And that's what Joe Biden has given us.”
Vivek Ramaswamy responds:
“I want to say one thing about that tie to Ukraine. Foreign policy experience is not the same as foreign policy wisdom. I was the first person to say we need a reasonable peace deal in Ukraine. Now a lot of the neocons are quietly coming along to that position with the exceptions of Nikki Haley and Joe Biden, who still support this, what I believe, is pointless war in Ukraine. …One thing that Joe Biden and Nikki Haley have in common is that neither of them could even state for you three provinces in eastern Ukraine that they want to send our troops to actually fight for. … So reject this myth that they've been selling you that somebody had a cup of coffee stint at the UN and then makes eight million bucks after has real foreign policy experience. It takes an outsider to see this through.”
To which Chris Christie retorted:
“Let me just say something here, you know, his (Ramaswamy’s) reasonable peace deal in Ukraine. He made it clear. Give them all the land they've already stolen. Promise Putin you'll never put Ukraine in Russia, and then trust Putin not to have a relationship with China.” (Christie then essentially calls Ramaswamy a liar for suggesting he never said that.)
"These people are lying. These are the same people who told you about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to justify that invasion didn't know the first thing about it if they send thousands of our sons and daughters to go die. The same people who told you the same in Afghanistan, where the Taliban is still in charge. Twenty years later, seven trillion of our national debt due to these toxic neocons. You can put lipstick on a Dick Cheney, it is still a fascist neocon today."
That was basically it. After $130 billion in U.S. taxpayer money since 2022, most of which we are being told has been spent in Ukraine. After hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians and Russians dead and maimed, Ukraine’s economy in such a state that the West has to prop it up, and NATO pledging more troops and weapons it doesn’t even seem to have, the issue was afforded a scant few minutes, and used only in the broadest of ways to pound each other. Gone was even the ghost of the old argument that the free world was at stake or that our obligation to Ukrainians was a moral imperative. It’s been reduced to a political cudgel, which is the first step to being memory holed in Washington. It happened to Iraq and Afghanistan in prior president debates 2012 and 2016.
The gist seems to be, maybe if we ignore it, it will just go away?