MUNICH — With the Obama administration talking openly of a possible military strike against Syria, the German government and Chancellor Angela Merkel face growing pressure to end months of studied ambiguity and take a stand against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Mrs. Merkel, responding to reports of a major chemical gas attack against civilians in areas around Damascus, indicated Monday that something needs to be done to protect innocent Syrians from being slain by their own government.
“The alleged widespread use of gas has broken a taboo,” Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert said. “It requires consequences, and a very clear response is needed.”
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle joined Mrs. Merkel in condemning the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons, calling it a “crime against civilization,” though he wants to wait until U.N. inspectors confirm who is responsible for the chemical weapons before backing a strike.
“Should the use of such weapons be confirmed, the world community must act,” he said. “At that time, Germany will belong to those who support consequences.”
Mrs. Merkel’s main opponent in next month’s national election, Peer Steinbruck of the center-left Social Democratic Party, is warning her government not to act prematurely.
“Given the confusion surrounding the situation in Syria, I would advise caution when it comes to the discussion over military intervention,” he said Monday in an interview with southwestern German daily Sudwest Presse.
Mr. Steinbruck’s political ally, Claudia Roth of the leftist Green Party, warned that “we have extreme doubts that a military intervention will stop the conflict or de-escalate it.”
But some in Europe accuse Germany of dragging its feet. French President Francois Hollande warned Tuesday that his country will “punish” the Assad regime.
“France is ready to punish those who took the heinous decision to gas innocents,” he said.
Meanwhile, many in the German press also are urging caution, reflecting the country’s post-World War II penchant to avoid war of any kind, which is deeply ingrained in society here.
Handelsblatt, the German business daily newspaper based in Dusseldorf, on Tuesday sounded a skeptical note on the consequences of getting involved in a limited war.
“Humanitarian wars are also wars,” the Dusseldorf business daily wrote in an editorial. “Those who jump into them for moral reasons should also want to win them. Cruise missiles fired from destroyers can send a message and demonstrate conviction, but they cannot decide the outcome of a war.”
Die Tageszeitung, a left-leaning newspaper based in Berlin, said it was a “human reflex” to respond to the reported atrocity targeting Syrian civilians.
But, the paper cautioned, “the emotions triggered by the pictures of dead children cannot be the decisive factor. We know that short-term military successes do not always mean long-term improvements for the people involved. Especially now, at a time when the region seems so flammable, all alternatives to a military strike must be considered.”