- The Washington Times - Monday, August 27, 2001

"From Street Fighter to Germany's Foreign Minister" screamed the headlines when a photo of Joschka Fischer beating up a policeman surfaced in Germany's popular "Stern" magazine. There was no official denial. No proof actually exists that 28 years ago the radical, left-wing Mr. Fischer fostered relations with members of terrorist groups or sanctioned the use of Molotov cocktails. Giving evidence in the trial of a former comrade, Mr. Fischer resolutely distanced himself from terrorist acts, but not from his militant past.
Calls for the resignation of the popular leader of Germany's Greens have not only come from the right, who believe he lied in court and is therefore a potential target for blackmail. For the Greens, who set out to change the moral and social climate of the Federal Republic, the Fischer affair has both a political impact andstrong moral dimension. The question whether the former revolutionary and pacifist is just a power hungry opportunist or a repentant sinner has not been answered.
To the dismay of the party's ideologists, Mr. Fischer executed an astonishing turnaround when he endorsed the war in Kosovo and military intervention in Timor, supported by unconvincing moralizing rhetoric. The pragmatic compromise saved the coalition with the leading Social Democrats, but it raised doubts about the self-serving shift of positions.
Today, Mr. Fischer is in the headlines again, having found a new mission as Middle East peace-broker, an unusual position for a German foreign minister to say the least. Yet, there he is. While American efforts have been stalled, the German called on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to meet in Berlin this week.
In his brilliant analysis of "The Relationship between Ideology and Political Reality," Hans J. Morgenthau warned that "an ideology does not survive confrontation with a reality that denies it." Mr. Fischer seems to have learned that lesson some time ago. When asked about his political ambitions in the past, the retort usually was: Why be in politics if you're not going to be in power?
It is a far cry from the idealistic approach of the Greens who wanted to rescue the Germans from an uncaring industrial establishment and challenge the post-war status quo in Europe by persuasion. Sworn to nonviolence and at most occasional civil disobedience, they adamantly opposed the wars in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf and were more than disenchanted by the pronouncements on the relative merits of peace of President Reagan's Secretary of State Alexander Haig. Germany's Greens have translated Rousseau's theory of the social contract maintaining that the ruler, the state will govern by consent into a modern socialist concept of participatory, grass-roots democracy, a populism with leftist collectivist precepts. Their vision of a nuclear-free Europe and continued resistance to international combat missions by the Bundeswehr are well remembered.
Like Mr. Fischer, Germany's Greens have undergone a number of ideological metamorphoses. Philosophically rooted in the students' movement's march through the institutions of the 1960s and the energy crisis of the 1970s, they hoped to create a "form of ecological, self-administering emancipated socialism." As such they regarded themselves as an alternative to existing conventional parties neither left nor right, but forward.
Though not a student but a drop-out and a brilliant autodidact, Mr. Fischer got his education as runaway from a bourgeois home hitching a ride to Kuwait and supporting himself among other means as a pavement artist, postman, factory worker or taxi driver. Not surprisingly, the radical branch of the students' opposition - with its squatters, cozy communes, spectacular demonstrations, intimidating outbursts and violent assaults on "material goods" - proved to be attractive for a homeless revolutionary. Mr. Fischer's emergence on the national scene coincides with the breakthrough of the Green Party in 1982. As the leader of the pragmatic "Realos" vs. the ideological "Fundis" (fundamentalists), Mr. Fischer was relentless in steering the party on the path to power.
Notwithstanding the reservations of more idealistic members, Mr. Fischer held the course. Three years later he became the first Green minister (environment and energy) on the state level. His election to the Bundestag and parliamentary spokesman for the Greens and the Alliance 90 in 1994 was followed by his rise to foreign minister when Gerhard Schroeder's victorious Social Democrats had to form a coalition government in 1998.
By then Mr. Fischer's metamorphoses was complete. Shedding about 50 pounds, sneakers, sloppy corduroys and bonhomie, the once chubby politician emerged in elegant dark suits and formal behavior. The marks for his performance as foreign minister by career ambassadors were excellent. Mr. Fischer proved to be informed, diplomatic and realistic.
Notwithstanding the perception of changing strategic positions, there is consistency in his visions. Some may have been surprised when he proposed a full European integration "that takes the nation-states along with it into a Federation." The speech ruffled French feathers. Actually, this concept goes back to the Greens' "alternative" foreign policy advocating the dissolution of the power blocs as a forerunner of a united Europe.
Mr. Fischer is a complex character. While liberals rejoice in his ability to bring the fringe back into midstream politics, the conservatives charge a lack of credibility and a case of German Clintonitis.

Viola Herms Drath is a member of the executive committee of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy.


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