There’s a new can-do nation. It’s called Germany. The United States, fear-ridden, has passed the torch.
Throughout the extraordinary process that has seen roughly 1 million refugees arrive in Germany this year, Chancellor Angela Merkel has had a consistent refrain: “Wir schaffen das” – “We can do this.” The gesture in question is the most extraordinary redemptive act by any European nation in many years.
Germans on the whole have understood. They have understood that to flee Syria through Islamic State checkpoints, place your family in flimsy boats on stormy waters and trudge across Europe in search of a home is not a desperate decision. It is a reasonable decision if the alternative is to see your children blown up by a barrel bomb or your daughter raped by a jihadist. Postwar Germans are reasonable people.
The United States would have had to admit about 4 million refugees this year to take in a similar proportion of its population. It has fallen more than 3.9 million short of that mark.
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Most of the refugees in Germany are from Syria. The United States has admitted about 1,900 refugees from Syria over the past four years. President Barack Obama has now pledged to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees – a decision that had met defiance from more than two dozen Republican governors eager to conflate the words “Muslim” or “Middle Eastern” with terrorist.
Whatever happened to “the home of the brave”?
Set aside the fact that the Syrian crisis cannot be disentangled from the spillover of the Iraq war, and so America’s direct responsibility is engaged. Set aside the fact that Obama said in 2011 that President Bashar Assad must step aside, and so America’s responsibility is engaged. Set aside the presidential “red line” not upheld in 2013. Even then, by any reasonable measure, the U.S. response to the Syrian refugee crisis has been pitiful.
For a land of immigrants peopled over centuries by families fleeing war, famine or hardship, it has been especially pitiful.
We can do this
Germany has stepped in. Wir schaffen das – we can do this. The can-do spirit has made a trans-Atlantic crossing.
Merkel’s place in the history books was already assured. She was the woman who over a decade steered a united Germany to a self-assurance striking for a country that, even at the turn of the century, was still uncertain if it could allow itself a modicum of pride. But with her decision this year to admit Syrian and other refugees, she has become a towering European figure, certainly the equal of such postwar German giants as Konrad Adenauer, Helmut Schmidt and Helmut Kohl – perhaps even surpassing them because her Germany is its own master whereas theirs was still under degrees of American tutelage.
“She does not want to be – she refuses to be – the person who witnessed a serious fracture of the European Union,” Julian Reichelt, the editor in chief of Bild Online, told me. “She will throw money at a problem, as with Greece. She will admit an unlimited number of refugees. And she will go down in history as a great European who defended the Union no matter what.”
A rational decision
When Merkel decided last summer to admit the refugees, she averted violence that might have spilled out of control. Critics within her own Christian Democrat party portray her as emotional. But for a leader committed to preserving the European idea, her decision was rational.
Raised in East Germany, she owes her freedom to European unity. It is a personal matter. The last time Europe was awash in millions of refugees was in 1945 as the Third Reich collapsed. It is a historical matter. Germany could not turn its back. Still the decision required statesmanship – that quaint, almost forgotten word – and the conviction that any risk of terrorism could be managed.
One million refugees change the landscape. They are in supermarkets. They are in hospitals. They are in schools. Germans have been accepting, despite the huge cost. A far-right party may benefit, but the consensus is this had to be done.
As a result, over the next generation, Germany will become a stronger, more vital, more dynamic, more open country. Abdulfattah Jandali, a Syrian immigrant known as John, was the biological father of Steve Jobs. Perhaps a future Syrian-German Jobs has just entered school.
Germany has shamed its European partners, including Britain. A Europe-wide program for refugees is needed. Germany can’t take in another million in 2016.
“There is no real plan beyond buying time to get the rest of Europe on board,” Reichelt said.
In a grim year, Merkel has redeemed the Europe that once closed its frontiers to Jews fleeing Germany. When, at unification, Kohl spoke of a “blooming landscape” in the former East Germany, he was derided. But it came to pass. Germany can do this. As for can’t-do America, that’s another story. Fear and electoral politics constitute an explosive brew.
The New York Times