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The enemies of democracy are testing us

The enemies of democracy are testing us

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Mathias Döpfner is chairman and CEO of Axel Springer, POLITICO’s parent company.

We have underestimated the enemies of democracy for far too long — because it’s been more comfortable that way.

But now, we are at a tipping point, faced with the possibility that even democracy itself could be overwhelmed. The simultaneous occurrence of so many crises and so much war presents the democracies of the world with a historic challenge. The question is, how steadfast and willing will the West be to defend its interests in this fight?

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has already strained United States and NATO capacity — financially and militarily. And the Gaza crisis may now unleash a war on several fronts.

It will be difficult to overcome Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, Syria, Yemen, as well as the enablers and financiers from Qatar and Iran, even with a coherent Western alliance. And we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that the serial crises we’re confronting directly play into the hands of China, which is waiting for any opportunity to enforce its “reunification” with Taiwan and take over by military means.

All of this is happening as a tumultuous election looms in the United States, which is, once more, a competition for power between two old men. And if we’re overcome by what, in effect, could collectively be seen as a third world war, we’ll be faced with a new world order — one that is not to our liking. 

This new order would be one in which the U.S. falls into isolation, no longer able, or willing, to play its crucial role in underpinning European security. Europe would become an annex of Asia, with China defining the rules, and the Middle East would return to the Middle Ages, with no possible challenge to Islamic fundamentalism.

Hamas’ attack on Israel wasn’t just an act of war but part of a genocidal campaign. No one should have been surprised by its brutality, and anyone who believes the beheading of babies and the murder of the elderly were just reactions to Israeli wrongdoing should read the original Hamas Covenant from 1988 — a constitution of sorts for the organization.

This covenant notes that as the Prophet says: “The Last Hour would not come until the Muslims fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them, and until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say, ‘Muslim or Servant of Allah there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him.’”

This describes what just happened in Israel.

But the massacre isn’t Israel’s problem alone. The enemies of democracy, be they secular or religious, are keen to exploit and feed of these attacks. Some coordinate their actions, others are eager to fan the flames and lend rhetorical support.

Meanwhile, some Western policymakers and commentators are now warning against doing anything that might cause an escalation or prompt a “spiral of violence.” They say we should have more understanding for the Palestinians, so badly treated by Israel — after all, Israel has made many mistakes. However, this is just blaming the victim. And similar arguments have been put forward, often by the same people, to explain Putin’s war on Ukraine — or at least to play it down.

Germany Chancellor Olaf Scholz is boosting defense funding | Johannes Simon/Getty Images

These arguments are just diversions from the fact that in the Levant, Hamas wants to kill Jews and wipe Israel from the map. The chant “From the River to the Sea Palestine Will be Free” makes that explicit. And it is for that stated purpose — the eradication of the state of Israel — that Hamas is funded by Iranian and Qatari paymasters.

But again, the challenge we face isn’t just confined to Israel. A defeat there would have immense wider repercussions: Democracy’s foothold in the Middle East would be extinguished, weakening the West, while our enemies would celebrate and be emboldened — much as they did when we turned tail in Afghanistan.

They already see us as weak and divided — and truth is, we have been.

In recent years, Germany has played a particularly shameful part in this. First, influenced by environment emotionalism, a weak Christian Democrat-led federal government decided to phase out nuclear power following the accident at Fukushima in 2011. This, in turn, only increased Germany’s dependence on Russian gas (from around 36 percent in 2011 to 65 percent in 2020), profiting Putin in the process and providing him with the funds to attack Ukraine.

Then, it was former Chancellor Angela Merkel who suspended established law, drawing refugees from all over the world without devising a plan for successful integration. This has subsequently led to parallel societies, xenophobia, antisemitism and the rise of the right-wing populist party, Alternative for Germany.

Compared to all this, what current Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock have achieved since taking office almost seems like a show of strength. Scholz is currently correcting some of his predecessor’s missteps, including boosting defense funding. He has also delivered weapons to Ukraine — a democracy defending itself against an autocrat.

Nevertheless, as the enemies of democracy test us, much remains to be done. And the intelligent way forward would be for Germany to finally, and fully, grow out of its naive pacifism, as well as reorder an economy that depends on investment from the Gulf’s oil kingdoms and, above all, China — the Communist dictatorship that flashes a friendly smile.

But before anything else, we – Germans and Europeans — must answer some fundamental questions. Will we stand with Israel against the enemies of freedom despite the risks, or will we allow fear and opportunism to prevail? And can the U.S. really count on us in the face of what amounts to existential challenges, even if there’s a price to pay?

If our answer to these questions is yes, then we must act and offer massive, unstinting political, financial and military support to both Ukraine and Israel, so that the enemies of democracy can be reined in before a truly global conflict spirals beyond control.

A little friendship with the U.S. and a little friendship with China or Russia or the Mullahs in Iran will no longer work for Europe.

Whether Democrat or Republican, Americans will be asking us one thing — perhaps politely or perhaps more abrasively: We came up with Marshall Plan to help you recover from World War II, we organized the Berlin Airlift, we won the Cold War and now we’re doing the heavy lifting to protect you against Putin’s imperialist aggression — will you now redouble your efforts to support Ukraine and stand with us in the Middle East and as we confine China?

How we answer that question is not only about Israel and Ukraine — it’s also about us and the open society model.

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