Count it among the worst policy failures in recent history. Count it with Obama’s handling of the civil war in Syria. Or as a corollary to same.
At best, it ought to be cautionary. At worst, it probably will not. Some people never learn.
I am thinking of Angela Merkel’s open arms policy toward Muslim refugees, now understood to be a catastrophic failure. Of course, Obama laid the groundwork in Syria, but it took Time Magazine Person of the Year Merkel to prove the truth of the old adage: the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
Formerly known as a pragmatic politician, Merkel saw the image of a suffering humanity and morphed into a humanitarian. Some even said that she was acting like a Christian. She saw what was happening in the Middle East and opened Germany’s borders to those who were fleeing war and famine and desolation. She believed that it was her moral duty. She believed that it was Germany’s moral duty. In effect, she found a way to damage her nation severely. We do not yet know whether the damage is irrevocable.
In an excellent opinion piece for the German magazine Der Spiegel Christiane Hoffmann takes us back to September 5, 2015—which is not that long ago:
"The world views Germany as a country of hope and opportunity," she had said only a few days previously, as part of her annual summer press conference. She also evoked the universal civil liberties that are part of the founding principles of the European Union. It was the day when Angela Merkel decided to follow her convictions, to replace pragmatism with idealism and to emphasize the "Christian" in the name of her party, the Christian Democratic Union. It was the first time in a long while that she didn't think things through all the way to the end.
Merkel, a right-of-center politician, caved to humanitarian idealism. She caved to sentiment. She felt badly for all of the refugees. She took on the mantle of modern liberalism and chose to redistribute German wealth, to open the doors of her country, to provide succor to those most in need. She yielded to her maternal instincts. And she chose as her policy: the audacity of hope. Didn’t the great Obama declare himself a citizen of the world in a stirring speech in Germany?
What could go wrong?
It was a feel-good policy, a policy that would place Merkel and her ilk on the moral high ground. It made them feel good about themselves. After all, they were showing the proper amount of politically correct empathy. As for the practical consequences, both for those it was intended to help, and for those German citizens who would suffer the consequences of a calamitous mistake… that did not enter their calculations. Normally a pragmatic politician Merkel threw caution to the winds. She has reaped the whirlwind.
Merkel fell into the trap that eventually claims all grandiose idealistic policies: she did not, as the article says, think things through. Call it a lack of imagination. Call it a failure of policy analysis. Call it an inability to see that however much humanity everyone had in common, Muslims were, by their culture, different. They did not want to be citizens of the world. They did not know how to be citizens of the world. Worse yet, they did not have the cultural tools to adapt or to integrate into a free enterprise, Western liberal democracy.
Merkel’s was a variant on a failed Bush administration policy: bring democracy and freedom to the oppressed Muslims of Iraq and Afghanistan and Gaza. Call it nation-building if you like, but it was really an effort to impose a radically different culture on peoples who did not want it and who could not absorb it. Those who were the objects of our largesse saw the freedom agenda as a new crusade, a rejection and a discrediting of their culture. They doubled down and fought back against it.
Hoffmann does not mention New Year’s Eve in Cologne. She does not mention the attacks on German women or the crimes and the rapes in the refugee centers… to say nothing of the rightist reaction within Merkel’s own political party.
She emphasizes the conditions of refugees, many of whom have not found a land of hope and opportunity. Anything but….
For her miscalculation, Merkel has been isolated by other European leaders. She did not consult with them and they have not followed her lead. They have chosen not to subject their nations to the misery that Merkel is visiting on Germany.
Other leaders have been closing their borders and building walls. They are not their brothers’ keepers and do not consider the refugees their brothers anyway. The European Union promise of open borders has been one of the casualties of Merkel’s well-meaning, idealistic, humanitarian folly:
Border controls have been reintroduced across large parts of Europe and fences are being erected. It turns out that Merkel deceived herself about the extent of European solidarity. There will be no harmonious distribution of refugees and it is unlikely that Turkey will reliably protect Europe from a further influx of refugees. That's a sad state of affairs. Indeed, nothing is as unseemly as the gloating comments over Merkel's failure one hears these days in Bavaria and Budapest. In Munich, Bavarian Governor Horst Seehofer has alleged that the chancellor's Willkommenskultur for refugees has radicalized the country, and, in Budapest, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán this week accused Merkel of "importing terrorism, crime, anti-Semitism and homophobia" in an interview with the German mass-circulation daily Bild.
In recent days, thousands of refugees have once again been stranded along the Balkan route, and this time they are being held back by border fences. Desperate men, women and children can be seen camping out in central Athens. And this time there are images that Merkel had hoped to avoid last September: images of a Europe that is placing its bet on partition and deterrence. They are images of defeat for the German chancellor. Merkel's humanitarian approach in the refugee crisis has failed.
Hoffmann reports that Merkel is walking it all back… trying, as it were, to put the toothpaste back in the tube. She is doing it slowly, but she has recognized the error of her ways:
Conditions for refugees are already rapidly deteriorating. Social benefits are being reduced, limits are being placed on family reunification in a way that will lead even more women and children to make the dangerous journey by boat to Europe. The number of countries designated as safe will be increased, allowing for the easier rejection and deportation of asylum applicants. And there will be a forced repatriation of Afghan nationals -- to the very country that Western troops were unable to pacify and is now sinking into civil war.
As of now, the flow of refugees is slowing down, but not because of anything Merkel has done:
Currently, significantly fewer refugees are arriving in Germany. This, however, is not the product of Merkel's policies -- it is the result of her failure. Fewer people are coming because Merkel's opponents have closed the borders along the Balkan Route. Even back in the autumn when Hungary erected a border fence, the protest from Berlin was at best cautious. And when Turkey began erecting a wall along the Syrian border, officials expressed understanding behind the scenes.
What we are witnessing today no longer has anything to do with conviction -- it is the return of the ultra-pragmatic Chancellor Merkel, who is paving an escape route from her previous policies.