This Op-Ed by AICGS Executive Director Jack Janes and Peter Ross Range originally appeared in the New York Times on Sunday, March 18.
Germany is at a crossroads: become the Continent’s leader or be seen as the neighborhood bully. In a stroke of national fortune, it is about to install, as its next president, a man known more for his integrity and moral leadership than for his political acumen, a man who can help make sure his country follows the first course. Following the revolutions of 1989, principled leaders like Vaclav Havel of Czechoslovakia and Adam Michnik of Poland reminded Europe where the moral center of gravity lay; thanks in large part to them, what could have been a difficult post-Communist era was smoothed out. It may be asking too much to expect Mr. Gauck, another creature of 1989, to play a similar role. Europe today is more of a muddle than a revolution, and the drama lacks all romance. Yet with stressful times ahead, and the old cultural demons raising their heads, a strong voice of simple principle can be only to the good. Germans need frequent reassurance that they are O.K. The rest of the world likes frequent reassurance that the Germans are O.K. Mr. Gauck is in a position to give both.