Thomas Kielinger: Köhler should not have resigned. All he did was tell the truth

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The Independent Online

Like a bolt from the blue the resignation of Germany's President Horst Köhler has struck the German political landscape and set it ablaze. The sudden departure of the country's highest office-holder presents the most populous nation in central Europe with something bordering on a constitutional crisis that is totally unprecedented.

Mr Köhler must have thought hard and deep about his decision – and yet however you look at it, it fails to convince.

The reasons he gave during his brief press conference yesterday may sound rational and to the point, but there is a huge gulf between the complaints that a head of state may have about his country's political culture and the subsequent decision to pull the communications cord and jump from the train.

What are Mr Köhler's complaints? Well, he deeply deplores the lack of respect shown to Germany's highest constitutional office and its holder, he went on record as saying. That conclusion is based on a number of run-ins he has had recently with public opinion when he spoke out during his occasional foreign travels on various policy issues on the current agenda, none more bruising than the interview he gave in Afghanistan.

Some of his words were taken out of context. They appeared to suggest that Mr Köhler, an economist by background (he was, inter alia, acting director of the International Monetary Fund between 2000 and 2004) and a member of the conservative party, thought the reason why Germany was militarily involved in Afghanistan was to protect international trade routes and work for an altogether more peaceful and manageable climate of global economic relations.

The damnation was almost universal, mainly from the left-of centre in Germany's almost pacifist intellectual climate. Public debate in Germany has for a long time lacked the robust nature you may find, for example, in Britain, where most all viewpoints are treated with the same sense you have of a person's entitlement to hold them.

To protect trade routes may not have been the paramount reason why the West went into Afghanistan. But Germany depends on her exports. To remind his listeners of this vital connection the president did no more than speak the obvious truth.

Yet his remarks were received with an outburst of criticism bordering on hatred. That may have deeply hurt the man and led him to declare that he will no longer put up with the abuse that goes with the office.

Enough reasons for a head of state to become frustrated at his position. But enough reaons also to walk away from it? I think not. While Mr Köhler has every right to castigate Germany's monochrome intellectual culture he has, I think, done his country a great disservice by suddenly resigning.

The author is the UK correspondent of the German national daily 'Die Welt'

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