Web exclusive 9/26/02
By Michael Barone
George W. Bush telephoned Tony Blair to congratulate him on his election victory in Britain in June 2001.
George W. Bush telephoned Jacques Chirac to congratulate him on his election victory in France in May 2002.
George W. Bush did not telephone Gerhard Schröder to congratulate him on his election victory in Germany on September 22. "He has no current plans" to make such a call, said National Security Council press spokesman Sean McCormack on September 24.
Bush's frosty response to Schröder's victory should be no surprise. In the Financial Times of September 21, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said of Schröder's actions that "an atmosphere has been created that is poisoned." At the NATO defense ministers' conference in Warsaw September 23, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that relations between the two countries were "poisonous."
The reason was obvious. In the last several weeks before the September 22 election, Schröder announced sharp opposition to any American military action against Iraq. He pledged that he would not support U.S. action even if it was endorsed by a resolution of the United Nations Security Council. He said that such a war could break up the coalition in the war against terrorism and bring chaos to the Middle East. He said he would not "click his heels" to commands in Washington. He announced that German armed vehicles will be withdrawn from Kuwait. He announced these policies in inflammatory terms, terms fortunately not matched by his foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, a member of the Green Party. The Iraqi weekly al-Iqtisadi, said to be run by Saddam Hussein's son Uday, called Shröder's attitude "more honorable than that of the Arab countries."
This was a sharp shift in policy. In 1998, then Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping, a former leader of Schröder's Socialist Party of Germany (SPD), said, "Iraq should stop refusing to cooperate, and if all the political efforts that are being made do not result in success, a military operation cannot and should not be ruled out in this case. The United States and Great Britain can absolutely count on German solidarity." Scharping told me much the same thing last July 4 in Berlin, while he was still defense minister (he was sacked because of an unrelated scandal in August). Christian Democratic foreign-policy leaders agreed that the SPD government was likely to support U.S. military action and said there was not much difference on foreign policy between the two parties.
Schröder's post-July 4 shift to anti-American rhetoric was all the more infuriating because it was transparently political. For months his Social Democratic Party (SPD) had been trailing the Christian Democrat and Christian Socialist (CDU-CSU) opposition in polls. Schröder famously promised in his 1998 campaign not to run again in 2002 if unemployment remained above 4 million. Unemployment remains above 4 million, but he ran anyway. Schröder's standing in the polls was improved by his performance fighting the floods in eastern Germany in August. But he evidently calculated that anti-Americanism could win him more votes. Among whom? Presumably, supporters of the Party of Democratic Socialism (PSD), the former Communist Party of East Germany, whose 4.2 percent share of the vote was under the 5 percent threshold required to win some of the seats allotted by proportional representation; the party won only two seats in districts. And presumably, the neo-Nazi Republican Party, whose former leader Franz Schönhuber praised Schröder's statements as "the German way," though it must be added that Schröder repudiated that party's support, and it doesn't account for many votes.
Polls going into the election showed the SPD and the CDU-CSU tied, and the returns showed them both at 38.5 percent; Schröder won because his coalition partner Joschka Fischer's Greens won 8.6 percent of the vote and the CDU-CSU's coalition partner the Free Democrats won 6.2 percent. The Free Democrats were hurt when their deputy leader, Jürgen Möllemann, mailed out leaflets attacking a prominent German Jewish leader for his "intolerant, spiteful style." This odor of antisemitism evidently repelled some voters, since earlier the Free Democrats had been running ahead of the Greens in polls. Schröder's victory may be due less to anti-Americanism among Germansafter all, his switch to anti-Americanism did not propel him ahead of where he was after the floodsthan to a commendable distaste among many Germans for anything that reeks of antisemitism. But it was a victory, and for a government that shamelessly and opportunistically played the anti-American card.
Schröder's victory was also a victory of a government one of whose leading members compared George W. Bush to Hitler. This was Justice Minister Herta Däubler-Gmelin, who told the Schwaebische Tagblatt, "Bush wants to distract attention from his domestic problems. This is a popular method. Hitler also used it." Däubler-Gmelin protested unconvincingly that she had said, "We have known this debate since 'Adolf Nazi,' " and that she meant to draw no connection between Bush and Hitler. But to mention them in the same sentence and criticize them for the same offense is to say that Bush in some way is like Hitleran insinuation that any American government must regard as monstrously offensive. As did Condoleezza Rice: "How can you use the name Hitler and the name of the president of the United States in the same sentence? Particularly, how can a German, given the devotion of the United States in the liberation of Germany from Hitler?" Gerhard Schröder sent a letter of apologysort ofto Bush. "I want to let you know how much I regret the fact that alleged comments by the German justice minister have given an impression that has offended you." But he kept Däubler-Gmelin in his government until after the election.
This is something that George W. Bush is unlikely to forgive, and the fact that Schröder sacked Däubler-Gmelin after the election does not erase the offense. It will always be a fact that Schröder's government went to the polls with a cabinet minister who compared an American president to Hitler. That is not just a discourtesy to Bush; it is a libel against the American people, for it suggests that they would elect a president comparable to Hitler.
This ingrained hatred of America and assumption that conservative Americans are equivalent to fascists will not be unfamiliar to those who have, as I have, had contact with the chattering classes of Europe. Däubler-Gmelin's remark tells you just about much about the culture and mind-set of the German and the European legal establishments. She is a graduate of one of Germany's best law schools, and her attitudes are common. The members of the European legal apparat and chattering classes are unhappy that the United States will not agree to be subject to the International Criminal Court they want to create, a court that will have a roving jurisdiction and will not be constrained by any existing body of law. It seems likely to act much like the much-praised Spanish judge who indicted former President Augusto Pinochet of Chile and demanded his extradition from Britain because of alleged violations of human rights against Spaniards in Chile many years before. It is inconceivable that such a judge would bring similar charges against Fidel Castro or Yasser Arafat or former Eastern European Communists, whose crimes have been far worse than Pinochet's: The impulse to prosecute is directed entirely at the right, and there are no enemies to the left. The European legal establishment's culture is left-wing, viscerally anti-American, convinced that American leaders are right-wingers verging on fascism: The same Spanish judge recently freed on bail al Qaeda suspects who shot videotapes of U.S. landmarks that were believed to have been used to prepare the September 11 attacks. An American president would be foolish indeed to subject its citizens and soldiers to an anti-American legal culture of which Herta Däubler-Gmelin is so shining an example; it is only a matter of time before some European judge indicts a traveling American governor for carrying out the death penalty.
"Between friends, there can be factual differences, but they should not be personalized, particularly between close allies," Schröder said after his narrow victory became clear. But the differences are not factual; they are differences over policy, differences between a policy seriously arrived at and one adopted cavalierly amid the hurly-burly of a campaign. And by retaining in his government and standing for election with a minister who compared George W. Bush to Adolf Hitler, Schröder himself has personalized the differences. Germany will probably continue to cooperate in the war on terrorism. It has done admirable work rounding up terrorists in Germany itself and has expressed a willingness for German troops to take a lead role in peacekeeping in Afghanistan. But so long as Gerhard Schröder is chancellor and George W. Bush is president, the United States will not consider Germany a reliable ally or even a reliable interlocutor. Schröder would do well not to sit around waiting for a telephone call from George W. Bush. And Germany's goal of getting a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council will have to wait another generation.