- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 9, 2002

Few people may have noticed the invasion of high- powered German politicians of all stripes and colors. All of them here to mend German-American relations, jettisoned by re-elected Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's deplorable phrasing of his disapproval of a war against Iraq as an American "adventure." He vowed not to support it, even if sanctioned by the United Nations. It helped him win the election. But it also earned him the wrath of the White House charging him with poisoning the "special" relationship.

Now leading victorious Social Democrats, joined by the defeated conservative Christian Democrats, Christian Social Unionists and liberal free Democrats, are on an extensive fence-mending expedition. Together they hope to convince members of Congress, the State Department, Pentagon and Commerce Department that German-American relations should not be impaired by linkage to Mr. Schroeder's antiwar position.

Among the many high-profile damage controllers from Berlin are two former defense ministers, the Bavarian minister of economics with an entourage of more than a dozen industrialists in tow, a former minister of economics and a German-American coordinator for former Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

Their input is to be enhanced by the arrival of Mr. Schroeder's popular Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, whose Green Party actually won the election for the Social Democrats. Mr. Fischer let it be known that "Germany's reliability as an ally is not open to question." Despite current disagreements about the best way to deal with the Iraq crisis. he asserts , "German policy has not changed."

As the German ambassador to this country recently stated, there are no differences of the assessment of Saddam Hussein and his possession of weapons of mass destruction. However, given the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban, the Middle East crisis and the unfinished business if Afghanistan, there are differing approaches to timing and priority.

The Germans find themselves in an awkward position. Known and feared as a militaristic nation that was to be neutralized and "kept down" by the inclusion in NATO, and often ridiculed for its love of uniforms, goose-stepping soldiers and snappy salutes, Germany now has to defend itself against reproaches of its government's antiwar position. This administration seems to have forgotten that Germany's decision to built up its armed forces exclusively as an instrument of defense after World War II had been devised under Washington's guidance.

While the debate about the merits and demerits of the use of force in a pre-emptive first strike against the menacing dictator of Iraq and its internationally precedent-setting consequences are under discussion in Congress and the United Nations, the Germans find it unfair to be singled out as ingrates for taking a position shared by other nations. Not without a fierce constitutional battle, unified Germany has been making its contribution to the war in the Balkans. It is training the new police force in Kabul. It supports Washington's approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has performed well in the war against terrorism.

Clearly, Washington has been overreacting. Even a superpower would benefit from an enlightened multilateralism. What is meant by this is a nothing less than a tolerance of reasonable national self-interest.

It is ironic that Mr. Schroeder's aggressive campaign rhetoric has been compounded by his justice minister's insulting comparison of President Bush's supposed diversionary tactics with Adolf Hitler's methods, when the master of diversion, Mr. Schroeder, was looking over the critical lady's shoulder. Because of Germany's failing economy, 4 million job-seekers and an increase of bankruptcies by 10 percent costing 134,000 jobs, Mr. Schroeder's re-election chances had dropped out of sight.

Then the floods boosted his image as a leader with great social compassion. He established a fund of 7.1 billion euros to aid the victims, along with another billion from the department of transportation and another 1.2 billion from the European Union.

At the same time, he surprised everybody with a magic blueprint for economic recovery that purported to halve unemployment within three years. All that helped. But the breakthrough came when he, sizing up the political climate, joined the forces opposing war on Iraq, forces by the Greens his coalition partner.

The gamble paid off. While his party lost votes and pulled even with the paltry 38.5 percent garnered by the conservatives, the Greens outperformed the Free Democrats with 8.6 percent to 7.4 percent and won the contest.

Mr. Schroeder rules with a thin majority of four parliamentary votes and is vulnerable to a vote of no confidence that could topple him any time. He is a risk taker. Well aware of affronting George Bush, who had been none too pleased with his Berlin reception that was marred by massive demonstrations last May, Mr. Schroeder chanced a rift with Washington he considered to be bridgeable. His assessment was based on the solidity of the more than half-century-old relationship and its common values and virtues, its mutual economic and political interests.

The trade figures, amounting to an annual $350 billion with the EU, were robust. Investments in both directions were high, with half of German foreign investments flowing to the U.S. and, to nobody's surprise, the biggest foreign investments made by Americans in East Germany's new Laender, or constituent states.

Calibrating all these positive factors, the agile Social Democrat chose the "German way." And it will be interesting to observe the results when Germany takes over the temporary presidency of the U.N. Security Council in February 2003.

Better than anybody else, the chancellor knows that personal amends without kowtowing will have to be made to George Bush and that nobody but the chancellor can make them.


Viola Herms Drath is a trustee and member of the executive committee of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy.


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