- The Washington Times - Friday, September 13, 2002

Was he for a military intervention in Iraq or not? That was the question German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder asked on Sunday of his challenger, Bavarian Premier Edmund Stoiber, in one of the most tense moments of the final televised debate before Germany's federal elections on Sept. 22. A campaign that had, until a few weeks ago, been marked by a rather stale discussion of unemployment and the economy had turned into a heated debate focused on whether America was in the right to want a military intervention in Iraq. Over the summer, Mr. Stoiber's party had been ahead in the polls, with voters finding the economic record and financial proposals of the Bavarian premier more convincing. But that was before the Germans, whose history has turned them into Europe's greatest pacifists, were thinking about Iraq.

Though Mr. Schroeder claims his decision that Germany would under no circumstances take part in a military intervention in Iraq is not politically motivated, it is hard to believe. The chancellor is a charmer, who is known for telling his audiences what they want to hear. The same man told voters four years ago that unemployment would fall below 3.5 million during his term, and with more than 4 million still unemployed, he has fallen sorely short of his goal. Now that the debate has turned away from his economic failings and to war a word that causes even the most civilized mustachioed Germans to start frothing at the mouth Mr. Schroeder and his Social Democratic Party have pulled ahead of the conservative Christian Democrats in several German polls.

After both candidates had made conflicting statements on their positions in the days preceding the debate, Mr. Stoiber said Sunday that he did not want to rule out the "theoretical possibility" of using force in Iraq, and urged greater pressure on Iraq to let weapons inspectors into the country. He aptly criticized Mr. Schroeder for hurting the relationship with Washington by making Germany the only country in the European Union that has categorically ruled out military support for an intervention, and ended the debate with a statement of firm support for the German-American relationship. His stance will likely cost him votes, even though at this point, Germany has not been asked to contribute militarily to any potential intervention, nor is it likely to.

Mr. Schroeder's categorical rejection of military cooperation with the United States on Iraq has sent shock waves through the Atlantic diplomatic community, and may have contributed to France's sudden warming to the U.S. position.

It would be an unfortunate mistake for Mr. Stoiber to lose votes over the theoretical question of Germany's intervention. Mr. Stoiber, whose Christian Democratic Party stands for greater economic competition, conservative family values, less government intervention in the marketplace, privatized retirement accounts and cutting the welfare state, is likely the better candidate for Germany's ailing economy. Unemployment is likely to continue to stagnate or increase under Mr. Schroeder's Social Democrats, who plan to continue feeding an already bloated welfare state with big government programs and entitlements for students, parents and the unemployed.

It is unclear whether on Sept. 22 the German voters will be thinking about their pocketbooks or war. If they are still dreaming of Saddam Hussein on that Sunday morning, the politically incorrect Mr. Stoiber may need to vacation in Washington for awhile. That will be Germany's loss.

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