- The Washington Times - Friday, September 20, 2002

BERLIN A German Cabinet minister yesterday stirred outrage at home and abroad by comparing President Bush's political style to that of Adolf Hitler, an analogy the White House called "outrageous and inexplicable."
The remark by Justice Minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelin, which spurred immediate opposition calls for her resignation, came at the end of a fierce campaign in which Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has boosted his re-election prospects by strongly opposing U.S. military action against Iraq.
Mrs. Daeubler-Gmelin told a small group of labor union members that Mr. Bush was using the Iraq issue to divert attention from domestic problems, such as the economy and corporate scandals, the German Schwaebisches Tagblatt newspaper reported.
"That's a popular method even Hitler did that," the minister was quoted as saying by a reporter who attended the Wednesday discussion in the southern city of Stuttgart.
According to the newspaper, Mrs. Daeubler-Gmelin contacted its management later that day to say she had not compared Mr. Bush and the Nazi leader, but rather their methods. She also said she considered the event in question a private affair.
In a statement yesterday, she accused the paper of "far-fetched and slanderous" reporting and said she "would regret it very much if this matter were to cast the slightest shadow on my respect for the president of the United States."
At the White House, Press Secretary Ari Fleischer reacted angrily to the minister's comment.
"The United States and Germany have a very long and valuable relationship, and relations between the people of the United States and Germany are very important to Americans," Mr. Fleischer told reporters.
"But this statement by the justice minister is outrageous and inexplicable," he said.
Sen. Jesse Helms, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released a statement saying he and other members of Congress were "appalled" by the anti-American tenor of the German campaign.
"If Chancellor Schroeder succeeds in winning re-election through America-bashing then the U.S. Congress must seriously consider moving U.S. forces out of Germany and stationing them on the territory of other NATO allies," the statement said.
Until yesterday, the Bush administration had been reluctant to respond to Mr. Schroeder's vocal opposition to U.S. threats of military action against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, preferring to see the chancellor's stand as typical pre-election rhetoric.
U.S. officials said he is likely to show greater flexibility if he wins the parliamentary election on Sunday, which the most recent polls show is a dead heat.
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said earlier this week, "When countries are engaged in elections, people say things that they think they should say."
An op-ed column in yesterday's New York Times suggested a darker motivation behind the German rhetoric, however.
Columnist William Safire quoted former German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping as having told a group of Americans recently that he believed that Mr. Bush wanted to overthrow Saddam Hussein to curry favor with "a powerful perhaps overly powerful Jewish lobby" in the United States.
Close aides to Mr. Schroeder, both in his government and his campaign, have maintained that the chancellor is opposing the threat of war, not the United States generally, while insisting that he will not change his position should his Social Democratic Party (SPD) win a second term in office.
His administration was clearly seeking to distance itself from Mrs. Daeubler-Gmelin's comment while, according to aides, trying to establish what exactly the minister had said.
Mr. Schroeder's main opponent in the election, Edmund Stoiber of the conservative Christian Democratic Union, has accused the chancellor of risking Germany's role as an active international player only to attract more votes in this weekend's close race.
However, even he has been forced to speak against war with Iraq as Mr. Schroeder has used the issue to overcome a deficit of several percentage points in the polls.
Asked in a television interview yesterday whether he would let U.S. forces use Germany as a strategic base for an attack on Iraq if the United States took unilateral action, the conservative challenger said, "Definitely never if the Americans go it alone."
His Christian Democratic Union party, meanwhile, called for Mrs. Daeubler-Gmelin's resignation, arguing that the SPD was "deliberately trying to create the impression that the real opponent is Bush and not Saddam Hussein."
"This shows what Schroeder and his Social Democrats really think of our American allies," Thomas Goppel, a spokesman for Mr. Stoiber's campaign, was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying.

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