- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Scandals involving comments about President Bush and Hitler, anti-Semitism and jittery economics paved the way for one of the most unusual elections in German history Sunday night. Until late evening, the conservative Christian Democrats remained in the lead. But around 3:30 a.m., both German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats and Bavarian Premier Edmund Stoiber's CDU/CSU parties were scoring 38.5 percent of the vote. Then it was up to their potential coalition partners the Greens and the economic liberals, the Free Democrats (FDP) to determine who would lead the government. In the end, the Greens were the only ones who could claim real victory. Their poster boy, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, saved the incumbent government from having to step down through little more than a one-point lead over the FDP. The day after, Germany has started a much-needed housecleaning.
The face of the man who represented the Christian Democrats' undoing appeared on a large television screen to loud boos from the crowd on election night. FDP Vice President Juergen Moellemann, whose campaign used anti-Semitic slurs criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Michael Friedman, the vice president of the Central Council for Jews in Germany, was forced to step down yesterday. Though he circulated the anti-Semitic leaflets last week without the approval of his party, the FDP would have done better to have cast him out last spring, when he told a Berlin paper that Israel's policies "foster terrorism."
At the top of the Social Democrats' liabilities list was Justice Minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelin, whose disputed comparison of Mr. Bush's political methods to Hitler's just four days before the election forced her retirement yesterday. While the German chancellor stood by her until election day, the international controversy she created was too much even for Mr. Schroeder, whose criticism of Mr. Bush's pressure on Iraq pushed him ahead in the polls.
For Germans, Sunday's vote was also about whether they believed in going to war in Iraq, Mr. Schroeder's leading issue for the last month. In a poll published by Germany's ARD television, 51 percent of those polled said they believed Germany should not take part in an attack on Iraq in any form, and only 9 percent agreed with sending soldiers. The Green Party, which pushed for peace in the Middle East but avoided the anti-American rhetoric of its coalition partner, likely gained points from voters for handling the issue with care.
Four more years of the same government is indeed terrifying. The red-green government faces unemployment at more than 9 percent, but promises to make the bloated welfare system even bigger. Mr. Schroeder has isolated himself within Europe by ruling out supporting the United States in a military campaign in Iraq, and will have a hard time convincing Mr. Bush that he is an ally, even if he decides to change his rhetoric.
Our government should maintain frigid, if minimally proper, diplomatic relations with the Schroeder government in the hope that an American cold shoulder will tip Mr. Schroeder's fragile majority into dysfunction. The German political class may decide that it is not in Germany's interest to be led by a pariah from the Atlantic community of nations. Mr. Schroeder should begin to pay a high price for his anti-American demagoguery.

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