- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 16, 2003

BERLIN, Feb. 16 (UPI) — Time: Early January 1991, when world attention is focused on the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait. U.S.-led coalition forces are preparing to storm into Kuwait to drive out Saddam Hussein's occupying army.

Place: Spacious, picturesque Kroepcke Square in the heart of Hanover, capital of Lower Saxony in northern Germany.

Enter, from several different directions, massing crowds of labor union members, political party youth workers and church group militants. Many carry placards clamoring for "peace!"

Enter, midway through the demonstration, a popular local figure, the then-premier of Lower Saxony, Gerhard Schroeder. At home with the crowd, the youthful Social Democratic politician, then 46, speaks out vehemently against the looming Gulf War. The peace rally sends up a climactic cheer …

In the weeks that followed that tell-tale appearance — as Operation Desert Storm was launched and then advanced across Kuwait — Schroeder continued to denounce the military action as a dangerous mistake.

He called for a cease-fire and for boycotts and negotiations, not war, to force Saddam's withdrawal back into Iraq. Schroeder demanded the immediate recall of Lower Saxony-based German air force units which Chancellor Helmut Kohl's federal government had sent to Turkey to join the allied cause.

In one television appearance, he said he feared that continued war could prompt a desperate Saddam to use poison gas; that, in turn, could provoke allied retaliation with tactical nuclear weapons — "with terrible attendant consequences."

As more anti-war demonstrations multiplied across Germany, he stood up in the Lower Saxony state Parliament and declared, "I am proud of Germany's youth, which refuses to be enthusiastic about the war."

It isn't the first time, in other words, that Schroeder has strongly opposed military force against Saddam. Give him points for consistency. For such is the historical precedent for the German chancellor's current anti-war and anti-Washington stance which has won him re-election, split the Western alliance, and helped to bedevil Washington's efforts to sustain a united, U.N.-backed international response to the Iraq crisis.

One of the organizers of the anti-Gulf War rally in Hanover those 12 years ago, retired physicist Lothar Schulze, 81, recalls how gratified he was when Schroeder joined the peace cause in 1991.

But he is even more impressed today. "It was easier for him back then, because he was a regional politician with no direct responsibility for foreign and security policy," says Schulze. "Now as chancellor, he's in a much more difficult situation. He holds the brief for national security, and his government is a member of NATO."

Not everyone is so admiring or so persuaded that the German leader's anti-war consistency is rooted in conviction. "More likely it was pragmatism then, as it is pragmatism today," argues Karl Heinz Kamp, a leading international security expert at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a think tank aligned with the conservative Christian Democratic Union party opposition.

Then, as now, Schroeder had to contend with the push-me-pull-me realities of a "Red-Green" governing coalition between his own Social Democrats and the Greens, who are avowedly pacifist. Today the Greens' influence has grown even stronger since the party increased its vote significantly in the September elections.

In the German view, Washington underestimated the influence of Schroeder's stand on the erosion of the pro-U.S. consensus in Europe. All seemed under control after the 15-0 U.N. Security Council vote on Resolution 1441. But fast behind Schroeder in January came comparable pleas to give-peace-a-chance from French President Jacques Chirac, Pope John Paul II, European Union foreign policy coordinator Javier Solana, and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

With them came a steep shift in European public opinion, now overwhelmingly opposed to any military intervention against Iraq — 69 percent are opposed in Germany, according to the polls, 62 percent in France, 61 percent in Spain. That militant groundswell, it's felt, is what Washington failed to see in time.

"The American side misperceived the change of public mood in Europe and the growing concern among the governments here that it would be foolhardy not to listen to public opinion," says Kamp. "(U.S.) Defense Secretary (Donald) Rumsfeld says 'it's the mission that determines the alliance'. He said that in regard to Pakistan. I think that's dead wrong. It makes a big difference whether you have behind you your classic European allies — or Pakistan, Yemen and Saudi Arabia."

Concludes Kamp, "It's as though the shepherd wasn't paying enough attention while the sheep were slipping through the fence." Now, in his view, only another all-out U.S. campaign of diplomatic pressure and persuasion can hope to round up the fold. But don't expect Schoeder to rejoin the flock anytime soon.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide