- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 8, 2005

“We Germans fear God, and naught else in the world,” German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck declared in an 1888 speech. Today, the fears of the Germans are many. Starting with President Bush, whom some fear more than Osama bin Laden, they fear climate change, Muslims in Europe and unemployment. Almost no day passes without a newspaper using the verb “fuerchten” (fear) in a headline.

“Is Bush nevertheless right with his vision?” the commentator Jan Ross of the German weekly Die Zeit asked recently — an almost heretical question in today’s Germany.

One should feel “some shame,” Mr. Ross told his readers, in referring to the “long lines of Iraqis” who had the courage to vote at the end of January. Shame, because the media predictions misled — once more — German public opinion.

German journalists’ analysis about Iraq were as dead wrong before the election as they were on the U.S. election last Nov. 2: The general drift of the German media was that the Iraqi election was too early, too dangerous and unsuitable in any event for the Iraqis because Arabs don’t want democracy.

Now, after seeing the impressive pictures of Iraqi voters, “some commentators still refuse to appreciate the first free election in Iraq the same way as they overwhelmingly did in case of the first free elections in South Africa,” writes Mariam Lau of the daily Berliner Morgenpost.

She added: “I can still hear the clandestine hope that everything should have gone completely wrong,” because “to appreciate the election in Iraq would mean to appreciate the U.S.-led invasion that had been criticized by the Germans so vehemently.”

Are Germans bad losers? Are they wimps? The German army abroad is as tough as the U.S. Marines — if allowed to prove it. One hundred German special forces were at the side of U.S. soldiers on the hunt for bin Laden in early 2002 in Afghanistan. German businessmen are successful and tough global players.

But Germans generally are no longer accustomed to solving serious problems by force. They are even unwilling to accept a positive result if achieved by force.

Germans prefer talk. The entire current generation of politicians in power and the opposition, teachers and journalists are all talkers. Diplomacy is their only tool of choice for solving international problems.

Since German was reunified without bloodshed, they are deeply convinced talks can work. However, they willfully overlook the simple fact that, without the support of U.S. power, the nice talk of German politicians would have had no effect at all.

This is pretty much a collective blind spot. The German public also ignores that Germany still benefits significantly from U.S. air bases providing free aerial photographic reconnaissance and air defense for Europe. Not until the U.S. decides to withdraw these air squadrons will the Germans be forced to realize how cozy life has been under the U.S. military umbrella.

The president’s scheduled Feb. 23 visit to Germany is an important gesture. He will meet not only with his reluctant ally but also will visit American troops, stationed in the little town of Mainz. The site was chosen by the Germans, to spotlight a U.S. garrison secured by German soldiers — considered by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder as his “contribution” to the U.S. operation for Iraqi freedom.

It is interesting to see how the German government, a coalition of Greens and Social-Democrats, deals with realpolitik. “Ami [American] go home,” once was the cry of Gerhard Schroeder and Joschka Fischer in the 1960s and 1970s, when both were active protesters against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

Both men acknowledge their political thinking was shaped at that time. The same is true for the vast majority of members of both their parties — and the media.

While publicly opposing President Bush’s politics wherever he can, Mr. Schroeder offered U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during her recent Berlin visit more German help in rebuilding Iraq’s institutions and training security forces.

“I have declared Germany’s readiness to not just continue these projects but, if desired, to also expand on them,” Mr. Schroeder told reporters. But the translator for the U.S. press forgot to add the chancellor’s restriction: “within the well-known range” — in other words, no German troop commitment.

Mr. Schroeder lacks the courage to make it clear to his pampered compatriots that there is an outside world. Germany seems full of Rip Van Winkles, self-complacently ridiculing Americans in general and Mr. Bush in particular. They seem unaware that sitting on the fence and doing nothing might leave them on their own the next time they need help.

Miss Rice spoke in Berlin of a “new chapter” in U.S.-German relations, but this will be only diplomatic rhetoric unless the president in his visit speaks directly to the German people.

To break the ice between himself and the German people, President Bush must speak over the biased German media reports. A speech like the August 1963 Berlin address of John F. Kennedy would be appropriate. Germany was then also paralyzed by “fear” — of a Russian invasion.

This time President Bush could refer to Kennedy’s speech by saying: “All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Baghdad.” This message will be understood in Germany — and initiate a helpful discussion. At the end, even Mr. Schroeder would have to consider new “options.” Mr. Schroeder fears nothing more than losing the 2006 election and that the Iraqi people will prove Mr. Bush’s Iraq politics to have been correct.

Tom Goeller is a writer for the The Washington Times in Berlin, Germany.

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