- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 10, 2005

Karsten D. Voigt has long been a top foreign policy voice in Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s Social Democratic Party and has been coordinator of German-North American cooperation in the German Federal Foreign Office since 1999. He was interviewed during a visit to Washington last week by Washington Times reporter David R. Sands.

Question: Opposition to the Bush administration and the war in Iraq were widely seen as helping Chancellor Schroeder in the 2002 election. Has anti-Americanism been a theme in this campaign?

Answer: In one way or another, the United States will always be a part of our domestic discussion, but this campaign has been devoted practically entirely to domestic issues — employment, tax reform, economic reform. [Conservative challenger] Angela Merkel says she wants to improve the trans-Atlantic relationship, but Mr. Schroeder says the same thing. The question between the two has come down to who can do it more efficiently.

Q: How would German policy toward the United States change under a Chancellor Merkel?

A: Probably less than many Americans might expect. I am sure she will try to improve the tone of relations between Berlin and Washington, and I would expect the Bush administration will be ready to reach out to a new German leadership. Germany already has the second largest troop contingent in Afghanistan after the U.S., and Angela Merkel has already said she will not reverse the German government’s policy against sending troops to Iraq. She would also like to spend more money on defense, but there are real budget limitations on what she can do.

There is a possibility that there could be frustrations for her. To be a pro-Atlanticist is good, but it doesn’t solve all your problems. It doesn’t mean Washington is going to listen to you and do what you want every time.

Q: A new German Marshall Fund poll found sharp popular disapproval for the Bush administration’s foreign policy across Western Europe and in Germany in particular. Will this limit the new government’s ability to improve bilateral ties?

A: The German political leadership across party lines, with the exception of the post-Communists, really wants to improve the relationship, but it is also true that a large segment of the German population, also across party lines, mistrusts the American political leadership. So there is a real tension there. …

Many Americans have a tendency to think that if the personalities are changed, if there is a new leadership in Germany, this will solve the problem. Many in Europe also think if the leadership in the U.S. would change, it would solve our problems. This is only to a very limited degree true.

You should not overburden the new German leadership — whoever he or she might be — with expectations that are unrealistic.

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