- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 15, 2005

BERLIN, Germany. — For President Bush, his administration and like-minded Americans, Sunday’s election in Germany offers three possible outcomes. Only one of them would be an improvement on the current manic-depressive distrust that marks U.S.-German relations.

The final week of the campaign has seen a remarkable tightening between the leading Christian Democratic Party (the more conservative of the major parties) and the currently ruling Social Democrats (the party of current Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder), and the latest polls put the number of undecided voters between 20 percent and 30 percent. Like the U.S. presidential elections of 2000 and 2004, no one really knows how it will end on election night.

The best scenario for Mr. Bush would be for the Christian Democrats and their allied right-of-center party, the Free Democrats, to win a working majority, and to make Angela Merkel the new chancellor with a solid mandate. This scenario looked very likely when the election was called months ago, but seems to be slipping away.

Mr. Schroeder demonized Mr. Bush and Americans as bloodthirsty warmongers in 2002, and tried playing the same card earlier in the year, portraying the president as eager to invade Iran. Any American tired of being deliberately misrepresented and denounced as the perennial scapegoat of the European left has to relish the thought of Mr. Schroeder’s political career ending in a ignoble electoral spanking.

But it’s worth noting that Mrs. Merkel hasn’t strained any muscles riding to the rescue of America’s reputation. In the face of a massive, unhealthy anti-American mood in German society right now, Mrs. Merkel’s response has been to make muffled, vaguely disapproving noises and then quickly move on to how badly Mr. Schroeder has loused up the economy. As potentially the first woman to lead Germany, Mrs. Merkel looked set to be a political star, but the public’s hesitation about her economic reforms and her “Frau Frumpy” campaigning style have earned her a reputation as a letdown.

A disappointing scenario, and perhaps the most likely as of this writing, is for neither the Christian Democrats, or Social Democrats, to get a workable majority with any like-minded parties, and be forced to form a “grand coalition” of the two major parties. When you hear commentators using the lovely phrase “grand coalition” for Germany’s new government, what they mean is a horrifically divided, inherently contradictory compromise that gets nothing done for about a year or two, and requires an additional election by, say, 2007. (To imagine how this would work in the United States, picture Sen. John Kerry getting to pick half of Mr. Bush’s cabinet.)

But for a really dire scenario, assume that Mr. Schroeder’s recent surge in the polls isn’t a temporary blip, but represents a late-breaking trend toward the more statist end of the German political spectrum. (Memo to Mr. Kerry: You see how Mr. Schroeder closed Mrs. Merkel’s lead from 20 points or so when the election was called to a real dogfight today? That’s what a real “strong closer” looks like.)

The chancellor has pledged that he won’t form a government with the new far-left, not-so-ex-Communist Party — creatively named “the Left Party.” But suppose the man considered to be the Bill Clinton of German politics decides that breaking that promise would be politically expedient. The new German government made up of the SDP, the Greens and the Left would be even more statist, more adamantly pacifist, more virulently anti-Bush and anti-American.

As it is now, the German government opposes using NATO troops to directly challenge Taliban remnants in Afghanistan — citing the fact that hunting Mullah Omar, Osama bin Laden and the rest of the thugs trying to derail democracy to the Afghans “would make its soldiers more likely to face an attack.” Well, yeah. But if they’re out attacking you, it’s easier to find and kill them. The risk is worthwhile, and this is just the sort of mission that NATO ought to undertake if it’s going to be relevant to world security in the 21st century.

As for “the Left” party — well, they’re still upset about German troops being used in Kosovo, never mind any current battlefield in the war against Islamist extremists. Any government in which they had a significant voice would probably behave more like an obstacle in the war on terror than an ally.

The first major election of 2005, Tony Blair’s re-election in United Kingdom, was good news for Mr. Bush and the July terrorist attacks in London reaffirmed the need for the United States and the U.K. to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the war on terror. By Monday morning, we will know if the most recent major election of 2005 has given the Bush administration a moderate improvement in relations with a major European ally, or a disappointing extension of the current problems, or if things have suddenly gotten a whole lot worse.

Jim Geraghty is a contributing editor to National Review.


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