How Did We Get Into This Mess?24 Sep 2002
When I described how I would vote in the German election if I could, I deliberately left out the topic of Schröder's anti-American campaign. All politics are local, and I would have chosen my party based on domestic issues.
I'm no great fan of George W. Bush, and my own opinion on Iraq is ambivalent. I can't think of a good reason to use force against Iraq, but then again, I can't think of a good reason not to, either. The attack on Iraq is inevitable, and I believe that it would be best for Germany to play little or no role in it.
However, I am very distressed by the rhetoric Schröder chose to use, and the resulting deterioration in US-German relations. He could have expressed an anti-war platform without attacking the US leadership. But he chose to make it personal, and in so doing created an atmosphere that made stupid, outrageous, unthinkable comments like those by Däubler-Gmelin possible and thinkable (she was a third-rank minister quoted out of context, but that's not the point).
Schröder was calculating that since Bush seems to have already made up his mind to attack Iraq, Germany would have no influence on the decision and he could go public with his opposition. On the surface, that is true. The American decision on Iraq wouldn't have been influenced one iota by German opposition or support. But at a deeper level, human emotions play a role in foreign policy that goes beyond the mere projection of national interest. This is even more true for nations like the United States that are founded on moral ideals, as opposed to 'merely' being based on a common people and culture (like, for example, Germany). This feeling of loyalty and trust is right now shattered, and it goes beyond the feelings of two leaders who haven't gotten along from the start.
Schröder didn't want to become anti-American. He just wanted to win an election. He would do best just to stay quiet on foreign policy for a while, let the war on Iraq develop without comment, and let his foreign minister try to pick up the pieces.