Man Without Qualities

Thursday, September 19, 2002

Saddam and Germany

William Safire says that Social Democrat Rudolf Scharping, who Mr. Safire describes as "the defense minister who had been recently booted out of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's cabinet for financial irregularities," has a strange way of explaining why President Bush wants to depose Saddam Hussein. German justice minister, Herta Daeubler-Gmelin, is reported to have said that "Bush wants to divert attention from his domestic problems. It's a classic tactic. It's one that Hitler used." Chancellor Schroeder himself embarrassingly claims "This was always our aim, to get the weapons inspectors back in," while the Wall Street Journal (or rather, a Journal op-ed by the Christian Democratic Union's shadow foreign and defense minister) points out that the Chancellor strongly opposed the very American actions that brought Iraq to request the return of the inspectors - even in its current diversionary sense. The Journal article dramatically claims that "the chancellor has for his own personal gain plunged the federal republic into an international crisis." The Washington Post has accused the Chancellor of isolating Germany through unilateral obstructionism and refusal to cooperate even with a United Nations resolution.

All of these developments flow from the Social Democrats' weakness on German domestic issues, leading them to capitalize on what they see as a short-term popular international position. One might - and many will - write about the cynicism, opportunism and destructiveness of the Social Democratic approach. But a narrower issue is: what effect is the most recent wave of the German-left excess having on German voters? Until recently, the Social Democrats were able to increase their standing in the polls with this issue without sounding so extreme as to trigger the very claims of 'German isolationism" that are now being heard around the world. Many German people very much dislike the thought of their soldiers being sent into battle under any conditions - but it is at least possible (I would say probable) that even more Germans even more strongly dislike the thought of Germany being branded as a "unilateralist" determined to obstruct the functioning of international law, in this case the Security Council. The Best of the Web links to a Times of London article reporting that even before the most recent German-left excesses, polls showed a tentative resurgence of the Christian Democrats. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) tomorrow also points out that the Chancellor's claim to having assisted in bringing Saddam around is false and calls the upcoming election "too close to call." None of this reflects very well on the German electorate, who have had years to discover how ineffectual and downright dishonest their current government really is - and should have much better judgment of international issues, too.

To be fair to the German electorate, the round of German-left excess, the resulting recriminations and then the even worse German-left excesses - such as the bizarre statements of Social Democrats Scharping and Daeubler-Gmelin - may have arrived with a bang. But analysis of the significance of such developments is now available to German voters, if they care to see what is happening. The FAZ, for example, runs an editorial tomorrow including the following:

[O]nly Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, [are] red-faced on the international stage. The German version of unilateralism - “we don't care about UN resolutions“ - reduces the international pressure on Iraq. Baghdad was able to interpret Schröder's “without us“ and his brusque criticism of the United States as a serious rift in the Western alliance, yet in the end Saddam could no longer count on the German chancellor because Schröder, the unilateralist, became internationally isolated and thus minimized his own influence on the United States. By raising doubts over the West's willingness to push through UN resolutions with military action, Schröder hindered his self-professed goal of a political solution.

If, as suggested by some recent polls, the Social Democrats' excesses have already passed the point of diminishing returns with the German electorate, then the most recent developments coupled with statement's such as the FAZ analysis may well accelerate and intensify that process. The Germans may to some extent justify themselves in this election, yet.

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