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August 16, 2005
Schroeder Gives Anti-Americanism Another Try

Embattled German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder faces political ruin in the upcoming national elections. His political capital has dissipated in a failed economic reform that Germany desperately needs to transform its sagging socialism, as well as his inept diplomacy with the US and Iran on the non-proliferation pact. With a significant polling deficit looming as the elections near, Schroeder has reached for the one political weapon that saved him in the past -- anti-Americanism:

Chancellor Gerhard Schrder used an old theme over the weekend to give a new twist to the current German election campaign, saying he would refuse under any circumstances to allow German troops to be used in any military campaign against Iran.

But as several commentators and opposition figures argued Monday, if his abrupt introduction of Iran into the campaign is similar to the tactic he used three years ago in connection with Iraq, the current situation is strikingly different. No country, including the United States, is making serious military threats against Iran.

Still, Mr. Schrder's strategy seemed clear. In elections three years ago, faced with an uphill struggle to retain the chancellorship, he categorically rejected the use of force against Iraq, which infuriated the United States but helped, probably decisively, in his come-from-behind victory. ...

"Let's take the military options off the table," he said Saturday in an election rally in Hanover, an allusion to a comment President Bush made last week to the Israeli radio that "all options are on the table" in connection with Iran.

In an interview published Sunday in the daily Bild Zeitung, the chancellor said, "I consider the military option to be extremely dangerous, so I can with certainty exclude any participation by the German government under my direction."

The comments took diplomats here by surprise, and seemed almost certain to introduce new tensions into the trans-Atlantic relationship.

It not only took diplomats by surprise, but anyone who has followed the American efforts to allow the EU-3 to continue in the lead with Iranian negotiations despite their universal failure to accomplish anything in the last two years. Bush went out of his way earlier this summer to re-emphasize his support for the British, French, and German efforts to rein in the Iranian nuclear threat, even publicly offering to be bound by an eventual agreement achieved by the EU-3. If anything, Bush has committed the fault of not publicly pushing the EU-3 hard enough to get tough on Iran.

Not only did Schroeder mislead on the American position, he made a stupid strategic error. Why would Schroeder take the only stick off the table he had with Iran during these negotiations? Now the Iranians have a categorical statement from their negotiating partner that force will not be used, at least on Germany's behalf, regardless of how the talks turn out. In doing so, he not only insulted the American administration that has shown great (and undue) deference to Germany on this issue, but has more or less stabbed Britain and France in the back as well. The Iranians have to have pinched themselves to keep from laughing themselves silly when they read this.

If Schroeder expected to at least score a few points with the notoriously pacifist domestic press, he miscalculated there as well:

Most of the commentary in the German press was critical of Mr. Schrder's weekend comments.

"Schrder knows that a strike against Iran is not on the agenda and that the U.S.A. is politically and militarily incapable of carrying one out," the German business daily Handelsblatt said in an editorial on Monday. "And yet he misuses Bush's remarks in order to score points in the election campaign. In doing so, he endangers the crucial solidarity of the West."

The daily Die Welt said, "The chancellor should be ashamed."

He won't be ashamed, of course. On the bright side, he won't be chancellor, either. Expect this to essentially sink his candidacy, a victim of his own success who reached for the old weapons once too often.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 16, 2005 6:57 AM

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