Jewish World Review Sept. 27, 2002 / 21 Tishrei, 5763

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly
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Schroeder may find the fruits of victory sour | Relations between the United States and Germany haven't been this strained since oh, say, May of 1945. We should, I suppose, be grateful that today's Krauts merely cheer for mass murderers, instead of being mass murderers themselves. But it is unclear whether this change is a product of increased morality, or of diminished courage.

The paragraph above is a cheap shot, grossly unfair to the nearly half of the German electorate that voted against the government of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who won re-election by a razor thin margin last Sunday. Think of it as payback for the cheap shots Schroeder and his minions took at the United States during the campaign.

The cheapest of those shots was taken by Justice Minister Herta Dauber-Gmelin, who said that Bush's tactics in the war on terror were reminiscent of Hitler's. Herta had company. New York Times columnist William Safire reported that Schroeder's former defense minister, Rudolf Scharping (who was ousted for financial irregularities) said Bush's Iraq policy was driven by the president's need to curry favor with "a powerful - perhaps overly powerful - Jewish lobby." Franz Schoenhuber, leader of Germany's neo-Nazi party, praised Schroeder for "upholding the German way."

It is probable that Schroeder's anti-American rhetoric won him re-election. When the focus was on Germany's moribund economy, the conservative coalition headed by Edmund Stoiber had about a five point lead in polls.

But it's also possible that anti-Semitic rhetoric from one of the leaders of Stoiber's coalition partners caused his defeat. Stoiber supporters booed when Juergen Moellemann, vice president of the Free Democratic Party, appeared on television election night. Moellemann had circulated anti-Semitic leaflets during the campaign.

Schroeder's win was made possible by the poor performance of the Free Democrats, who garnered only 7.4 percent, falling behind the Greens as Germany's third largest party.

Since Schroeder's Socialists and Stoiber's Christian Democrats tied with 38.5 percent, the strong performance of the Greens relative to the Free Democrats is chiefly why Schroeder won a second term. The Greens gained 8 seats in the Bundestag, where Schroeder's coalition will have only a 9 seat majority, down from 21 in 1998.

The increased influence of the Greens probably will make the new German government more left wing. This could be troublesome for Schroeder, because the election could be said to be an endorsement of moderation. The neo-Nazis received a microscopic proportion of the vote, and support for the former Communists tanked. They won just 2 seats, down from 37.

Schroeder may find the fruits of victory sour. When there has been a regime change in Iraq, Schroeder no longer will have a means of distracting Germans from a bad economy that has worsened on his watch. And there could be embarrassing revelations about the role of German firms in Saddam's quest for weapons of mass destruction.

Meanwhile, Germany's pretensions to be a world power have taken a hit. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld snubbed Germany's defense minister at a NATO meeting in Poland. U.S.-German relations "have been harmed in a serious way and it will be impossible to return to the way things were," said Charles Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations.

"German power traditionally has rested on...Berlin's tight relationship with Washington and the country's role as the economic powerhouse of Europe," said STRATFOR, a private intelligence service. "Schroeder's election strategy damaged the first pillar, and the voting breakdown...doesn't bode well for strengthening the second anytime soon." Germany would like a seat on the UN Security Council. Fat chance, so long as Schroeder is Chancellor and Bush is President.

Stoiber predicted Schroeder's new government won't last a year. He said he plans to fly to the United States to assure members of Congress "that everything that has recently travelled across the Atlantic from Germany is not the real Germany."

He who laughs last, laughs best.

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© 2002, Jack Kelly