Tue, May 06, 2003 - Page 9 News List

How Germany lost the Iraq war and its friendship with the US

By Michael Mertes

Wars always have winners and losers. Former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein -- dead or on the run -- is, of course, the Iraq war's biggest loser. But Germany has also lost much, including the many US troops who will now reportedly be re-deployed to bases in other countries. Despite the announcement of plans to create a European army along with France, Belgium and Luxembourg, Germany is less relevant in both European and world politics than it was before the Iraq war. Repairing the damage will not be easy.

Every part of Germany's international position has been wounded by the Iraq war. The country can no longer play the role of transatlantic mediator between France and the US. It can forget about US support in its campaign to gain a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. Instead of forging a "third way" for Europe's left with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder needs Blair to plead his case with US President George W. Bush, who feels personally betrayed by the chancellor's conduct in the run-up to the war.

In postcommunist Eastern Europe, Germany is no longer perceived as an absolutely dependable advocate of the region's needs. Multilateral institutions that served as pillars of German foreign policy for almost half a century have been weakened -- the EU's hopes for common foreign, security and defense policies have been gravely jeopardized.

From an American perspective, flexible ad hoc coalitions of the willing have turned out to be more useful than the NATO alliance, where Germany led the fight to refuse Turkey's request for sup-port. Even the UN -- the institution that Schroeder was supposedly

defending -- has been diminished by his fecklessness.

But the heart of the matter is the deterioration of German-American relations. Germany is by no means the only sinner here, for US diplomacy over Iraq was often clumsy and bombastic. Nevertheless, pointing out others' mistakes is not going to help rehabilitate Germany's position.

German-American relations suffered a devastating blow when Schroeder stoked the country's overwhelmingly pacifist attitudes. By doing so he drowned out the concerns about low growth and high unemployment that were threatening his re-election prospects. But that political strategy left Bush believing that Schroeder had stabbed him in the back. As with people, so too with states: trust once lost is extremely difficult to regain.

Germany's opposition parties and much of its foreign policy establishment warned that the country risked diplomatic isolation, so Schroeder joined an ad hoc coalition of the unwilling, along with France and Russia. This compounded the error by adding to it a public relations disaster. Much of the world press dubbed this "gang of three" an "axis," a word with sinister echoes of the German-Italian-Japanese World War II axis.

Not surprisingly, Poland -- like other Central and East European countries -- sought reassurance from the US and Britain when their colossal neighbors, Germany and Russia, embarked on their anti-American flirtation.

But wartime victory makes cowards of leaders who backed the wrong side. So, with Baghdad's fall, Schroeder began to send conciliatory signals to Washington and London. Schroeder implicitly began to welcome regime change in Iraq. During a Franco-German-Russian summit in St. Petersburg, he explicitly refrained from criticizing the US and Britain. "I don't want to speak about the past," he emphasized. "We should think about how the military victory can be turned to help the entire region."

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