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The Transatlantic Alliance as Reflected in New Relations (February 6, 2005)

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Friendliness on Feet of Clay

The new German-American friendliness is standing on feet of clay. The dispute over the Iraq war was too severe for everything to be patched up in an instant. Political scientist Stephen Szabo, one of the most prominent American experts on relations between Washington and Berlin, reported in his most recent book that Bush in particular took the whole matter extremely personally. Even when Schröder started signaling to Washington that he was interested in repairing the relationship, Szabo wrote, Bush continued to forbid his staff from responding in any way for a long time.

A second reason for caution regarding the present rapprochement is the awareness on both sides of the Atlantic that it’s not simply a matter of the two partners reverting to the same old relationship that has been in place for decades. Karsten Voigt, coordinator for German-American relations in the Foreign Office, said that the “geostrategic conditions” had changed. Germany is no longer an “importer” of security at the center of a global-political crisis scenario. Instead, Voigt said, Germany is now called upon as an “exporter.” But before it participates in a security export of this sort, it has to be “convinced” each time anew. Germany is certainly not a “no” country, he said, “but it’s not automatically a ‘yes’ country anymore either.”

Surprising Personal Conversation

It’s fitting that the Bush administration’s efforts to embrace Germany again coincide with the elections in Iraq. If you dig through the layers underneath Schröder’s and Foreign Minister [Joschka] Fischer’s benevolent public response to the Iraqi elections, you quickly hit solid rock. Whereas Bush recently paid Interior Minister Otto Schily the honor of a surprise tête-à-tête in Washington, whereas the American secretary of state traveled to Berlin and the president at least waved across the Atlantic, the federal government’s willingness to become more actively involved in Iraq remains both extremely limited and vague. Schröder and Schily are offering assistance in formulating a constitution and building up an administrative infrastructure. The chancellor is prepared to continue and even expand the training of Iraqi police or soldiers in the United Arab Emirates, if desired. But anyone in the government who asks how concrete these plans are, [who asks] whether sending German civil servants to Baghdad is also under consideration, is told that details have not yet been worked out and that everything depends on the question of security. Berlin’s fundamental position on Iraq policy has not shifted a millimeter.

“Bush Means Business When It Comes to Democracy”

Karsten Voigt went the furthest when he said that those who have expressed serious reservations up to this point about the prospect for more democracy in Iraq will have to be “a bit more cautious” from now on. And anyone who has assumed up to this point that Bush is only interested in Iraq because of the oil, Voigt added, has to change his opinion at least now that the election has taken place: “Bush means business when it comes to democracy.” Gernot Erler, the SPD faction’s leading expert on foreign policy and someone who has Schröder’s ear on the subject, is more reserved in his response. It should not be forgotten, Erler said, that the reason for the Iraq war was not the elections, but the American claim that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction represented a threat. Therefore, Erler continued, America could not demand that the Europeans “now finally admit that the war was justified.”

As much as Berlin has resolved not to complain publicly about developments in Iraq, it is obvious that this is still happening behind the scenes. The high price for the liberation is terrorism, one hears, and as before there is still the danger that a fundamentalist Shiite regime could succeed Saddam Hussein. Even now one can sense that the harsh rhetoric of the not-too-distant past still remains. A negative turn of events in Iraq, a new dispute with Washington, or the desperation of a struggling political candidate could quickly bring it back into the public eye.

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