-- The second Bush administration is devoted to macho posturing with little consideration for the consequences. This could turn the trans-Atlantic confrontation into something for which Washington may eventually be very sorry.
The administration's effort to intimidate Germany and isolate France in the quarrel over military intervention in Iraq backfired on Friday at the UN Security Council and in the anti-war demonstrations of the weekend. Unless the inspectors find a mine shaft packed with drums of anthrax and nerve agents during the next few days, Washington is unlikely to win a mandate to go to war. This leaves Prime Minister Tony Blair in an extremely difficult situation. He has already dispatched British forces to the war. Without a second UN resolution endorsing intervention, ordering the troops into action would cause a Labour Party revolt. Whether he survives would depend on the war's outcome. George W. Bush and his more hawkish advisers believed that they could bully the Security Council's members and get what they wanted. They confided to reporters some days ago that objections by the French were already "fixed" and that Paris would fall in line, while the Germans would do what they were told.
France is accustomed to this treatment, but Germany is not. Germany is a very complex and in some ways mysterious nation (to Anglo-Americans, at least), and the pleasantries of Donald Rumsfeld, accompanied by the recent right-wing press campaign against Germany, have not only had a damaging effect on German-American relations but also have challenged the foundation of modern German foreign policy.
I was in Germany when Rumsfeld arrived in Munich this month after comparing German policy to the policies of Libya and Cuba. A very senior retired officer in the German Army (and NATO) asked me, "Why are they doing this?" He said: "You Americans have been telling us for 60 years that we must never go to war. You have made the Germans pacifists. We have accepted that war is never a solution. We believe that even more because of our own history. Now you attack us because Germans are against this war."
He made it plain that he was equally distressed that Germany should set itself against the United States. For half a century Germans have resolved their fundamental questions of security and "purpose" with a dual anchorage in Europe and in alliance with the United States. Until now the dual anchorage has remained solid, despite developing tensions between the Bush administration and Western Europe as a whole on a range of political, environmental and economic issues.
The anchorage has also survived persistent Gaullist arguments that sooner or later Europe will have to declare its independence of the United States. This idea never found much support in Germany because it raised possibilities that the Germans do not want to contemplate.
A split between Europeans and this American administration has nonetheless been coming. It became inevitable when Washington declared its own national strategy to be "full-spectrum domination" of the world's affairs.
The split is potentially most dangerous in Germany. Voters clearly chose pacifism over "preventive war" five months ago, in the parliamentary elections. Chancellor Gerhard Schröder might then, or since, have challenged his electorate, but had he done so (and still been elected) he would today be in the same position as Tony Blair and Silvio Berlusconi and José María Aznar, who are all seriously isolated from majority opinion.
The disagreement over Iraq did not have to be made into a bitter German-American confrontation. Alas, the Bush administration is led by bullies convinced that threats, denigration, personal attack and efforts to split the European Union are the way to deal with allies.
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld now is reported (by The Observer in London) to have told the Pentagon to prepare "to end military and industrial cooperation" between the United States and Germany, so as to "harm the German economy" and punish Germany's "treachery." Such is the Bush government's conception of alliance leadership.
As an ironical coda, it surely will not have escaped readers that the insults currently flung at the French, Belgians and Germans as "cowards" come from an American administration whose principal figures are, with one exception, draft dodgers, and from journalists who, if they respect the current advice of the U.S. government, will have spent recent days hiding under their beds surrounded by canned provisions, in duct-taped rooms, waiting for Osama bin Laden to cause the sky to fall on them.
Copyright © 2003 the International Herald Tribune