Jewish World Review Oct 17, 2005/ 14 Tishrei,
The lady no longer in waiting
Frau Merkel follows Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who was
downright hostile to the president, encouraging a "special relationship"
with Russian President Vladimir Putin while indulging frequent insults aimed
at Washington. The new chancellor can change all that. But it won't be easy.
Three weeks after the inconclusive German election, often
compared to the U.S. presidential election of 2000 because it, too, went
into overtime, Angela Merkel emerged with a Mona Lisa smirk.
With Gerhard Schroeder finally out of a spotlight he monopolized
for seven years, she moves into her own special place in the television
lights. At the press conference where she announced the deal that would make
her chancellor, she enjoyed an aura of Cinderella, a woman who needs no
glass slipper to dance among the bits of glass that showered from the
ceiling that she shattered. But she had to hurry through the brief moment of
euphoria. At midnight, the carriage, just like Cinderella's, turned into a
pumpkin, and the snow-white horses became mice scurrying across the
landscape where friend and foe began taking potshots. The "grand coalition"
sounded more like a grand-standing coalition. If Leni Reifenstahl had made
this movie, she would have called it the "Triumph of the Weak." The new
chancellor had to barter away eight important ministries to her rival party,
including the two most crucial of all, foreign affairs and finance.
But if optimism isn't the proper mood of the moment, neither is
pessimism, especially when we consider Germany's relationship with the
United States. The coalition partners expect a correction course in the
relationship with Russia that Herr Schroeder fashioned at American expense.
Though Mrs. Merkel won't send troops to Iraq to participate in a war
exceedingly unpopular with the Germans, she will no doubt smooth some of
those feathers Herr Schroeder took such delight in ruffling.
"We are against a special relationship with Russia," says
Wolfgang Schaeuble, the conservative party's senior foreign policy
spokesman, who is slated to be interior minister in the new cabinet. Ties
with Europe won't prevent Germany and its continental allies from seeking
better relations with the Americans: "Failure in Iraq will be a catastrophe
maybe even more for Europe than the United States."
William R. Timken Jr., the new American ambassador to Germany,
thinks the change in chancellors offers fresh opportunities: "It does help
when everyone starts new because they don't have preconceived experience or
conditions in their mind." He echoes Mrs. Merkel's theme of "a coalition of
Chancellor Schroeder succeeded in poisoning the German
relationship with the United States by transforming the anti-Iraq war
sentiment into a deep anti-Americanism in both his 2002 and 2005 campaigns.
Henry Kissinger notes in the German newsmagazine der Spiegel that Herr
Schroeder was the very reason that German foreign policy lost its
flexibility in relations with the United States. Before Herr Schroeder,
America's arguments with Germany were "arguments within a family." The
United States understood the ordeal of a divided Germany and rejoiced in its
reunification. Chancellor Schroeder spoiled the common interest and common
In his farewell speech last week, Chancellor Schroeder had tears
for his countrymen and only daggers for Americans, going out of his way to
make a ham-handed attack on George W. Bush for his response to Hurricane
Katrina. "I can think of a recent disaster that shows what happens when a
country neglects its duties of state towards its people," he said, as a way
of warning against economic reforms that would threaten Germany's
disastrously bloated and inefficient welfare state. "My post as chancellor,
which I still hold, does not allow me to name that country, but you all know
that I am talking about America." Ha, ha.
Angela Merkel, who grew up in East Germany when the wall
separated it from the prosperity and freedoms of the West, knows about the
dreariness and deprivation of life in a socialist state. She can appreciate
the reforms it will take to reduce Germany's double-digit unemployment and
to make her country competitive again. During the campaign, she exchanged
her drab East German style and demeanor for brighter colors, a chic hairdo
and friendly smiles. She won't turn heads (of state), but George W. is
likely to have a new ladyfriend.
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