Jewish World Review Sept. 25, 2002/ 19 Tishrei, 5763

Wesley Pruden

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Now the fun begins
for Herr Schroeder | Yogi Berra would understand the German elections. The Germans came to a fork in the road, and took it.

The Germans want to lecture the Americans and the Jews on the perils of military adventuring, which is akin to a retired Hamburg bordello madam lecturing high-school girls on how to keep their virginity, but they also want to be "friends" of the Americans and regarded as important in the world.

Gerhard Schroeder offered them all of that, sort of, and the German voters gave him a vote of confidence, sort of. But the margin of victory was as thin as a slice of Depression salami. Sort of like the reward of the country preacher who, after surviving a demand by his deacons that he resign, won a congregational vote of confidence by a vote of 23 to 22.

The German voters may get their reward soon enough. Mr. Schroeder's margin was so thin, in fact, that he may not have the muscle to make the changes needed to shore up the German welfare state and do his part in fashioning the reforms to revive the tanking European economy.

George W. Bush the politician might have grudging sympathy for Gerhard Schroeder the politician. Every pol understands the occasional necessity of trying anything short of pederasty or mopery to win a close election. But George W. Bush the president is not in a mood to quickly forgive a particular faithless "ally."

The White House went out of its way to snub the German chancellor. "At the government level," said the president's spokesman, "Chancellor Schroeder and his government have a lot of work to repair the damage that he did by his excesses during the campaign." The president did not even call with ritual congratulations, and Don Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense who has an unerring instinct for expressing the sentiments of the average American, had a snub of his own. He had no plans to meet with the visiting German defense minister, and while he was careful to say that he had no comment on the result he pointedly noted that Mr. Schroeder's vicious anti-American campaign had "poisoned the relationship" between Germany and the United States.

The Europeans, as expected, fell all over themselves and each other in congratulating Mr. Schroeder for saying some of the things they could never screw up the courage to say themselves, like little boys who revel in watching an older kid throw a rock through the schoolhouse window on Halloween night. The French, always comfortable in their familiar position of fawning at the feet of Germans, were effusive with congratulations. So were Sweden, Ireland, Poland and Russia. China, where the pollution in the air can be as thick as the chef's garlic sauce in any good Szechuan restaurant, sent its particular congratulations to the Greens, Mr. Schroeder's parliamentary allies. Even Tony Blair sent his best wishes, but with the usual British reserve. Unlike his European counterparts, Mr. Blair did not sauce his congratulations with effusion.

The needed note of caution was sounded by Rocco Buttiglione, Italy's minister for European affairs. Mr. Schroeder's threat to put obstacles in the way of dealing with Saddam Hussein would have a "bad effect" on European security policy, he told an interviewer for Corriere della Sera, the Italian daily. Said he: "We will have to split on this point because it is important that there are no divisions between the United States, the United Nations and Europe."

Mr. Schroeder, in fact, will pay for the way he won re-election with a humiliating climb-down from some of the things he said. He can't repudiate himself at once; he was too sharp in his criticism of Mr. Bush and his administration for that. His "apology" for the remarks of his justice minister, who equated George W. with Adolf H., was artless enough: "She didn't say it, but I'm sorry and it won't happen again." To prove that she was innocent, he sacked her.

The suspicion remains that the whole episode might have been carefully orchestrated. Herta Daeubler-Gmelin, the offending justice minister, said something that a lot of Germans obviously agreed with, and in fact it was Mr. Schroeder's anti-American rants that appear to have sealed his victory. If she was on her way out, anyway, as her friends insist she was, she might have volunteered to say what Mr. Schroeder wanted said but could never say himself. Pols have been known to tell lies, and even to cultivate the resentments of their constituents.

Generations of Germans have no memory of World War II, and of the way the Americans picked them up after their parents' and grandparents' love affair with Hitler and the Nazis, put their country back together again, and saved them from the Soviets. No good deed, as folk wisdom teaches us, goes unpunished, and those who expect gratitude deserve their disappointment.

Mr. Schroeder insists that he won't contribute German troops to an American "adventure" in Iraq, if it comes to that. The Europeans will no doubt be grateful for that, too, which they also can't say in public. Nobody in Europe thrills to the sight of a German in uniform, particularly if he's driving a tank. We're all too polite to say that we remember when springtime for Hitler was more than an entertaining movie.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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