“Punish France, ignore Germany, forgive Russia”: that was US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice’s formulation last month of Washington’s post-war approach towards those major European powers which had proven so uncooperative to America’s designs in the run-up to the War in Iraq. Germany could well count itself lucky to fall under “ignore” rather than “punish”; at least that leaves the field open for Gerhard Schröder’s government to take initiatives of its own to try to reconstruct the formerly close American-German relationship and have Schröder and President Bush officially speaking to each other again.
It’s true that German Defense Minister Peter Struck’s visit last week to Washington was uncharacteristically low-key – not one photo of a smiling Struck shaking hands with his American counterpart Donald Rumsfeld to be seen, for example. And the Germans do not help their case by letting acid comments by their high officials slip out into the light of international press scrutiny, as we discussed here in EuroSavant, although it seems that that one did not slip out very far. (Who knows? Maybe the incident never happened at all – but I tend to grant the Times of London, which reported it, a large share of benefit-of-the-doubt.) But the German press is continuing to report and analyze this effort by its government to get back into the American good graces.
Peter Struck’s visit to Washington is reported in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung by Karl Feldmeyer, under the title Normalisierung auf niedridgstem Niveau (“Normalization at the Lowest Level”). Things did not go well from the German perspective. In the first place, the occasion of his visit was not a one-on-one invitation, but rather a meeting of NATO defense ministers – of whom only 12 out of 26 actually showed up. But Germany’s representative Struck was sure to be there, as the event provided him with the opportunity to slip away at the first chance to have his own meetings with Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Richard Armitage, and NATO Secretary General Robertson. Pointedly, Struck was not greeted or bidden farewell publicly by any of these, nor were photographs made of any of these occasions.
With Rumsfeld what was discussed was apparently the prospect of the displacement of US units currently based in Germany to bases elsewhere; Rumsfeld promised no decision on that question until September. What was not discussed was the participation of German troops in the “Stabilization Force” currently being formed for Iraq, even though the topic of the NATO take-over of the ISAF force in Afghanistan currently led by Germany should have led into it: the German troops made unneeded there by this change-of-command could be good candidates to head on to Iraq, and Struck was prepared to tell Rumsfeld that that could happen, as long as a UN resolution authorizing the Iraq Stabilization Force had been arranged in the meantime.
Later, one possible reason for Rumsfeld’s lack of interest in this topic became apparent – namely that he was already arranging for German troops to be sent to Iraq, but just not arranging that with the Germans! It was at this point that Polish Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski was proposing use of the German-Polish-Danish “Northeast Corps” based in Szczecin (discussed previously in EuroSavant here), a proposal which he surely could not have made publicly without clearing it with the Americans first. During the course of the week Struck was forced to dash these plans – and Denmark turned them down as well – but as the FAZ’s Feldmeyer notes, in the meantime Struck had found himself in Washington transformed “from subject to object of other people’s politics.”
In a later article, the FAZ reports on Chancellor Schröder’s attempts to take up the initiative again to restore German-American relations with a recent speech in Berlin to the German-American Chamber of Commerce. In it he described Germany’s relations with the US as a “vital friendship,” and said now is not the time for “self-justification or complaints.” He rejected the idea of having to choose between aligning with either France or the USA – a “nonsense choice” (unsinnige Wahl) he termed it.
Still, Die Welt remains pessimistic about German-American relations. A recent article is entitled Kein Anschluss unter dieser Nummer – “No connection at this number,” a phrase users of the German public telephone system will have heard spoken in recorded form at least once, but here a reference to the total lack of communication over a period of months between the American and German heads of state. In it, authors Friedemann Weckback-Maria and Günther Lachmann offer the additional tidbit that no one in Washington during his visit there actually bothered to inform German Defense Minister Peter Struck of the upcoming Polish proposal to send NATO’s Northeast Corps to Iraq – he had to read it in the Washington Times. And that the predominant content of those meetings he managed to finagle for himself with top American officials was a cross-examination over the meaning for NATO of the German-French-Belgian-Luxembourgian defense “mini-summit” of last week.
But hope is arriving next week in the form of an official visit to Germany by US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has stated “What has happened, has happened. We don’t talk any more about questions over the war. We speak about peace.” What that means concretely is that Washington is seeking Germany’s vote (it is still a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council) for its “Omnibus” resolution doing away with UN sanctions on Iraq. If that can come about, maybe by the time Schröder meets face-to-face with President Bush again (on 31 May, at the 300th anniversary celebrations in the Russian St. Petersburg) they can be on speaking terms again.