The Summit of Three in Berlin

Today’s topic for a press review is of course the summit held yesterday in Berlin between the leaders of the EU’s “Big Three” – Germany’s Schröder, France’s Chirac, and Britain’s Blair. The subject on the table (but, as it turned out, not the only subject) was Iraq – where to go with regard to that country’s rebuilding process, what posture to take going into the crucial meetings around the opening of the UN General Assembly to occur this following week, and how to respond generally to the Americans’ patent need for a bit of assistance there.

You remember from our past discussion, here, that two of those three (Schröder and Chirac) already met last week, also in Berlin. Now, that occasion was supposedly not for the express purpose of meeting one-on-one per se, but rather to mark the first-ever joint session of the combined German and French cabinets in the German capital. That event had been planned in advance, but nonetheless it gave the two heads-of-cabinet a convenient opportunity to confer in advance of their meeting yesterday with Tony Blair, and confer they did.

What’s going on when there’s to be a three-way meeting, but two of the three have their own little meeting ahead of time? In such a case the suspicion has to arise that the thing has really metamorphosed into, in effect, a two-way meeting, between the already-met (in a posture of solidarity forged during their previous get-together) and the third, late arrival. And don’t forget yet another meeting still, that huge meeting later this week at the UN General Assembly, which will be attended by most of the involved heads of state, and which will be marked by meetings between Chirac and Schröder on the one hand and President Bush on the other – separate meetings with each. This three-way meeting in Berlin looks an awful lot like a training-session for those all-the-marbles meetings in New York. A by-now-common preparatory technique among politicians preparing for a big debate is to find a preliminary sparring partner who can best imitate the opponent that politician will face when he is later debating for real – could Tony Blair have unwittingly been fooled into assuming this role for Messrs. Schröder and Chirac, ahead of their one-on-one conversations with George W. Bush in New York?

Among the many English-language dispatches covering the summit, the Washington Post’s report ends by recounting the “embarrassing question” the three leaders encountered at their joint news conference: Was Blair seen by the other two as simply “Bush’s envoy to the talks.” Oh no, no, they hastened to answer – Chirac even magnanimously said “I want to pay tribute to the vivid imagination of the last journalist,” i.e. the poser of the question. The other common elements you’ll be able to read about in most all the coverage were that all three agreed that the UN must be given a “key role” in Iraq, but disagreed on how long it should take to do that, Chirac demanding that this take place “within a few months”; and they all at least agreed that “we all want to see a stable Iraq,” in Blair’s words. Nothing very radical there.

But the English-language press – usually – is not EuroSavant’s happy hunting-ground, nor are the common elements that everybody is reporting the usual grist for its mill. Let’s take a look at reporting and commentary from the host nation – Germany – to see what wrinkles and unique aspects of the summit are presented there.

It’s an interesting patchwork: in its news-piece, for example (Schröder, Blair and Chirac Still in Disagreement about Iraq), Die Welt notes that, even if they couldn’t agree precisely on Iraq, at least the three agreed on certain economic initiatives to boost growth which were also a product of that previous German-French Berlin summit of last Thursday – Britain wants to be involved. (How can Germany and France afford to spend money on new initiatives like this when they both are trying to cut back on government spending and both violate the 3% budget deficit limit of the Growth & Stability Pact? I dunno. This might be an interesting continuation of the “Growth & Stability Pact” thread regular readers might have noticed that this weblog is currently pursuing.) On the other hand, the Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung agrees that the three leaders could not agree on Iraq but did find agreement on something else – although for the FAZ this agreement was on the necessity for Europe to develop its own military planning and operational capacities, in light of what has become known to some as the “praline summit” of last April over defense, attended by France, Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg (and discussed then by EuroSavant here.)

Die Welt also quotes Tony Blair’s satisfaction, (implausible as it seems) that Schröder in particular came out of this summit prepared to “represent a quite unified position” at the UN General Assembly. On the other hand, the newspaper also quotes in this article German opposition leader (CDU chairwoman) Angela Merkel, that it is “regrettable that at this important meeting about Iraq no common European negotiating position could be found for the consultations at the UN Security Council.”

But what is really interesting for our purposes out of Die Welt (well, OK, out of the Welt am Sonntag, essentially the same as Die Welt) is the long commentary piece Das Ende der Eiszeit?, or “The End of the Ice Age?”, by Waltraud Kaserer and Ralf Georg Reuth. This discusses the prospects for Schröder’s upcoming, long-delayed meeting with George W. Bush in New York in the light of the series of summits of recent days. And right off the bat, Kaserer and Reuth come out with it: Germany was right about Iraq! – maybe not about the dire consequences that unleashing a war to conquer that country would give rise to immediately, but in its estimation that pacifying and rebuilding there after a war was going to be long and costly. So how about a big grin of Teutonic pride! How about dedicating at least one long sway-along-the-beer-drinking tables (at the Oktoberfest, natürlich, which begins this weekend) to Germany’s far-sightedness! But don’t worry, Schröder and his contingent of diplomatic professionals will forbear from letting any self-justified crowing be any part of their conversations with the Americans.

Indeed, the authors judge that events have transformed the saying attributed to Condoleezza Rice about diplomatic relations in the wake of that war – you remember, the old “punish France, ignore Germany, forgive Russia.” Now they see a strategy of “ignore France, win back Germany,” since things have become more a bit difficult in Iraq than anticipated and the Americans need some help. “Ignore France,” because to the Americans that is a lost cause. Here they rely on American columnist Charles Krauthammer, whom they quote (and translate). France cannot be won back to the American side, because France is defying America for strategic reasons, and wants to emerge at the head of a world-wide anti-American coalition. (It looks like Krauthammer has been reading his Thomas Friedman – Our War with France – but are things really that bad with the French?) On the other hand, Germany’s opposition to American has been mostly tactical, or so at least the Americans think – namely, getting Schröder re-elected in the 2002 German general election. That’s why they will be easier to woo back to the Americans’ side.

See the flaw in that argument? If German rambunctiousness was merely “tactical,” then why are the Germans persisting in it, even after Schröder has been safely re-elected? Don’t worry, Kaserer and Reuth see the flaw, too. Whether “tactical” or not, they maintain, German resistance to American foreign policy is here to stay, or at least as long as the Social Democrats stay in power. Those Social Democrats, coming from the German political Left, have a long tradition of opposing American foreign policy that stretches back to their posture during the Vietnam War and which continued through Social Democratic Chancellor Helmut Schmidt’s rather difficult relations with then-US President Jimmy Carter. So this is nothing new; and, also, that anti-American theme that Schröder leaned on to help get himself re-elected, no matter how shocking (as the authors describe) to both the 43rd US President and his father, the 41st – particularly the veiled link to Hitler made by one of Schröder’s subordinates in the last days of that campaign – was hardly as artificial and unprecedented as the American’s like to think.

In that light, Kaserer and Reuth have an unambiguous interpretation of that piece that Schröder wrote for the New York Times last Friday. If you discard all the flowery phrases of gratitude for American post-war (that’s WWII) help to Germany and the like – sort of like peeling an onion – to get down to what Schröder is really saying, it is that 1) The UN must be given the leading role in the rebuilding of Iraq, and 2) Yes, Germany is ready to help – but only with “humanitarian aid,” which includes helping to “train Iraqi security forces” – but which pointedly does not include sending German troops or even German money. (Many would say that that is reasonable enough: there are plenty of German troops already on the ground on that “second front” against terrorism, i.e. Afghanistan. As for money, this site has already discussed – possibly ad nauseum Germany’s current fiscal troubles.)

In short, if you read that NYT piece by Schröder correctly, what you see are declarations that Germany still sides with France on Iraq, in the middle of flowery language designed to cushion that hard fact. Some may think that Schröder currently finds himself in a Zwickmühle – a dilemma – having adopted and confirmed the adoption of the French stance, but at the same time having to meet George W. Bush in a few days’ time. But in reality, Kaserer and Reuth say, there’s no dilemma: There’s just what might be the irresistible force of the common German-French position meeting what might the immovable object of George W. Bush in New York this week. Sparks might publicly fly, or else those classical diplomatic spark-dampeners might swing into action to keep the world from noticing the sparks flying; just don’t expect much more progress towards German-American reconciliation.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Comments are closed.