P. J. O’Rourke once wrote that “German is a language that was developed solely to afford the speaker the opportunity to spit at strangers under the guise of polite conversation.” Well, I guess when they’re spitting at friends they can drop the guise of polite conversation. Gerhard Schröder, the German chancellor, is making opposition to the United States the central issue of his reelection campaign because, for some odd reason, making an issue out of an economy that’s weaker than your asthmatic kid sister doesn’t resonate with voters. Schröder has denounced America’s case against Iraq as unpersuasive and has asserted that Bush’s real aims are merely an “adventure.” “Under my leadership,” Schröder announced on the floor of the parliament on Friday, “Germany will not participate in military action.”
Some might quibble that this doesn’t quite jibe with Schröder’s pledge of “unlimited solidarity” with the United States after the 9/11 attacks. After all, “unlimited solidarity” and “Go suck eggs, America!” don’t even rhyme. But come on, let’s be honest — no student of history can say that a German pledge to never “participate in military action” is all bad news. If they’d made that pledge a little earlier there might not be countless rows of American headstones in Europe now (hence the old Russian proverb, “A German might be a good fellow, but it’s better to hang him”). Patrick Murray once said that “God created alcohol to keep the Irish from ruling the world.” One might say He invented America for similar reasons, since the Germans can hold their liquor better.
Yesterday, Bill Safire reported that the former defense minister, Rudolf Scharping, asserted in a cabinet meeting that Bush was going to war because of “a powerful — perhaps overly powerful — Jewish lobby” in the United States. We also learned this week that Schröder’s justice minister, Herta Daeubler-Gmelin (try not spit when you say it), had said all sorts of nasty things about America and George Bush — who, she thinks, should be in jail. According to Daeubler-Gmelin, Bush is using the war to distract from his domestic problems. “That’s a popular method,” she noted. “Even Hitler did that.”
Catch that “even” in “even Hitler did that”? What the hell does that mean? Is she suggesting Hitler was somehow more disciplined than Bush when it comes to indulging the base instincts of the populace? Imagine saying that attacking Jews is a popular tactic — “even Hitler did it.”
Which brings up an interesting little factoid about Germany: Jews are very unpopular there again. As someone wrote in the Suddeutsche Zeitung recently, “It’s been a long time since the hatred of Jews — once disguised as anti-Zionism — has been as socially acceptable in Germany as it is today.” There are plenty of stories about how Jews are being attacked in the streets of Berlin again and how graffiti with phrases such as “Six Million Jews is Not Enough” can be spotted in various cities. Jewish schools now need armed guards out front.
Now, to be fair, a lot of the violence doesn’t come from ethnic Germans but from the three-and-a-half million Muslims who’ve made Germany their adoptive fatherland. After all, it’s much easier to make a case that Germany’s foreign policy is being dictated by its huge and growing Muslim population. Perhaps Mr. Schröder’s “leadership” is being driven by his country’s appeasement — and fear — of its own Muslim minority.
But, while I think Germany’s huge Muslim population is an important issue psychologically (more on that in a minute), I don’t think it explains Schröder’s opposition to an Iraqi invasion. That is much better explained by Ms. Daeubler-Gmelin’s approach. If you read virtually any commentary about the German election, you’ll discover that Schröder is using the war to distract from his domestic problems. Germany’s economy has been running like a Cuban toilet since he took office. He’s spent much of the last year embroiled in a lawsuit with a tabloid over whether or not he dyes his hair. (Schröder claims he’s all-man and he has the follicles to prove it.) President Bush has had stratospheric approval ratings for more than a year now; he doesn’t need the war to stay popular. Gerhard Schröder’s poll numbers were in the gutter until he made war — and Germany’s avoidance of it — the primary issue of his campaign.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with making war the central issue of an election. In fact, that’s what I’ve been arguing Republicans and Democrats should be doing for a long time now. But just as it would be wrong to go to an unjustified war to help your polls, isn’t it likewise wrong to avoid a justified war for political advantage? After all, most of us now agree that Bill Clinton was too risk-averse when it came to dealing with Saddam and al Qaeda, preferring to chuck cruise missiles rather than risk his popularity on effective military engagement.
According to Wolfgang Schnauble in an outstanding op-ed in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal, not only has Schröder “failed to understand that that there is a difference between domestic policy and foreign policy,” he’s actually let it be known, quietly, that he’ll fix everything with the United States if he’s reelected. So not only is Schröder’s pledge of “unlimited solidarity” with the United States so much bunk, but so is his unwavering commitment to the German people to stand apart from what he describes as George Bush’s cowboy foreign policy. No wonder the French are taking over the EU: The schnitzel-grubbing parade marchers are easier to roll than a passed-out drunk in a bathroom stall at Oktoberfest.
But there’s a bigger problem with Germany, and I don’t have in mind Mark Twain’s assertion that “Germany is the diseased world’s bathhouse.” After all, Schröder is playing politics with the war because it works for him. That makes him spineless, not stupid. So the more interesting question is, why are the Germans so opposed to a war in the first place? I’ve written about Europe’s problems at great length many times before (see, here, here, and here, for example).
But, I think there’s a short answer to be had. Germany has been living under the protection of the United States for so long it has internalized its own sense of security and — in a fit of wishful thinking that borders on outright amnesia — it has projected that strudel-in-the-sky view on the rest of the world. Worse, its well-deserved guilt over Nazism has melted into its more generalized peacenikery. So now it seems — at least from over here — that it’s gotten to the point where force in and of itself is deemed illegitimate. Hitler used force, so force is Hitlerish. Hitler had a death penalty (and then some!), so the U.S. death penalty is Hitlerish. Hitler used tanks, and Israel uses tanks, so Ariel Sharon is a Nazi (as you can hear over and over and over again in what passes for intelligent commentary among European and Arab “intellectuals”). Meanwhile, the security provided by the United States is taken for granted, dismissed, demeaned, or otherwise belittled by a left-leaning public that believes the world is a candyland and that the United States is spoiling the party by behaving as if it were otherwise.
In this hothouse of moral idiocy, it’s very easy for Muslim activists in Germany to play upon German insecurities. Muslims claim to be an oppressed and outcast minority in Germany today, in effect claiming to be the new Jews in the German imagination. So when German politicians and voters take the side of their Arab populations, it’s not only good old-fashioned pandering, it even makes them feel like they’re taking the high road. I have no doubt that North African and Asian immigrants have some real complaints about life in Germany, and I am sure there’s an argument to be made that Germany is acting in its own self-interest. But none of that excuses the Germans for treating their best friend and savior like the bad guys. Besides, the job of moralizing ingrate has already been taken by the French.