Berlin — No real surprise here: Former president George W. Bush’s discloses in his new memoir that former chancellor Gerhard Schröder violated Bush’s trust (and the American people’s) by supporting the Iraq war, then backing out. According to Bush, Schröder assured him in a January 2002 Oval Office meeting that “what is true of Afghanistan is true of Iraq. Nations that sponsor terror must face consequences. If you make it fast and make it decisive, I will be with you.”
“I took that as a statement of support,” Bush writes. “But when the German elections arrived later that year, Schröder had a different take. He denounced the possibility of using force against Iraq. His Justice Minister said, ‘Bush wants to divert attention from domestic problems…Hitler also did that.’
“It was hard to think of anything more insulting than being compared to Hitler by a German official.”
Last week, Schröder — who is now an executive with Russian energy giant Gazprom — responded to the charge: “The former American president is not telling the truth.”
Schröder is well-versed in political Volksnähe, which means he has a populist touch that can connect with a kind of groupthink mentality shared by many Germans — in this case, a mentality of radical German pacifism and anti-Americanism. His Social Democratic party’s come-from-behind victory in 2002 has been attributed to Schröder’s aggressive anti-American campaign. As Malte Lehming put it in the Wall Street Journal, “They saved themselves with thunderous anti–Iraq war propaganda, playing upon strong anti-American resentments.”
The contrast between Bush and Schröder in terms of democracy promotion could not be starker. Bush advocates a “freedom agenda” for anti-democratic countries; Schröder has aligned himself with Vladimir Putin, whom he terms a “flawless democrat,” and last year intensely courted Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in an effort to advance German-Iranian trade.
In light of Schröder’s cheerleading for anti-Western forces and Russian gas interests, the late Democratic congressman and Holocaust survivor Tom Lantos once called him a “political prostitute.” That might be a sentiment on which Bush and Lantos could reach a bipartisan agreement.
— Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.