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Elections in Germany: German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder

September 23, 2002 at 12:00 AM EST
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TRANSCRIPT

MARGARET WARNER: Three perspectives on the election, and the fallout for the U.S.-German relationship. Wolfgang Ischinger is Germany’s Ambassador to the United States. Robert Kimmit was the U.S. Ambassador to Germany in the first Bush Administration. And Ivo Daalder was director for European affairs on the National Security Council in the Clinton administration. He’s now a senior fellow at the Brookings institution, a public policy think tank in Washington.

Welcome, gentlemen. Ivo Daalder, how big a factor in Schroeder’s campaign was this anti-U.S. policy in Iraq? Is this something just that the U.S. media has played up, or was this a big factor?

IVO DAALDER: It was a big issue, to be frank. A month or two ago, Mr. Schroeder was well behind in the polls, as your piece earlier indicated — nine, ten points. The flood that set across most of Eastern Europe including in Germany was a major factor to lift Schroeder up to give him another issue. He was on the defensive on the economy.

Now he could show his leadership potential but at the same time making the case that going to war against Iraq was a bad idea, distinguished him from everybody else at that point, and he used it quite effectively to gear up the percentage points and by early last week he was equal and then he stayed equal through the election.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Ambassador, even five years ago it would have seemed unconceivable that a German chancellor would be running… would make the political calculation that the way to run was to run against a U.S. policy that is so important to an American President. Why did he make that such a centerpiece of his campaign?

WOLFGANG ISCHINGER: I think it’s important to understand that from my perspective this was not really about being for or against America. What was at stake here in the German context, the context of this election, was a very German question, the question of war and peace.

I think it’s important if one wants to understand how Germans speak about war, it’s a very different concept for them than it is for Americans. When war… when the question of war against Iraq was raised, and of course the news came from America, many Germans started to panic again. We never spoke of war in the context of the Kosovo intervention because we didn’t want –

MARGARET WARNER: Which Schroeder supported.

WOLFGANG ISCHINGER: Which Schroeder supported. And we did not use the word of war in Afghanistan which we continue to participate in combat troops and with more than 10,000 soldiers deployed overseas in a very close cooperation with the United States.

MARGARET WARNER: How do you explain it, Bob Kimmit, from your years in Germany and I know you’re still involved there, in terms of why Schroeder who I think is considered a very good politician decided that this was the way to go?

ROBERT KIMMIT: I think Ivo put his finger on it. That is, he was not going to win based on the economy. He had to find another issue, not just in which to demonstrate leadership but to put some distance between himself and his opponent. I would agree with the ambassador that it did not start off perhaps in an anti-American sense. It was more anti-war/pro peace.

Unfortunately, as the campaign moved on and as it got to its final stages it did take on a very anti-American cast. And that’s why I think the administration went from disappointment to outrage.

MARGARET WARNER: That raises a question, Mr. Ambassador, when the remark that the justice minister supposedly made came up, I think a lot of people in the administration were surprised that Schroeder stuck with her. Why at least do you think– and I hate to put you on the spot like this, but maybe you can enlighten us– didn’t he demand her resignation, which would have sent a certain signal?

WOLFGANG ISCHINGER: I think we’re talking about the difference between Friday and Monday. Friday was the last day… the last working day in Germany before the election. This morning, and the first day after the election, the minister in question offered her resignation, which as far as I have understood has not been rejected. Therefore, I think that that point at least should be now cleared up.

MARGARET WARNER: Ivo Daalder, why do you think this resonated with the German public? I’m talking now really more about the anti-Iraq war scenario? Why did that resonate so?

IVO DAALDER: Clearly as the ambassador said, war and peace is debated in a very different way in Germany. Indeed in most of Europe than it is in the United States. But I think there’s more to that.

I think there’s a growing sentiment in Europe, particularly in Germany, that the United States by this administration has time and again ignored its concerns. It has not cared very much about what Germany thought about global warming or about international justice or indeed about arms control, whether it’s the ABM Treaty or the biological weapons convention.

And on issue after issue the Bush Administration has without much consultation and at times without any consultation made major decisions on issues that deeply care… ones that the Germans deeply care about.

Now in essence we have turned the labels. We see unilateralism come home to roost. What we see is a German government that said if it’s good for you to make your positions on basis of principle and basis of what you think is right, it’s good for me.

As Schroeder says this is not about U.S.-American relationship. This is about the issue of Iraq. We oppose– I oppose, as the head of this government– going to Iraq. That’s what you asked us to do, to express our policies, to be principled by our policies. You do it on those issues you care about; we do it on this issue, which we care about deeply.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you see it that way?

ROBERT KIMMIT: I don’t see it that way at all. I mean, to suggest that the U.S. Government is responsible for someone taking an anti-U.S. line in a campaign, I just don’t has a basis in fact. Sure, we’ve had differences with Germany and other Europeans on a wide range of issues but we’ve never personalized those differences the way they were personalized in this campaign.

What I think is most striking about what the Germans have done in this instance and so at variance with they’ve done in the past is it has put them out of step not just with the U.S. but it seems with the United Nations, NATO and the European Union — three institutions that have formed the multilateral basis for Germany’s post war policy. They need to come back in step in my view not just with us but with their European friends and allies in NATO and interestingly in the UN where they will join the Security Council in three short months.

MARGARET WARNER: Ambassador, if you could first reply to Mr. Daalder’s point that Schroeder realized… I mean, he was tapping into a certain resentment in the German body politic about… I mean I think I’m pair phrasing you correctly, about kind of U.S. unilateralism.

WOLFGANG ISCHINGER: I’m not sure there was a lot of that kind of consideration as my government defined its position on the Iraq issue. I think it’s been said many times that what we have been concerned with is the question of, is this the issue to which we must together– the West– address the highest urgency? And if that’s so, have we found answers to all the questions that we would be confronted with if we went down that road?

I have to say that I have still not heard neither from German analysts nor from Americans for that matter really substantive answers to the question, what would we do together? What would our role have to be? What would be expected of Germany for example after the departure of Saddam? Who would take care of that country and who would make certain what kind of huge international effort would be required to keep the region under control?

These are some of our concerns along, of course, with the immediate and direct concern that’s being played out on television again today about the extremely dangerous situation in the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. If we go back to the U.S.-German relationship, Ivo Daalder, how much damage do you think has been done here and what can be done to heal the rift?

IVO DAALDER: I think on a personal level between the leaders of our two countries, the damage is quite severe. This has become personal particularly for Mr. Bush, particularly after what happened with regard to the Hitler remark late last week. And personal relationships are important in diplomacy. They’re particularly important among close friends.

So in that sense I think there is quite a bit of damage. That doesn’t mean that we’re about to break, that the American troops are going to run away from Europe or any of that. We’re not at that level. We’re at a level of which trust between two leaders may have broken down. And that will affect the tone of the relationship.

But on the major issues, even in the end I think on Iraq we will find that Germany that will be supportive, if not actually participating, in much of what will go on. We already seen Germany willing for example to take over the peacekeeping mission perhaps in Afghanistan and a whole host of other issues, the relationship will go ahead. But on a personal level, we’re in for some rough time.

MARGARET WARNER: Your take, Bob Kimmit, on how much damage and what it would take to heal it?

ROBERT KIMMIT: I worked at senior levels of the government for almost 20 years. I never once heard the national security advisor or the Secretary of Defense use the term “poisonous” to describe a relationship so certainly the damage has been severe.

At the same time this is a bilateral relationship, of strategic importance to both countries. We have to figure out the way forward, and frankly Mr. Schroeder, having introduced U.S. interests into his campaign, I think needs to find now a way working with the United States, working perhaps through his foreign minister and his ambassador to reengage on those issues of common concern.

I also agree with what the ambassador said. I think Mr. Schroeder left the door open to what appropriate role under UN auspices in concert with the European Union and NATO that Germany might play in Iraq. Remember, Mr. Schroeder answered a question that was not asked. He said, “I am not sending troops to Iraq.” No one asked him that but there might be more that they could do.

MARGARET WARNER: So you don’t think that he was so unequivocal that he was saying German territory couldn’t be used to launch attacks. I mean you think he limited himself just to the question of German troops?

ROBERT KIMMIT: I think he was very specific in what he said. I think what he said was at variance with the US position. I think that caused some disappointment. His justice minister personalized that disappointment. I think we now have to find a practical way forward.

MARGARET WARNER: What do you think it will take to heal the breach?

WOLFGANG ISCHINGER: Well, first of all, I think that this relationship is at core a very healthy relationship. I would need an hour to describe the many areas beginning with Afghanistan, with the Balkans and many other issues on which we worked together beautifully. I cannot believe that our two governments on the basis of shared interests and shared values cannot find a way together again to move forward.

That’s my job — to work in that direction. And you will see I’m quite certain that the new Schroeder government will continue to make the German-American relationship as well as its commitment to NATO one of the core elements of its foreign policy. No doubt about it.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, you have a big job, Mr. Ambassador. Good luck. Thank you, and Bob Kimmit and Ivo Daalder.