Germany is No Longer a “Yes” Country
The newly rediscovered friendliness in relations between Berlin and Washington cannot cover up old – and new – bones of contention.
When Gerhard Schröder is in a good mood, he speaks English in public. That is, he says a sentence in English, usually a short one. Not without reason is he economical in his use of English-language public speech as a stylistic device. After all, he’s the German chancellor and not an interpreter. On Friday afternoon Schröder must have been in a great mood. The new U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stood next to him in the chancellery during her first official visit to Berlin. Without a moment’s hesitation, she chose the next questioner from the throng of journalists. A breach of protocol; the moderation of press conferences is the responsibility of the host. “We are in Germany. But that is women power,” the snubbed chancellor remarked with friendly laughter. Rice realized her faux pas and turned apologetically to Schröder, who generously dismissed the blunder.
A Symbolic Scene
The scene is significant for two reasons. First, lightness and joking have not been a given in German-American encounters since the discord over Iraq. Second, Schröder’s friendly rebuke was a demonstration in miniature of the new German self-assuredness vis-à-vis the United States. As Rice had said only a few minutes earlier, it’s time to start a new chapter in American-German relations.
The first climax in this chapter will come when President George W. Bush and his wife Laura visit Mainz on February 23. But even earlier, last Monday, the newly reelected Bush sought bilateral contact with Schröder. The president called the chancellor to tell him how pleased he was with Schröder’s positive response to the elections in Iraq. Just another small scene, yet another symbol of the current state of German-American relations.
Long before election day in Iraq, the White House had used various diplomatic and political channels, including the United Nations, to let the European allies – especially the Iraq war critics – know that regardless of the course and outcome of the election Washington expected to hear positive responses. Since voter turnout was unexpectedly high and the election proceeded without any major hitches over all, it wasn’t difficult for Schröder to speak of great progress for democracy in the region. But in retrospect, people in Berlin are saying that it would have been “deadly” for us to criticize the election.