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Germany in a muddle over war

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  • Moray Pickering
    Germany in a muddle over war Gerhard Schröder s government is losing credibility over its confused policy on Iraq, reports John Hooper Tuesday December 31,
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 2, 2003
      Germany in a muddle over war

      Gerhard Schröder's government is losing credibility over its confused policy
      on Iraq, reports John Hooper

      Tuesday December 31, 2002


      Cunningly prodded from Washington, Germany's centre-left government is
      slipping gradually into a ludicrously - and perilously - inconsistent
      position on Iraq.
      As of last weekend, Gerhard Schröder's government was against military
      action - even if it had the backing of the United Nations security council.
      Yet it would not rule out the possibility that its own representative on the
      security council might cast a vote in favour of war.

      On January 1, Germany begins a two-year stint as a non-permanent member of
      the security council. In an interview published at the weekend, the foreign
      minister, Joschka Fischer, said it was impossible to predict which way
      Germany would decide on the Iraq issue because "No one knows the
      circumstances under which the security council will deal with [it]".

      His stance has since been backed by the chancellor, who claimed that this
      foreign minister's words had been "over-interpreted". Strictly speaking, a
      vote for war would not break the pledges that both Mr Schröder and Mr
      Fischer gave during the general election campaign in the summer not to
      involve Germany in an invasion of Iraq.

      But it would be manifestly against the spirit of those undertakings, and
      light years in tone from the rhetoric used by the chancellor - though not
      his foreign minister - on the hustings. During the election campaign, Mr
      Schröder consistently described a possible US operation as a "military

      It was this, as much as his opposition to war as such, which so infuriated
      the Bush administration and led to a crisis in US-German relations that is
      still far from over.

      Washington has since been able to take sweet revenge by playing on the
      inherent contradictions in his situation - that of a head of government who
      is genuinely sceptical about US policy, but who is inextricably tied
      militarily to the US both through Nato and America's bases on German soil.

      Step by step, the US has lured the Schröder government into an ever-greater
      connivance. It has wrung an undertaking from it that it will be able to use
      its bases and Germany's airspace for operations against Iraq. It has secured
      a pledge that the government not to withdraw German crews from Nato's early
      warning and control aircraft if they are brought into play. And it has asked
      for German manpower to protect the bases in the event of an invasion,
      effectively freeing American troops to take part in the fighting.

      Though such moves run counter to the letter, and not just the spirit, of Mr
      Schröder's campaign promises, his party and its coalition allies, the
      Greens, have been able to put up with them as representing inevitable - and,
      ultimately, marginal - concessions.

      But the prospect of a 'yes' vote for war in the UN is proving different. It
      has stirred outraged reactions from the left wing of the Green party. And
      small wonder: the Greens are meant to be pacifists. In this instance,
      moreover, they risk a double blow to their credibility.

      The confusion over the government's stance on Iraq comes against background
      of other government u-turns. During the campaign, Mr Schröder said that tax
      increases would not make sense. Since being re-elected, he has imposed a
      raft of tax rises to plug a hole in the public finances that he omitted to
      mention to the voters before polling day.

      A vote for war in Iraq by a government that is notionally opposed to
      fighting one would inevitably be seen by electors - and particularly Green
      supporters - as the latest in a string of cynical betrayals. As at least one
      Green legislator has hinted this week, it could put an unbearable strain on
      relations both between the rank-and-file and the leadership and between the
      Green party and Mr Schröder's Social Democrats.

      Not that that would cause many tears to be shed in the state department, let
      alone the Pentagon.
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