Even before all the votes were counted in Germany's cliffhanger
election, Berlin began trying to repair the holes that a campaign
with strong anti-American overtones has torn in transatlantic
In the last weeks before Sunday's balloting, incumbent Chancellor
Gerhard Schroder sharply criticized President George Bush's plan to
oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Mr. Schroder's defiant refusal
to take part in military action against Iraq - even if the UN were
to approve it - broke a taboo. Never before in the postwar period
had a German chancellor so publicly defied a US president. Now the
German leader, whose ruling coalition was narrowly reelected Sunday,
hopes to mend fences.
"The foundation of our historical partnership is strong enough to
bear these differences of opinion," Schroder said during a late-
night evaluation of the vote Sunday.
Peter Struck, the German defense minister, told the Monitor on
election night that he hopes to meet with US Secretary of Defense
Donald Rumsfeld at a NATO gathering this week in Warsaw. "We have to
see that we normalize the German-American relationship again. It is
slightly damaged; there's no question about that. But its basic
foundation is strong," said Mr. Struck.
But Rumsfeld has said he will not meet with Struck in Warsaw and
reiterated Washington's view that German criticism of US foreign
policy during the campaign has poisoned ties.
Jackson Janes, head of the American Institute on Contemporary
German Studies at Johns Hopkins University, says he can't recall a
time when tempers on both sides of the Atlantic have been so hot.
"The only thing they can do now is to send [Foreign Minister]
Joschka Fischer over with a big fire hose," he said.
Analysts say Schroder will have to walk a fine line to keep his
pledge to withhold German troops from involvement in Iraq - and at
the same time assure Germany's allies that he is prepared to play a
constructive role in international security.
One way to do this, suggests Karsten Voigt, who is responsible
for German-American relations in the foreign ministry, is for Berlin
to shoulder more of the burden in international peacekeeping
elsewhere in the world, especially in Afghanistan and the Balkans.
Mr. Voigt says the Americans are not really interested in having
German troops fight in Iraq - and that the role of German troops in
Iraq was largely a German election debate.
"What they are interested in is that we step up our involvement
in Afghanistan, that we are more committed in Bosnia, where the
Americans cannot be as involved," says Voigt.
Schroder has also offered to send German inspectors to Iraq as
part of a UN mission, should the international body send inspectors
back into the country. This is another signal to Washington that
Germany is eager to play a constructive role in the future, say
"We have to make clear that we are in agreement with the goal
that Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to possess weapons of mass