Achtung, anti-American

Debra J. Saunders

9/25/2002 12:00:00 AM - Debra J. Saunders
You know that old saw about how people often criticize others for the very traits they themselves hold? It works for Herta Daeubler-Gmelin, Germany's justice minister. Oops, she just resigned. There wasn't a wet eye in the White House, I'm sure, when her resignation became official. Daeubler-Gmelin had schnitzel on her face last week when a German newspaper reported that she told a labor group that President Bush was beating the Iraq war drum because "Bush wants to distract attention from his domestic problems. That's a popular method. Even Hitler did that." Then she looked even more like a dummkopf -- sort of like the German caricature of Bush -- when she denied making that statement. She said she didn't use the H-word, but had said "Adolf Nazi." As if that makes a difference. The best part is that it's her boss, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who promised not to send German troops to fight a U.S. war in Iraq, after his re-election juggernaut seemed doomed because of his "domestic problems." With the highest unemployment rate in the European Union -- near 10 percent -- Germany's economy is in pathetic shape. If Schroeder had what Daeubler- melin called Bush's "domestic problems" -- as in, 5.7 percent unemployment -- he'd be dancing in the strasse. Instead, Schroeder has to resort to Bush-bashing to win back German voters, whom you can credit with a strong turnout -- around 80 percent -- and poor memory. Schroeder had said that he wouldn't deserve re-election if he couldn't pull German joblessness below 3.5 million. More than 4 million Germans are out of work. Of course, the Germans have a right to opt out of any war against Iraq. It's not as if they owe the United States any favors -- even if the United States gave them money after they tried to lay Europe to waste. Schroeder also has a right to attack U.S. unilateralism, while engaging in the unilateral position of announcing he won't send German troops to Iraq as part of a U.N. mission. (The New York Times reports that Germans expect Schroeder to flip on that position later, because they have no faith in election promises.) Still, it's weird when German leaders decide to insult Americans -- by equating Americans with Germans. During the election, Schroeder said he wouldn't "click his heels" to do Bush's bidding. Yo, kaiser, heel-clicking is a German military thing. So you don't use it as a slur at the same time you're talking up this new old idea of "the German way." Besides, as the Cato Institute's Doug Bandow noted, it's not as if the Bushies expected the Germans to occupy the Iraqi front line. "It's not like we were going to ask them to contribute armored divisions from the Bundeswehr," Bandow quipped. My favorite line from Daeubler-Gmelin came when she said it was "absurd and libelous to attribute to me a comparison between a democratically elected politician and a leading Nazi." Does that mean it's libelous to assume she knew enough about German history to understand that Hitler was democratically elected? Maybe "the German way" is forgetting the facts. Whatever. Meanwhile, the Germans can hurl all the Teutonic anti-American insults in their arsenal and one thing won't change: No American official is going to put them down by calling them cowboys.