Good morning, Madame Chancellor.
Here you are, Germany's Angela Merkel, on your first trip to Washington, D.C., preparing for your meeting with President Bush. As you look out of your Blair House window over Lafayette Square toward the White House, consider the historicity of the era: the beginning of Mr. Bush's fifth year leading his country, and the beginning of your first year leading your country in the so-called War on Terror.
Or is that the War on Guantanamo Bay? I get them confused.
That's because in just about every account of your American trip -- biggish news in Europe -- it is prominently mentioned that Guantanamo Bay is prominently high on your list of, well, prominent concerns. Trouble spots. Global things you lose sleep over.
This is, with due respect, bizarre. Iran is going nuclear, Europe is going Islamic, Russia is going off the reservation, China is a fearsome thing, and your big concern is sending what is called a "clear message" to Mr. Bush about Guantanamo Bay, the tropical jail where the United States keeps jihadis on ice -- and keeps the rest of the world safer as a result. But that's not what you say. "An institution like Guantanamo can and should not exist in the longer term," you told the German news magazine Der Spiegel this week. "Different ways and means must be found for dealing with these prisoners."
I have a suggestion: How about if we ship all these guys -- unflushed Korans and all -- to Germany? Maybe "72 Virgins" Airlines would cut us a deal. Then you -- Germany -- can parole them to Lebanon.
That, of course, is just what you did just before Christmas with Muhammad Ali Hammadi, the convicted Hezbollah killer of Petty Officer Robert Dean Stethem. In case you didn't know, Mr. Stethem is one of our American heroes, a courageous young Navy diver who became an early casualty of the war on Islamic terror. In 1985, at age 23, he was beaten to an unrecognizable pulp by Hammadi and his gang, shot through the head and dumped onto a Beirut runway during the Hezbollah hijacking of TWA Flight 847. But, as his brother Kenneth reminded President Bush in a letter this week posted by Michael Ledeen at National Review Online, "He wouldn't give in to the demands of the terrorists," who wanted him to scream into a transmitter for airplane fuel. "He would not allow the honor and dignity of America to be intimidated by the fear and pain that Hammadi and terrorists everywhere represent."
Such is the Hezbollah terrorist that you, Madame Chancellor, set free. And funny thing: Shortly after, your own German hostage in Iraq, Suzanne Osthoff, was released from captivity. Which is quite a coincidence. But so was the fact that after the hostage-takers said Ms. Osthoff would be killed unless Germany stopped training Iraqi security forces, the Iraqi government announced, according to the news Web site Deutsche Welle, that Iraq would be seeking security training elsewhere. And there was more. Osthoff says Germany paid a ransom to secure her freedom, maybe as much as $5 million, according to a German wire service report translated online by Transatlantic Intelligencer. In other words, despite your refusal to be "blackmailed" over Ms. Osthoff's release, Germany seems to be a country terrorists can do business with -- including, very possibly, Robert Stethem's killer, and his Hezbollah masters with Iraqi terror connections.
But doing business with terrorists doesn't buy peace. It just buys more business.
I'm guessing that publicly confronting President Bush over Guantanamo is, along these same lines, business as usual -- doing jihadists' bidding in a craven bid to spare Germany a 9/11, a 3/11 or a 7/7. It's just a hunch; but it fits a dispiriting pattern of surrender.
Such a pattern never marked Robert Stethem, as his brother's letter reminded the president: "You have truly said that 'We are in a fight for our principles, and our responsibility is to live by them,'" Kenneth Stethem wrote. "Robert lived by them.
Robert also died by them. ... I hope that his example, and the example of the other heroes like him, can inspire you to understand why allowing Germany to release Hammadi was a wrong. Justice was not done. Robert was not honored and Americans are not safer by allowing Hammadi to return to Lebanon and Hezbollah."
Of course, Germany isn't safer either, nor is any other Western nation. This is the "clear message" I certainly hope you hear from President Bush.