The American ambassador won't be on hand to offer his congratulations when Kurt Waldheim is inaugurated as president of Austria on Tuesday. Instead, Ronald S. Lauder, with the approval of Secretary of State George P. Shultz, has returned briefly to the United States on "personal business." The Austrians aren't happy. The local press, Lauder says, has "vilified" him for his decision. Whether Lauder's absence represents a private protest against Waldheim's Nazi affiliations or a high-level policy decision isn't clear, and doesn't matter. The message of disapproval that it delivers speaks for itself.
The inauguration will take place just days after Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jacques Poos shed further light on Waldheim's long-obscured past. According to Poos, the doctoral thesis that Waldheim wrote in 1943, when he was 25, called for the elimination of Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands as independent states and their incorporation into a "Greater German Reich." At the time only Switzerland among these countries had not been occupied by Germany. Does this advocacy of empire mean that Waldheim was a committed Nazi? If nothing else, it adds to the impression of a committed opportunist who saw a future dominated by Nazism and wanted to be part of it.