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Accept Schroeder's Offering

September 25, 2002

"Now, boys," a wise parent might say to President Bush and newly reelected German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. "Don't you think it's time to shake hands and make up?"

It won't be that easy.

Bush's refusal to congratulate Schroeder on his victory this week did seem petulant. But even if the president had played the diplomatic game with more maturity, Schroeder's crassly political manipulation of public sentiment about the Bush administration's policy toward Iraq would no doubt continue to rankle the White House.

At first it seemed Schroeder was merely reflecting the doubts that many Germans feel about a unilateral war to topple Saddam Hussein. But as the campaign went on, the chancellor became increasingly demagogic, declaring that he wouldn't "click his heels" for Washington--a line that rudely resonated with his justice minister's comparison of Bush's tactics to Adolf Hitler's.

On the matter of Iraq, Schroeder was creating a controversy where none existed. No one was asking Germany for full-scale military assistance. Meanwhile, Schroeder's ham-handed posturing threatened to subvert the Bush administration's belated efforts to give the United Nations a shot at defanging Hussein--exactly what many Europeans had been clamoring for.

Whatever hard feelings remain after all the harsh rhetoric, neither the United States nor Germany can afford to prolong their tiff. As Secretary of State Colin Powell--again, the Bush administration's seemingly self-appointed cooler head--told Russian newspaper Izvestia, "Differences and difficulties will arise in any relationship from time to time, but the strength of the relationship between the United States and Germany will remain and, I expect, will thrive and grow."

Indeed, there are plenty of reasons to think that the nations can reconcile. Almost a quarter of Americans claim German roots, after all. The United States is the third-largest exporter of goods into Germany and the second-largest market for German exports--one likely reason that our World War II enemy repeatedly shows with actions (if not words) its support of the United States (if not, in all cases, Bush).

After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Germans spontaneously gathered at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin for a candlelight vigil of solidarity that soon extended nationwide. Germany committed 4,000 troops to the Bush administration's Operation Enduring Freedom and pledged $278 million for the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

Even more important to the United States, Germany is conducting more than 30 terrorism-related investigations. It already has indicted suspected conspirators and frozen bank accounts containing more than $4 million that might have paid for more mass murder.

By tossing out of his Cabinet the justice minister who made the Nazi reference, Schroeder has stuck out his hand in apology. The president needs to accept it. As a wise parent might lecture, you can't judge friends by a few hurtful words or because they refuse to go along with everything you want to do.

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