[R-G] The German minister who likened Bush to Hitler (reposted)
mstainsby at tao.ca
Thu Sep 26 04:42:12 MDT 2002
The Guardian Wednesday September 25, 2002
Mentioning the war
The German minister who likened Bush to Hitler was sacked. So what will
happen to Al Gore?
In a speech this week, a senior western politician controversially compared
the effects of George Bush's foreign policy to the conditions which created
the rise of Adolf Hitler. But the politician in question was not the
unfortunate former German justice minister Herta Däubler-Gmelin, who was
sacked by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder on Monday for saying much the same
thing at the height of the German election. The man who drew the comparison
this time was none other than former US vice-president Al Gore.
In his remarkable speech in San Francisco on Monday night - remarkable not
least because Gore spoke there with a freedom and frankness that he
disastrously abandoned during his presidential election campaign two years
ago - Gore ripped into Bush's ideological opposition to "nation-building" as
a catastrophically dangerous policy. "The absence of enlightened
nation-building after world war one led directly to the conditions which
made Germany vulnerable to fascism and the rise of Adolf Hitler, and made
all of Europe vulnerable to his evil designs," Gore argued.
It remains to be seen whether the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld,
takes time out this week to accuse Gore of "poisoning" the domestic American
political atmosphere with his remarks. But, given the contempt in which
Rumsfeld and his hawkish conservative colleagues in the Bush administration
hold most Democrats, it is a fair bet that someone somewhere on the right
will do so soon. After all, this was the term that Rumsfeld used to describe
the effect of Däubler-Gmelin's comments on US-German relations. And in the
Rumsfeldian worldview, those who are not with them are against them.
The sudden depths to which relations between the Bush administration and
Europe's most important nation have plunged this week are a remarkable
testament to the way that the rightwing Republican government in Washington
now does things. As well as his "poisoning" remark, Rumsfeld went out of his
way to deny his German opposite number, Peter Struck, a one-on-one meeting
in Washington this week. Meanwhile, the White House press secretary, Ari
Fleischer, dismissed Schröder's letter to Bush on the Däubler-Gmelin row as
"an explanation rather than an apology" and the re-elected chancellor was
said by an anonymous Bush aide to have "a lot of work to do" to repair ties
At one level, these spats are obviously silly and trivial. Experience says
they are likely to blow over before long. But this is not a traditional
American administration. It believes, according to the new White House
national security strategy document it published at the weekend, that this
is a world where there is just "a single sustainable model for national
success". And that model is certainly not the German one.
No US administration for the past half-century would have adopted such an
insouciant approach towards Germany as the Bush administration is now doing.
To Americans with a sense of cold war history, the alliance with Europe's
greatest power, to say nothing of the nation in which thousands of US
service personnel, planes and bombs were based, was far too important to be
put at hazard by the petulant behaviour coming out of Washington this week.
Certainly Schröder is keen for fences to be quickly mended, which is one
reason why he came to talk tactics with Tony Blair over dinner at Downing
Street last night. But can one be quite so sure these days that the wounds
will heal quickly? Maybe this is to underestimate the capacity of
Washington's ideologically driven triumphalist Republican rulers to take
offence from those - like Europeans and US Democrats - whom they regard as
the failures of history.
What is striking about the former German justice minister's famous remarks
is not how ill-judged they were, but how restrained. Politically, of course,
it is not very clever to make friends and influence people by comparing them
with Hitler. But the point that Däubler-Gmelin actually made was not such an
unreasonable one. Bush, she argued, "wants to divert attention from his
domestic problems. It's a classic tactic. It's one that Hitler used." And
Bismarck too, she might have added.
That Bush has been in trouble on the home front this year is not seriously
open to doubt. If November's mid-term elections were fought on issues such
as the economy or corporate governance, the Republicans would be on the
defensive. The war against terrorism and Iraq, by contrast, is their issue.
Every Washington commentator has been pointing out this week that the
Republicans are trying to keep Congress focused on Iraq for as long as
possible at the moment, in order to ensure a good result in November.
That hardly makes Bush a Hitler. But then Herta Däubler-Gmelin did not say
he was. Her crime, of course, was to bracket the two men in a single
multi-clause thought. In terms of scoring a direct hit on the conservative
Republican ego, it was almost the equivalent of the shock of September 11
itself. It penetrated the carapace of Republican self-regard with the
directness that the hijacked planes hit the twin towers.
For these are politicians in the grip of a vision of themselves as
neo-Churchills, not neo-Hitlers. Churchill's stock has always been
exceptionally high in the US, of course, but it has risen still further as
post September 11 Americans don the mantle of the world's embattled lone
defenders of freedom. Bush now keeps an Epstein bust of Churchill in his
office (shamelessly loaned to him from the British government's official art
collection by Tony Blair). And only last month, Rumsfeld himself made a
speech in California comparing Bush - "that lone voice expressing concern
about what was happening" - to Churchill.
Then there is the current obsession among American conservatives that Europe
is in the grip of a wave of violent anti-semitism. Europeans underestimate
at their peril the degree to which many Americans, not just many American
Jews, see Europe as the place where the locals kill Jews, and America as the
place where the locals don't. So when a German politician, even a
distinguished social democrat of the postwar generation, mentions Hitler,
the effect on some US opinion is almost as provocative as if she had praised
In the obsessive world of American conservatism, Germany is, for the moment,
a marked nation. If Rumsfeld, who is historically one of Washington's
pro-German rather than its Anglophile politicians, takes the abrupt view
that he does, then what about the rest? One can be sure that others in his
party - a party in which not to possess a passport is sometimes a badge of
honour - will have even more contemptuous views. Germany may be the world's
third-strongest economic power, but in the eyes of some in Washington it
could be on the verge of consignment into the ever-growing dustbin of
US-defined failed states.
There is, though, a great paradox in all this. The US administration that
prides itself on avoiding the entrapment of nation-building has managed,
inadvertently and against its real intentions, to shape the future of one of
its most important allies. The US has intervened in European elections
plenty of times in the past to help rightwing parties. But this must be the
first time in many decades that Washington's efforts have managed to dash
the prize from the right's hands and place it in those of a social democrat.
martin.kettle at guardian.co.uk
In the contradiction lies the hope.
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