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U.S.-German Relations Yesterday and Today

The 8th Circle is featuring a thoughtful personal essay by Annika M. Hinze, a PhD candidate at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who shares her experiences with how Germany’s opinions of the United States have changed over the years – which of course is one of the major forces behind the EU country’s close relations with today’s Kremlin. 1690_schroeder_putin.jpg

Robert A. Dahl, one of the most prominent American social scientists would call the actions of the Bush administration in the years and months leading up to the war in Iraq an example of manipulative persuasion (i.e. when an agreement of the people is obtained through manipulation, lies, and misleading information). In the end, this false information, and the actions that it resulted in could only be questioned at the expense of one’s own patriotism. Does this make it better what happened on the other side of the Atlantic? Hardly. The single-issue-based re-election of the German Chancellor Schroeder illustrates the polarization around the Iraq-debate.

While condemning U.S. aggression in handling Iraq, Germans had no problem with a close alliance with Russia. Did we not care about what the Russians were doing in Chechnya if we were, at the same time, so passionate about Iraq?We waved our flags and danced our dances of peace. We were so outraged by war – “never again” we wrote on our transparencies, demonstrating that we knew –from our own history- what useless violence could do. We had experienced it. And we had learned from it.But, it somehow seemed that while being critical of what was going on in the West, we were blind towards the goings-on in the East: Russian oil, Russian gas, Russian business. Who cares? Look at the terrible things the Americans are doing in Iraq.We defended France’s agricultural policy privilege against our neighbors in Poland? Why? Would it not benefit Germany as well if an EU member state, which depended (in 2003) by roughly 80% on agriculture, was able to properly compete within the EU? Well, that did not really matter.It mattered to keep France on board as the German ally within the EU, and it mattered to keep Russia on board – a valuable reserve of natural resources and shady business contracts. If Bush was going to Iraq for oil, Schroeder was sleigh-riding to Moscow for the same reasons.Schroeder and Putin get closeIt seems like with the coming of the public debate around the Iraq invasion, all arguments on both sides of the Atlantic turned into silly absolutes. Rumsfeld’s provocative “old Europe”-lingo was matched by a comment made by the former German Minister of Justice Herta Daeubler-Gmelin in the Schroeder cabinet, who, during a campaign rally in 2002, compared Bush’s tactics in domestic policy to those of Hitler.Daeubler-Gmelin opted out of her spot in the new administration, which was elected in 2002. Rumsfeld, in turn, who made far greater mistakes during his tenure than insulting the French and the Germans, stayed with the Bush administration until 2006.