'Bad herr dye' in Germany
Published: Saturday, January 25, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 24, 2003 at 11:28 p.m.
Germany's chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, is on a roll: three battles, three victories - electoral, diplomatic and judicial.
The first was re-election last year, snatched from the jaws of defeat by his last-minute embrace of anti-American pacifism. That energized the Green Party and empowered Germany's new isolationism.
In its wake came the second Schroeder triumph, his recent spinaround of Jacques Chirac of France.
Chirac had made a deal with the U.S. last fall: We agreed to postpone the invasion of Iraq until after U.N. inspectors had been jerked around long enough to satisfy the world street's opinion, and in return France would not demand a second U.N. resolution before allied forces overthrew Saddam.
As D-Day approached, France sent its aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle to the coming war zone.
Chirac made it plain that, though a minor and reluctant participant in the attack, France was not to be frozen out of post-war oil arrangements.
Then Schroeder, reliant on his militantly anti-war Greens, made Chirac an offer he could not refuse: to permanently assert Franco-German dominance over the 23 other nations of Continental Europe.
In a stunning power play in Brussels, Germany and France moved to change the practice of having a rotating presidency of the European Council, which now gives smaller nations influence, to a system with a long-term president.
This Franco-German czar of the European Union would dominate a toothless president of the European Commission, chosen by the European Parliament.
Little guys of Europe hollered bloody murder this week, but will find it hard to resist the Franco-German steamroller. France then had to repay Schroeder by double-crossing the U.S. at the U.N.
That explains France's startling threat to veto a new U.N. resolution OK'ing the invasion of Iraq - a second resolution that France had promised Colin Powell would not be needed.
Schroeder's third victory is less complicated. The image-obsessed politician is extraordinarily sensitive to personal criticism.
Last year, when a German press agency had the temerity to report an allegation that he dyed the hair at his temples, the supposedly Iron-gray Chancellor sent lawyers to court brandishing an affidavit from his hairdresser.
A compliant judge ruled that any repeat of the horrendous charge would cost the news service $225,000. A British newspaper, defying the ban, headlined its irreverent account ``Bad Herr Dye.''
Emboldened by his judicial triumph over press freedom, Schroeder this week won another ruling, this time in a Berlin court, barring the damnable peephole press from reporting that he was alleged to have had loud arguments with his fourth wife over his sleeping arrangements.
Recalling to veteran journalists an unfortunate tradition of judicial deference to executive policies once demonstrated by German courts, the chancellor obtained an injunction on a British newspaper, The Mail on Sunday, against repeating this unutterable, inexcusable and profoundly upsetting slander.
The editor fired back: ``A British newspaper under British law remains free in a way that our European would-be masters profoundly dislike.''
What this final victory shows is that Schroeder - with all his illusory conquests, triumphs, glories, spoils - does not share the free-speech values of the West.
Though cannily manipulative, he lacks a sense of the absurd, which is why his war on the press is making him ``der Gegenstand des Gelachters'' - the laughingstock.
But his political switching and diplomatic maneuvering are no laughing matter.
The German design is apparently to saw off the Atlantic part of the Atlantic Alliance, separating Britain and the U.S. from a federal Europe dominated by Germany and France (with France destined to become the junior partner).
No wonder the British press catches a whiff of the old Berlin imperiousness. No wonder the idle French threat to veto a resolution - which Chirac knows will not be offered - reminds populous and powerful nations like India and Japan of the inequity of mid-sized France having the veto power, and of the need to prevent Germany from getting it.
The chancellor's Pyrrhic victories are part of the backdrop to the existential crisis that the Security Council is bringing on itself. The Iraq issue is not war vs. peace. It is collective security vs. every nation for itself.
William Safire writes for The New York Times.
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