Entries from September 2002

Schroeder Writes Off The Iraqi People

David Frum September 24th, 2002 at 12:00 am Comments Off

LONDON
- At a meeting with trade union leaders in the last week of the campaign,
Germany’s Social Democratic Justice Minister, Herta Daeubler-Gmelin, accused
Bush of using the same "classic tactic" as Hitler used: exploiting
war to divert attention from domestic troubles. Daeubler-Gmelin later expressed
surprise that anyone might take offence at her remarks. "I didn’t compare
the persons Bush and Hitler, but their methods."

In
truth, if anyone in the world today is exploiting war for domestic political
purposes, it is Daeubler-Gmelin’s own boss, German Chancellor Gerhard
Schroeder. For more than a decade, over-taxed, over-regulated Germany has
struggled with chronic unemployment. In 1998, the charismatic, jovial Schroeder
won the chancellorship by promising to reduce the number of unemployed below 4
million within 4 years.

Four
years later, the number of unemployed remains exactly where it was in 1998.

Obviously,
he needed a new issue. He chose Iraq.

Eight
weeks ago, Iraq was not a controversial subject in German politics. After all,
Schroeder’s opponent, the solid and serious Christian Democrat Edmund Stoiber
had also declared his opposition to a U.S. war upon Saddam Hussein. To move
votes, Schroeder had to up the ante: Stoiber, he pointed out, only opposed war
if the U.S. went it alone; whereas he, Schroeder, opposed war under any and all
circumstances. Under his leadership, Germany would not participate in a war
with Iraq even if the United Nations and the NATO Council voted in favour of
it.

Think
for a minute about what an amazing statement this is. For six months, Americans
have listened to Europeans warning them against unilateralism — against
setting their own national will against the international community. And nobody
has clucked louder at them than the Germans. Now, quite suddenly, it is the
Germans who are the unilateralists, disdaining their allies, NATO, even the UN.

UN,
Schmu-en says Schroeder — it is German national interests that come first.

And
what a set of national interests they are, too! The single most important
suppliers of Saddam’s technologies of mass-murder have been German companies.
They sold him the dual-use factories that now manufacture poison gas and
bio-weapons. I don’t like dragging Hitler into conversations where he does not
belong. But since Daeubler-Gmelin mentions him, it’s worth pondering this fact:
If Saddam ever does make good on his threat to "burn up half of
Israel," the poisons he will use for this second Jewish holocaust will
come from many of the same companies that supplied the gas for the last one.

Schroeder’s
methods of diverting attention from a crummy domestic economy worked, sort of.
His Social Democratic-Green coalition has eked out a bare majority in the
Bundestag. But his victory is not one of which Germans can — or will — long
be proud.

By
coincidence, I happened to spend the evening of the German election in the
apartment of Ahmed Chalabi, the leader of the opposition Iraqi National
Congress, and the likely leader of a democratic post-Saddam Iraq. Does it seem
ridiculous to think of a democratic Iraq? Not more ridiculous than it would have,
60 years ago, to talk about a democratic Germany.

Chalabi
showed me a photograph taken in Baghdad at that darkest year of Hitler’s
tyranny, 1942. Eight Middle Eastern men stood shoulder-to-shoulder in Western
pin-striped suits: Three of them were Sunni Muslims, three were Shi’ites, one
was Christian, and the last was Jewish. They were the directors of the Iraq
Vegetable Oil Company — a major exporter of farm products and the largest firm
then listed on the Baghdad stock exchange. One of them was Chalabi’s own
father. That was what Iraq used to be: not a perfect democracy by any means –
but a society that might have evolved toward a better and freer future.

That
evolution was brutally interrupted. Iraq’s relatively benign monarchy was
overthrown in 1958 — since then, Iraq no longer grows enough grain to export.
The men in the photo were driven into exile and their property confiscated. The
stock exchange was closed. The Jews were robbed and expelled; the Christians
oppressed; the Shi’ites massacred. Dictator followed dictator, each crueler and
more dangerous than the last — until we reach Saddam, the cruelest and most
dangerous of them all.

Where
would Germany be if the Western powers had not believed that it could be
something different and better than it was in 1942? Why are we so determined to
believe that Iraq can never be different and better than it is today?

For
all the terror and horror of modern Iraq, it has produced an exile leadership
that is more humane and decent than that of any any other Arab country. When
the United States (and its friends and allies) fights Saddam, it will not be
fighting against Iraq – it will be fighting for Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi
National Congress. America and its allies will be fighting against the Iraqi
dictatorship. They will be fighting for the Iraqi people. That’s a fight that
the confident new united Germany ought to understand and support.