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Germany

"Germany Put Its Foreign Policy in the Hands of the French"

A former Clinton official says Germany made a bad move by aligning with France against the war in Iraq, thus undoing 50 years of successful policy. He also offers a road map to reconciliation.

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Richard Holbrooke says a role for Germany in postwar Iraq would be "desirable."

On the eve of United States Secretary of State Colin Powell's official visit to Berlin, DW-RADIO interviewed the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke, who served in that role under former President Bill Clinton.

In the broad conversation, Holbrooke discusses frayed relations between German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who staunchly opposed the war against Iraq in concert with the French, and U.S. President George W. Bush and offers some pointers to get the ball rolling again between the traditionally strong transatlantic allies.

Mr. Holbrooke, there's talk of a meeting between Bush and Schröder on the sidelines of the G8 summit in France. Do you think the two of them will be able to set aside their differences if they meet?

First of all, such a meeting is essential. If they go to Evian and they don't have a meeting, that in itself would the worst possible signal. Secondly, they don't like each other. They've made that quite apparent publicly, but they each represent great nations and they must rise above their personal distastes and get back to mutually satisfactory relationships because it's in the national interest of both the United States and Germany for them to do so.

If two leaders don't like each other, how difficult does that make it for their officials to ease the diplomacy between their countries?

It makes it much more difficult. I've encountered several experiences in my career in the State Department and other places where heads of government really didn't get along. But good diplomats -- in this case foreign ministers Powell and (Joschka) Fischer -- have to soften the tensions. On the other hand, good personal relationships on high levels can create historic opportunities, like President (George W.) Bush and (Russian President Vladimir) Putin. So it's very important that they overcome their personal animosity and think in terms of the national interest of the U.S. and Germany.

What in your opinion could Chancellor Gerhard Schröder do to regain favor in America's eye without actually compromising his position?

I think both the U.S. and Germany have to pull back from the very bad behavior that has resulted in recent times. The Germans need to recognize in my view that -- and I speak as a friend of Germany and a former ambassador, as somebody who has great affection for the German people and for what they've achieved in recent years -- Germany must rethink its foreign policy. In recent months, it put its own foreign policy in the hands of the French. That was neither historically justifiable nor politically smart. Why do they need to do that? Germany has been most successful in its foreign policy when it follows, as it has for the past 50 years, a policy of getting along with both Washington and Paris -- even when the two countries are not getting along with each other. By giving Paris essentially a blank check in the dispute over Iraq, they compromised their own national interests. So, it's time for Germany to rethink that and move back to its traditional 50-year policy from (former Chancellor Konrad) Adenauer on that was so successful.

As for the United States, we should not get in a position where we mete out pluses and minuses, merit and demerit badges as if we were the world's judge. We had a serious disagreement with Germany. But even while we had that disagreement over Iraq, Germany provided security for the American bases in Germany, freeing up over 3,000 troops for Iraqi combat, Germany was taking a leadership role in Afghanistan, in Bosnia and Kosovo, and Germany remains our indispensable European continental ally. And we need to remember all that and put it into perspective and get this horrible period we've had behind us.

The best way to do that in my view is for Germany to get involved in the post-Saddam reconstruction of Iraq. I would love to see that because Germany has played an important role in Bosnia and Kosovo and Afghanistan.

You say you'd love to see Germany getting involved. Do you think it will be invited to do so?

That's up to Secretary Powell and Chancellor Schröder and Foreign Minister Fischer. All I'm telling you is what I, as a private citizen, think would be desirable.

Chancellor Schröder has made it clear he would also like to see greater United Nations involvement in postwar Iraq. Do you think we might see some concessions along these lines?

I can't speak for the administration, but I think Chancellor Schröder is correct in saying the UN has an important role to play.

The United States and Britain have effectively sidelined the U.N. recently, haven't they, in not getting backing for the resolution to go to war on Iraq and now they're deciding how best to administer Iraq. Doesn't that leave the UN looking pretty powerless and set a rather dangerous precedent?

Let's remember, first of all, that the UN is not an independent organization. It is simply a bureaucracy that carries out the instructions, the mandate of the Security Council. So when you say the UN has sidelined itself, that isn't quite right. The UN has been sidelined by the dispute between the U.S., France, Russia, Germany and the U.K. And that needs to be overcome, but the UN has a very valuable role to play in Iraq -- not in security. Security has got to remain in the hands of the coalition that liberated the country from Saddam's tyranny. And by the way, I think all Americans and all Germans, whether they supported the war or not, should recognize that the Iraqi people are much better off without Saddam than with him. But on the issue you raised, humanitarian assistance and post-Saddam governance, the UN has a vital and valuable role to play and it happens -- whether Washington agrees with this or not -- to be in the U.S. interest for that to take place.

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  • Date 15.05.2003
  • Author Interview conducted by Charlotte Collins
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  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/3dur
  • Date 15.05.2003
  • Author Interview conducted by Charlotte Collins
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/3dur