Ahead of the release of his memoirs, Gerhard Schröder says George Bush left a positive impression on him, but the US leader's constant references to God troubled him. Schröder had few kind words for his own successor.
Schröder says he felt uneasy with the role religious faith took in Bush's decision-making
Although during much of Gerhard Schröder's seven-year term in office, media reports focused on his frosty relationship with the US president, Schröder himself has said in interviews leading up to this Thursday's release of his memoirs that his experience with the US leader were not all unpleasant, although the two men did not see eye-to-eye on many issues.
"There were some very pleasant meetings with the American president despite our diverging views. Bush is a thoroughly engaging and open discussion partner," Schröder said in an interview with the newspaper Bild am Sonntag.
Schröder's memoirs are coming out this Thursday
The war, Bush's use of prayer in his approach to the conflict, and his own decisions to call early elections are discussed by Schröder in his forthcoming memoirs entitled "Decisions: My Life in Politics," which are due to be published in Germany on Thursday.
Schröder, who served as chancellor from 1998 to 2005, was a strong opponent of the US-led war on Iraq and refused to provide military assistance in the venture. The issue drove German-US relations to a new post-World War Two low.
But in an interview with newsmagazine Der Spiegel, which is publishing excerpts from the 544-page book, the former chancellor described himself as "anything but anti-American."
Schröder, who led his Social Democratic Party (SPD) to power in 1998, describes how he had tears in his eyes as he watched the events of Sept. 11, 2001 unfold on television.
"It was important to me that Germany fulfill its requirements as an ally," he wrote.
Troubled by religiosity
There were some laughs between the two
But while Schröder and Bush's initial meetings were friendly, in the end the German leader could not accept the fact that religion seemed to be the driving force in the US president's political decisions.
"If a person adopts a political policy based on what he gleans from his prayers, in other words a personal talk with God, it can lead to difficulties in a democracy," Schröder told the newspaper.
The Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century led to a separation of church and state powers "from political action based on individual beliefs," he said. He wrote that some elements in the United States are hypocritical regarding secularism and government.
Religion is seen by some to play too large a role in US politics
"We rightly criticize that in most Islamic states, the role of religion for society and the character of the rule of law are not clearly separated," Schröder wrote. "But we fail to recognize that in the USA, the Christian fundamentalists and their interpretation of the Bible have similar tendencies."
Relations between the two countries improved after Schröder's election defeat last year, which led to Chancellor Angela Merkel taking over as head of government.
For the first time, Schröder addressed openly why he called for early elections in 2005, one year before they were scheduled. He said if he had not done so after a lost election in the one-time SPD stronghold of North Rhine-Westphalia, "relevant powers" in the SPD would have demanded that he give up his course of labor market and welfare reforms.
"Then I would have had to resign," he said in Der Spiegel, adding that such an event would have been a "catastrophe" for the party "because it would have been clear that the SPD had forced its own chancellor to step down."
Criticism of Merkel
Schröder accused the current chancellor of displaying weak leadership and of making "basic errors"' since she took charge of a grand coalition with the ex-chancellor's Social Democrats.
Merkel and Schröder during a televised debate
"There's a world of difference betweeen being in the opposition and explaining how things should be done to actually running the world's third biggest economic power, adopting foreign policy positions and carrying out far-reaching domestic reforms," he said.
Schröder said Merkel needed a firmer hand to deal with the political infighting that has dogged the coalition and her own Christian Democrat/Christian Social Union (CSU) alliance.
A CSU spokesman on Sunday accused Schröder of "putting the boot in."
"It's a cheap way of trying to cash in by someone who has not been able to digest his loss to Angela Merkel and his rejection by his own political party," the spokesman said. Schröder's book is to be released on Thursday at the SPD headquarters in Berlin. The former German leader has planned more than 20 readings around the country in the period until Christmas.