Summits are often nothing more than happy handshakes and empty photo ops, but German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's visit to the White House Monday is likely to be a particularly egregious waste of jet fuel.
Schröder's Washington summit with George Bush could be his last
If US President George Bush has his druthers, this will be the last time he has to host Gerhard Schröder in Washington DC. With an early election looming in Germany this fall, many in the American capital have written the chancellor off as a lame duck during his one-day transatlantic trip.
It's no secret that Schröder and Bush have never been on especially good terms. Bush's often strident unilateralism and blithe dismissals of issues like global warming never went down well in Germany and after staunchly opposing Bush's decision to invade Iraq, Schröder was long considered a persona non grata for the Texan.
After a few rocky years, icy relations between Washington and Berlin have thawed. However, ties between the two leaders couldn't exactly be described as chummy. They work together because they have to, as key NATO allies and as representatives of two of the world's largest economies.
Still, these two guys couldn't be more different and looking at their backgrounds you wouldn't really expect them to be pals: Schröder is the secular Social Democrat from humble beginnings and Bush is a born-again Christian conservative with a patrician background.
With Schröder unpopular in his own party and way behind Germany's conservative opposition in opinion polls, his re-election at this point is highly unlikely. And that's a cause for celebration in many quarters of Washington. You can almost see members of Bush's team rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of Schröder being booted from office in less than three months.
Unloved in DC
Dozens of unidentified protestors hold a sign reading in German and English Welcome (German Chancellor Gerhard) Schroeder, Not War, during a demonstration in Arrecife on Lanzarote Island Tuesday Feb. 11, 2003 where Spain and Germany are to hold a summit.
Since Schröder banked his last election campaign in 2002 on directly opposing Bush's foreign policy, few administration officials would weep at his departure this September. US neoconservatives, already brimming with contempt for the German leader, now see even less reason to support Berlin's bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
Accordingly, the chancellor is likely to get the no-frills treatment during Monday's summit. Bush, happy to wait and see if conservative Christian Democrat leader Angela Merkel takes over in Berlin, certainly has no reason to offer Schröder anything of substance. A handshake, a photo op and the chancellor can expect nothing more for his trouble.
And Schröder probably knows it. With the early election to be set in motion by a confidence vote in parliament this Friday, he undoubtedly realizes his time would be better spent on his rather more pressing domestic problems. Despite the largely pointless exercise of the US summit, he couldn't call it off entirely, instead choosing to lop off an extra few days to San Francisco.
However, foregoing a last visit with his "good friend George" might have been the smarter move. As it stands now, coming home empty handed from the Atlantic outing is only likely to underline the impression with German voters that Schröder is on his way out.