Gerhard Schröder was still popular in Washington when he visited President George W. Bush on Jan. 31, 2002. A few months earlier, the chancellor had risked his political future by calling a confidence vote on the issue of dispatching German troops to join the US-led anti-terrorism operation in Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa.
Bush was grateful. But he was already planning the Iraq war. A row over what was said at the meeting has erupted following the publication last week of Bush's memoirs, "Decision Points," in which he claims Schröder offered him support on Iraq. Schröder has denied this.
Bush wasn't telling the truth, Schröder is right about that, SPIEGEL writes in its edition to be published on Monday. The president claimed he had no war plan on the table -- but the military had presented him with the first draft four weeks before he met Schröder. He claimed diplomacy would take precedence, but he was already determined to enforce regime change in Baghdad.
He promised to consult his allies, but unlike the Europeans, he understood that to mean an answer to the simple question: are you for us or against us? The Europeans thought he was willing to discuss the wisdom and the risks of an invasion.
In his own memoirs published in 2006, Schröder claims he told Bush that, were there a demonstrable link between al-Qaida and Iraq, the US would have Germany's full support. "The connection, however, as it became clear during 2002, was false and constructed," Schröder said.
However, Schröder himself was not telling the entire truth at the Jan. 31 meeting. It would have been virtually impossible for him to secure a parliamentary majority for German involvement in an Iraq invasion, given that the Afghanistan vote in 2001 had already been so close.
Joschka Fischer, Germany's foreign minister at the time, is due to publish his own memoirs in February 2011. Referring to meetings between Schröder and Bush in Berlin in May 2002, Fischer writes that the chancellor and the president skirted around the issue "because both knew that they held opposing views that could not be reconciled."
"The chancellor asked to be involved in the decision and Bush replied that there was nothing on his desk to be decided and that if things got that far the allies would be informed," Fischer writes. "Schröder wanted to be involved in the decision, while Bush assured him he would be informed when he had taken a decision."
If Schröder had given Bush assurances of German help at the Jan. 31 meeting, "this would have become evident in the discussion in May," Fischer writes.
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