A president on the verge of war: On Thursday of last week, George W. Bush gave yet another martial speech to US soldiers. "We will act calmly, decisively and victoriously - and with the world's best military force," he declared, holding a baby, at the Jacksonville Naval Station in Florida.
In his opinion, the United Nations Security Council had only one choice, to say "yes" to a war in Iraq or to "go down in history as an insignificant debating club."
The German chancellor, in particular, has been opposed to war for months. The UN resolution on Iraq "contains no automatic imperative to apply military force," Gerhard Schröder thundered in Washington's direction. In his view, Bush and Co. are forming a "a coalition of those who want war," a club which, as Schröder stated in his address to the nation, includes the CDU/CSU opposition party.
A foreign policy debate on both sides of the Atlantic has rarely been accompanied by such powerful emotions. The US president is seeking the support of the global public with his increasingly pithy speeches, and Germany's chancellor is being equally forceful in his own attempt to mobilize support.
Schröder's friends, who admire his unwavering opposition to the US administration, are gathering on one side. The chancellor has received thousands of e-mails encouraging him not to back down.
The other camp is populated by his opponents, who are practically shaking out of indignation. Last week, CSU State Party Director Michael Glos complained that Schröder and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer "have to go, by whatever means and at any democratic cost."
Ever since the French-German "alternative plan" (SPIEGEL 7/2003*) was made public, the rift has become even wider between the government in Berlin and the opposition, as well as between the United States and European core countries France and Germany. At this point, there is no bridge across the Atlantic.
The Americans, who seem to claim the exclusive rights to international relations, make no secret of their dismay at such blatant displays of sovereignty. Washington's demand for compliance is meeting with opposition. The new Europe, the one that US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld mistakenly defamed as "old Europe," is making itself heard with a roar.
On Friday of last week, the UN Security Council convened as a sort of global government to hear the report presented by chief weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohammed al-Baradei. The meeting ended in a tough setback for the United States.
Blix, a Swedish citizen, confidently reported on 400 inspections that have taken place in more than 300 locations in Iraq, in laboratories, private residences, military facilities, and missile factories. Virtually every sentence was a slap in the face for Bush. According to Blix, although they had not yet inspected "every cave" in Iraq, the inspectors had consistently been given access, even to the presidential palaces, and had been unable to find any weapons of mass destruction.
There was only one issue that the hawks could claim as support for their cause. The chief inspector criticized Iraq for violating UN resolutions in their production of missiles, claiming that the range of the al-Samud is longer than the 150 kilometers permitted under the UN resolution. Furthermore, experts who had been flown to New York, including an official of the German defense ministry who had previously worked as a weapons inspector himself, arrived at conclusions that were even more unsettling. They are convinced the regime has consistently used its missile program as camouflage. According to these experts, only minor modifications are necessary to achieve additional increases in the ranges of Iraqi missiles.
On the other hand, Blix made it clear to the Americans that he considered their intelligence unusable, at least to some extent. According to Blix, the satellite images presented in the previous week by US Foreign Secretary Colin Powell have not proved to be particularly meaningful. The movements of weapons systems documented by these images could have been "routine procedures." The monitoring program, according to Blix, must be continued and must remain open-ended. The weapons inspectors are scheduled to deliver their next report on March 1.
Broad international approval of military action is unlikely. There is even dissent within the venerable institutions of the Cold War, most notably NATO, institutions that have generally lent their support to the policies of the United States.
Things haven't been quite the same at NATO headquarters in Brussels since mid-January. Germany, France and Belgium have steadfastly refused to support the US' preparations for war. Germany's NATO ambassador Gebhardt von Moltke has received instructions from government headquarters in Berlin to indicate that it is "too early" to launch specific plans. Defense Minister Peter Struck has stated that the organization should not issue any "false signals," and should not create the impression that going to war in the Gulf is a fait accompli.
In a heated debate, the Americans confronted Moltke with bitter accusations, claiming that the Germans, whose security has been backed up by NATO for half a century, are "ungrateful."
Days after the veto, US politicians are still upset. US Defense Secretary Rumsfeld harshly criticized the alliance for failing to protect Turkey against possible attack by Iraq, calling it "inexcusable" and "shameful."
But the biggest surprise was delivered at last Saturday's Security Conference in Munich, when the news agencies announced the SPIEGEL cover story ("An alternative to war: UN control over Iraq?") shortly before noon. The disclosure of the previously secret German-French "alternative plan" involving a "robust disarmament regime" in Iraq hit the more than 250 attendees of the meeting like a bombshell.
"What about this plan?", Rumsfeld barked at his German counterpart Struck, who stammered that it was "still too early" to discuss details. As Struck explained, the chancellor would certainly speak to this issue in his address to the nation scheduled for the following Thursday.
"It's highly unusual," hissed one of Rumsfeld's people, "that the Secretary of Defense, after having already spent 24 hours in Munich, would find out about an important diplomatic initiative from a news report."
In truth, though, his German counterpart was in the same position. Struck, who had been kept completely out of the loop until then, was only informed about the initiative in a hastily put-together conversation with Schröder's foreign policy advisor, Bernd Mützelburg and, later that same day, with Schröder himself: A UN peacekeeping mission was apparently part of the Franco-German discussions on the disarmament of Iraq.
Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who was at least aware of the basic tenor of talks between the Elysée Palace and the chancellor's office, was completely thrown off balance by the significance of the news. Fischer angrily called the chancellor who, with some effort, attempted to placate his deputy.
The Defense Minister, still clearly irritated, finally made an appearance on television. "I believe that we should take advantage of the opportunity to conduct such a mission," confirmed Struck when asked about the role of German UN peacekeepers. Only later, following another telephone conversation with Berlin, was Struck forced to retract his statement, at least in part. Apparently, reports concerning the possible deployment of German UN peacekeepers were not at the center of the plan.
The architects of the new Franco-German joint effort were taken aback by the amount of public excitement it generated, and at first chose to remain silent. The Chancellor decided to wait for a statement from Russian president Vladimir Putin, who was in Berlin on Saturday.
Standing in front of Schröder's official residence in Grunewald, the Russian president placed himself firmly, and surprisingly, behind the Franco-German initiative, a move that was greeted with relief in Berlin and Paris. "I believe," said Putin, "that anyone who has closely followed the situation in Iraq must realize that the positions held by Germany, Russia and France are virtually identical in spirit."
The Chancellor confirmed that Germany intended to make every effort to support an alternative to war in Iraq. Under an agreement with the offended French, there was to be no further public discussion about deployment of UN peacekeepers, although more detailed information was available to anyone willing to listen closely at government headquarters in Berlin.
According to inquiries it made at the Chancellor's office, the "Süddeutsche Zeitung," initially skeptical about the SPIEGEL report, determined the following: "The discussions also include the option of beefing up the inspectors' mandate by deploying UN peacekeepers."
Paris and Berlin decided to charge ahead. Early in the week in New York, the French presented the controversial plan (which they were reluctant to refer to as a "plan") to the remaining members of the Security Council. The so-called non-paper became the basic element of France' demand to give the weapons inspectors as much time as they needed to successfully complete their mission.
"We prefer peaceful disarmament over disarmament through war."
France' Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin, told the Security Council that his country had never ruled out the possibility of the use of force. However, said de Villepin, all options of peaceful disarmament must be employed.
The concept, which has been in development since the beginning of the year, centers on a more effective inspection and disarmament regime. "We prefer peaceful disarmament over disarmament through war," wrote one of the co-authors of the paper.
Approximately 120 inspectors are now working in Iraq. Every day, an average of ten teams is underway. At this rate, however, they have thus far only been able to inspect just under half of the known weapons site and research facilities. According to the paper, the number of daily inspections could be doubled or tripled by doubling or tripling the number of inspectors, and the necessary funds are available.
As stated in the non-paper, strengthening the inspections is "necessary to bring them to a logical conclusion." The idea behind this proposal, according to the paper, is to "maintain pressure on Iraq," so that Saddam Hussein's regime will have no "other alternative but to cooperate."
The paper also contains a proposal that builds a bridge to the possible deployment of UN peacekeepers at a later date: In addition to the increase in the size of the inspection team, "other types of personnel and experts will be recruited" who are referred to in the paper, with a sufficient lack of specificity, as a "security unit." Their job, according to the proposal, would be to protect the inspectors and continue to monitor suspicious facilities following each inspection.
According to the Franco-German proposal, the inspectors will initially be supported by a security force. Additional specialists, such as customs inspectors, could also search Iraqi records for prohibited imports. American U2 spy planes, French Mirage IV fighters, Russian Antonovs and German drones would "systematically and constantly" monitor all locations and facilities. This would prevent the Iraqis from removing suspicious material before UN inspectors arrive or from reactivating closed production and testing facilities following their departure.
Three regional offices - in Mosul in the North, in Basra in the South, and in a yet-to-be-determined location in the West - would facilitate the monitoring of Iraqi territory and allow for faster deployment of the inspectors.
Since chief weapons inspectors Blix and al-Baradei cannot be in Baghdad constantly, they would require local deputies who would coordinate the work of the inspector teams and would be fully authorized to interact with the Iraqi authorities.
The deployment of UN peacekeeping troops that was being discussed with Berlin, and has now prematurely become a subject of public debate, does not play a direct role in the non-paper. This is because such deployment would require another UN resolution, which France and Germany are not seeking at this time.
Preparations for an enhanced inspection regime have already begun in Germany. Last week, Berlin instructed the Cologne-based customs agency responsible for criminal investigations to appoint experts to be deployed to Iraq. Criminal experts and technical support staff from the agency will monitor the regime's imports, thereby ensuring that the country is not procuring any components suitable for the production of weapons of mass destruction.
The French, not fully satisfied with simply distributing the non-paper, accompanied the diplomatic move with political action. Last Monday in Paris, Jacques Chirac solemnly read a joint declaration by France, Germany and Russia, which was promptly delivered to all other members of the Security Council. According to the declaration, "there is only one alternative to war; Russia, Germany and France are determined to support every opportunity to achieve the peaceful disarmament of Iraq."
Russian president Putin, who had just flown in from Berlin, stood next to Chirac, herald of peace, his face unmoving. This dramatic production alone gave the joint declaration the political tone of that of a triumvirate.
"Our opinion is shared by a very large majority of the peoples and statesmen of this planet," said the French president, and Putin added: "Most of the members of the Security Council agree with us, and if we were to poll the member states of the UN General Assembly, we would arrive at the same result."
In an article in the "Wall Street Journal," Chirac was referred to as "a rat that is trying to shout." The tall politician from Paris was disparaged as "a pygmy, a bald man dressed in the clothing of Joan of Arc." But such setbacks appear to make the master of the Elysée Palace even more resolute. The French sourly noted that at the Security Conference in Munich Angela Merkel, head of the CDU, apparently whispered to the US delegation that if she had been in power, she would have signed a statement of solidarity with the United States issued by eight European heads of state.
Unlike Germany, the French nation has been brought together rather than split apart by these attacks on its president. It has become a patriotic act in France to oppose Bush' America, and the president has been showered with compliments from such disparate quarters as the left-wing opposition and right-wing extremist Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Chirac, who began his carrier 43 years ago, draws inspiration for his posture from his political model, Charles de Gaulle.
De Gaulle also withstood pressure from Washington to support a senseless war. In a speech given to 250,000 people in Phnom Penh in 1966, he declared that the Vietnam War could not be resolved militarily and that he would withdraw French troops from the jungles of the Far East, thereby incurring the wrath of the US administration. History proved him correct.
For the French president, it is undoubtedly tempting to imitate the founding father of the Fifth Republic. To do so, however, he needs a "union of fate" with Germany, a union that was so effusively conjured up during ceremonies to mark the 40th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty.
In this country, a change in the political architecture seems to be developing that could extend well beyond Schröder's term in office. This change may affect the friendship between Germany and the United States, which derives its strength from the underpinnings of the Federal Republic and is becomingly recognizably less cohesive - even though this is certainly not the intention of the chancellor and his vice-chancellor.
Modern Germany's first chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, viewed the superpower, the United States, as the most suitable ally to help fend off the "destructive power of godless totalitarianism," i.e., communism.
Social Democrat Willy Brandt took an entirely different approach: "Anyone who says amen while they're still praying in Washington is not acting in the interest of our people." US president Richard Nixon watched with mistrust as Brandt, winner of the Noble peace prize, succeeded in signing treaties with Eastern European countries and transformed the Bonn republic in such a way as to ultimately benefit a warming of relations between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Schröder - certainly not by coincidence - has fallen into step with Brandt's traditions and seems to have reconciled himself with his party, at least for the time being.
In any event, both the leadership and the rank and file of the SPD enthusiastically agreed with Schröder last week, when he speculated that American interest in Iraq went beyond regime change. Instead, according to Schröder, the United States seems to be shaping a new approach to foreign policy, one in which the world's largest power acts as the arbiter of good and evil.
Even the majority of Schröder's opponents from within the party are now suddenly behind the chancellor. "This is not the time to focus on our mistakes," said the speaker of the left wing of the party, Andrea Nahles, someone who is usually embroiled in harsh debate with the chairman of her party.
Even Hermann Scheer, a notorious critic of Schröder, delivered an uncharacteristically well-behaved and submissive address at the party's leadership conference last Monday: "Gerd, we wish you much strength in your endeavors," a statement that was positively echoed in the European Parliament. In Strasbourg and Brussels, the leader of Germany's SPD delegates to the EU, Martin Schulz, pledged the support of 150 of his colleagues for a resolution that reinforces the German position.
Of course, Schröder wants to take advantage of the Iraq crisis to divert attention from domestic politics. From his perspective, the existential issue of war and peace offers a welcome opportunity to correct his red-green coalition government's initial mistakes, and it will do so as unobtrusively as possible. The chancellor's closest advisors at the Willy Brandt mansion expect that a few weeks will suffice to allow them reshape their approach to reforming economic and social policy without generating an overly vocal debate in the media between traditionalists and reformers.
Anyone who tries to disturb the peace is quickly dealt with, which was precisely the fate encountered by the previous party chairman Hans-Ulrich Klose. When he criticized Schröder's direction at a meeting of the party leadership, the chancellor exploded: "You should be ashamed of yourself."
The chief Social Democrat has also received support for his anti-war stance from those outside his own party. Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Foreign Minister under the social-liberal coalition and subsequently under the black and yellow coalition, appeared to be impressed, praising Schröder for his ability to take decisive action. In contrast, Angela Merkel and the head of the FDP, Guido Westerwelle, wasted their energy on carping at the administration's political style.
In terms of foreign policy, the country is in a better position than in previous weeks, and isolation is certainly no longer an issue.
On Friday evening, an overwhelming majority of the 15 members of the Security Council were of the opinion that the inspections should continue. Even veto-wielding power China, whose initial reaction to reports of the "Franco-German alternative plan" had been guarded, concurred with the prevailing view.
As early as last Tuesday, the outgoing Chinese head of state, Jiang Zemin, spoke with Jacques Chirac by telephone to gain an understanding of the situation, and it was during this conversation that the Frenchman informed his colleague about the German-Russian-French position. Jiang's reaction: "War will not help anyone. It is part of our responsibility to avoid war."
Nevertheless, it is currently considered unlikely in Beijing that the Chinese will use their veto to oppose military action. "They will only be against it if both France and Russia voted against it," says a Western diplomat, noting US investments in China.
In contrast, Bush' avowed European friends in Rome, Madrid and London were unimpressed. The first details of the alternative plan had barely been released before efforts were underway to derail it. According to the Spanish foreign minister, the idea of deploying UN peacekeepers is "totally inappropriate."
However, this virtually vassal-like loyalty on the part of the British, the Spanish and the Italians is jeopardizing the domestic positions of their administrations. If it comes to war, with their support, and with the possible loss of many thousands of lives, the heads of state in these countries will certainly face some rather difficult months.
This is why Schröder reacted with confidence to statements made by Spanish prime minister José Maria Aznar. The German-Spanish summit, which took place last week on the island of Lanzarote, provided him with plenty of opportunities to do so.
Tony Blair's administration also appears to be encountering opposition to its anti-Schröder course. While Foreign Secretary Jack Straw compared the Franco-German peace efforts to the failed effort to appease Hitler in the 1930s, the majority of the Labour Party refused to fall in line with such statements.
Even Italy's Silvio Berlusconi is beginning to suffer the effects of being too closely allied with Bush, which is why he has gradually retreated from his position during the past week. Italy's head of state promised his party friends that there would be "no attacks against France and Germany." In Berlusconi's view, Italy must now assume the role of an intermediary. In Northern Europe, the Chirac-Schröder stance is generally similar to official government policy. For example, Norway's conservative foreign minister, Jan Petersen, demanded that the inspectors must be given sufficient time to complete their work.
Just how the European positions were to be addressed was still unclear just four days ahead of the EU crisis talks on Monday. The Greek chairman of the conference had no idea as to how to ensure the success of this meeting of heads of state and governments. Javier Solana, the chief foreign politician of the European Union, was also at a loss. "What do you advise me to do?", he asked the senior government officials attending the conference, but failed to receive a constructive response.
The opposition in Berlin proved to be just as uninspired. CDU party head Angela Merkel* referred to Gerhard Schröder's ideas in the parliament as a "unreliable foreign policy," but declined to address the Franco-German peace plan on its merits.
The CDU is apparently even unable to gain points with its assertion, presented several weeks ago, that the administration was concealing information about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction obtained by the Federal Intelligence Service. Last Wednesday, August Hanning, the director of the Federal Intelligence Service, testified before the foreign affairs committee of the Bundestag to explain the accusations.
During Hanning's testimony, his chief analyst presented a balanced picture. According to the analyst, the Pullach-based agency is convinced that Saddam is still playing games with inspectors and has yet to explain what happened to his enormous stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons. The analyst also explained that intelligence officials had discovered that in recent years Iraq has repeatedly purchased equipment and materials that could be used to produce new weapons of horror.
This pleased the CDU.
In contrast, Hanning was not convinced by the American claim that Saddam Hussein and Bin Laden's Al Qaeda had entered into a secret alliance, nor did he believe that there was any evidence that the Iraqis had resumed their nuclear weapons program, even though this is precisely what Bush and Foreign Secretary Colin Powell have claimed. The conclusion reached by the experts? More inspections are preferable to war.
At this point, the coalition's delegates breathed a sigh of relief.
That's because they all know that their chancellor is playing a game in which the stakes are very high. If, at the end of this poker game for war and peace, he is isolated among world leaders - perhaps even allied with the Syrians as part of a coalition of opponents of war -, his term will end without distinction, perhaps even prematurely.
However, if he does prevail, even if a humiliated United States is forced to go to war without an express UN mandate, he will have gained international stature.
This outcome did not seem entirely unlikely on Friday. The inspections will continue, and Germany's foreign minister, in a statement echoing sentiments expressed by de Villepin, said "diplomacy has not ended," and that there are currently no arguments in favor of discontinuing the inspections regime. He also stated that UN inspections must now become "stronger and more efficient, in keeping with France' proposals."
When a few observers in the Security Council chamber began to clap, the German chairman of the council had to call for order. Expressions of support are strictly prohibited in the council's chambers.
The French proposal garnered significantly more approval than expected. The Chinese foreign minister, Tang Jiaxuan, saw no reason for bombardment, and demanded a "peaceful solution," while Russia's UN representative, Igor Ivanov, also spoke in favor of expanding the inspection regime.
Meanwhile, Baghdad decided to announce a decree issued by the administration that expressly forbids the importation and production of weapons of mass destruction.
Time is running out for Bush, since the heat of the Iraqi summer could make it more difficult to wage war. In addition, a peace movement is growing in the United States and support for war among the US population is beginning to dwindle.
Foreign Secretary Powell took an unconventional approach to interpreting the results of the Blix report, stating "I am pleased that progress has been made," but continued to assert that the inspectors were still not being given the access they need. Furthermore, according to Powell, the issue now is not strengthening inspections, but rather "unconditional cooperation on the part of Iraq." Powell said that he regretted that the Iraqi government, just a few hours before the meeting, had adopted new resolutions that at least he recognized as tricks. Spain and Great Britain rushed to his support.
"The courage to make peace is the mandate of the red-green coalition," says a confident chancellor.
This weekend, the Americans planned to make another attempt to exert their influence, behind closed doors, on the remaining members of the Security Council. German diplomats believe that if the Americans remain unsuccessful, Bush will, within the foreseeable future, invoke the "serious consequences" threatened under UN resolution 1441, and will in fact launch an attack.
The dispute with the Germans could very quickly escalate even further, since Berlin considers its position to be fixed. "The courage to make peace is the mandate of the red-green coalition," says a confident chancellor who, in his conflict with the United States, may just have discovered the theme his red-green coalition has been seeking from the start.
Of course, the situation is certainly a little worrisome for Schröder and his foreign minister. During the flight to Lanzarote, the two studied a column in the "International Herald Tribune," in which William Pfaff, an expert on US policy, makes some rather grim prophecies.
According to Pfaff, this is the first time a German administration has been this obstinate and has refused to back down from its position. Schröder's actions will not be forgotten, says Pfaff, and the Bush administration will "attempt to politically destroy the German chancellor," suggesting that "regime change in Germany" now appears to be one of its "priorities."
Schröder and Fischer looked at each other with expressions of grim determination - and were silent.
RALF BESTE, MANFRED ERTEL, HORAND KNAUP, ROMAN LEICK, ANDREAS LORENZ, GEORG MASCOLO, ROLAND NELLES, HANS-JÜRGEN SCHLAMP, MICHAEL SONTHEIMER, GABOR STEINGART, ALEXANDER SZANDAR, HELENE ZUBER