BERLIN -- The chaos and anarchy that reigned in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, culminating in Mayor Ray Nagin's desperate "SOS", has unfortunately produced a resurgence of anti-Americanism in Germany. The timing, which coincides with Germany's election campaign, is especially troubling.
The previous zenith of anti-US sentiment in Germany was in fall 2002, when Chancellor Gerhard Schröder rode high on his opposition to President Bush's attempts to forge a United Nations coalition in support of military action against the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Schröder pulled off an upset victory for re-election largely because of his willingness to exploit hostility to US policy. This time around, on September 18, Germany will vote for a new government. All major pollsters have predicted for months that Schröder cannot win again, even if he dredges up his opposition to the US. The country faces serious domestic problems and people cannot be distracted so easily from them this time. Nevertheless, the chancellor campaigns anew with an anti-American undertone.
"Those who want peace, need to be steadfast," the Chancellor proclaims on one of his election posters. Another one quotes him, saying: "Against blind following -- for peace." Even though the quotes don't mention the US it is clear to every German what Schröder means. Now, the TV broadcasts showing the aftermath of the hurricane that hit New Orleans will give him and his well known opposition to the Bush administration a new boost.
Tens of millions of Germans watched New Orleans in the hands of thugs, seeing how rescue helicopters and law enforcement officers were shot at. They could only shake their heads at the mighty US's seeming inability to prevent anarchy in one of its major cities. Immediately, commentators made the connection to Iraq. The German mass media never tire of reporting that the US cannot get things under control there, either.
In particular the major state-funded channel ARD, which has been a font of anti-US bias for years, is fueling German disgust with the US and works hand in glove with the current German government. In special reports, called "Brennpunkt", ARD correspondents first complained about President Bush not showing up at the disaster scene. Then, when he arrived, ARD reporter Sandra Ratzow ridiculed the Bush press conference near New Orleans, saying the president spoke only to handpicked journalists and that the "whole thing was nothing but a media show" which of course the clever German journalists didn't buy.
German reporters have preferred to interview victims who blame President Bush for almost everything, including the hurricane itself. This plays into the common claim in the German mainstream media that the disaster had been caused by global warming. And global warming is caused by President Bush. Such is the logic of those reports, in which journalists are transformed into propagandists, inspiring hate against the US.
Here's where the chancellor jumped on the bandwagon: He announced that he had urged the International Energy Agency to release oil from Europe's reserves, dampening upward pressure on prices. Sanctimoniously, he explained to the public that Germany has a "historic duty" to support the United States because of America's help to post-World War II Germany. Certainly reserves would help the United States cope with an oil supply shortage caused by the hurricane, but most of all it will help the Germans themselves, who are also faced with a significant rise in gasoline prices.
Even though polls two weeks prior to election day are indicating Schröder will lose to his conservative challenger Angela Merkel, he is gaining respect for his generosity towards the United States, even though many Germans think the Americans don't deserve such an act. In a letter to the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Horst Schmidt expresses what many Germans think: "Now, the richest and most energy consuming country on earth shall be helped? We should help [only] the people in the disaster area, but not this American administration."
The Greens, who form a coalition with Schröder's Social Democrats, also started immediately after the hurricane to take advantage of its devastation with a series of attacks on Bush. The German environment minister, a Green politician named Juergen Trittin, accused the US of "not doing enough for climate protection". He claimed Bush "closes his eyes about economical and human damage caused by natural catastrophes", because his government opposes the Kyoto protocol. The head of the Green party, Reihard Bütikofer, called Bush an "eco-reactionary whose energy policy comes from the oil and nuclear energy lobby".
Still, polls show that Schröder's party won't get more than 30 percent, and his coalition partner the Greens about 7 per cent. The German conservative Christian Democrats together with the free-market FDP are stable at about 49 percent, enough to form a government.
To see more of the extensive coverage of Hurricane Katrina from TCS, click here.
So Schröder won't have the US to kick around for much longer.