WASHINGTON — Petulance with a major ally is a luxury that even the sole superpower can ill afford in these times of trouble.
It is, alas, a fact of political life that America has become so unpopular in Europe that German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, lagging in his bid for reelection in September, found it expedient to run against President Bush. He proclaimed that Germany would not participate in a war with Iraq.
A couple of members of his Social Democratic team carried the Bush-bashing further. Minister of Justice Herta Dauebler-Gmelin said that Mr. Bush, like Hitler, was talking war in order to divert attention from domestic problems.
A party lieutenant, Ludwig Stiegler, said, "Bush is acting as if he is Caesar Augustus and Germany is the province of Germania." Mr. Schröder came back from behind to win his election, but in the White House, his name was mud.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld spoke of "poisoned relations." The president refused to make the traditional call of congratulations to the winner of the election, even after Schröder fired his two indiscreet aides.
Two letters from the chancellor to the president have so far gone unanswered. Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer came to Washington last week to mend fences. He met with Secretary of State Colin Powell, who called him "old friend," but Schröder was advised that he was unwelcome at the White House. This, despite the fact that Germany is playing an important role in the war against terrorism and has agreed to take command of the Afghanistan peacekeeping force. The Germans are vigorously pursuing the investigation of the Al Qaeda network and complaining that American investigators have been uncooperative.
How long does the Bush administration plan to stay mad at the Germans?
On Jan. 1, Germany becomes a member of the UN Security Council and rotating president of the Council in February. Before then, on Nov. 21, NATO holds a summit in Prague to expand its membership. On such occasions, bilateral meetings in the corridors are customary.
Will Bush snub Schröder? Mr. Powell says, with consummate diplomacy, "I'm sure they'll all have a chance to see each other at one point or another in the context of that summit." That reads as though Powell has some more work to do to make that happen.
The Bush people are not quick to forgive a European leader who says he won't click his heels before the president. But prolonging the feud would only make America even less popular in Europe.
Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.