Chancellor Helmut Schmidt says he believes his talks in Washington with President Carter will result in "further progress toward a credible joint Western policy" in the wake of Afghanistan.
That phrase was carefully crafted by Mr. Schmidt, leaving no doubt among his listeners that he thinks such a "credible joint Western policy" has been lacking.
But then the Chancellor polished the apple briefly, declaring that he would "tell President Carter personally how impressed we are by the courage, patience, and admirable discipline shown by the American nation under his leadership in the crisis over the hostages in Teheran."
As it does whenever the Chancellor says something nice about the American President, the West German Embassy in Washington presumably also rushed a copy of this speech over the White House.
But Mr. Schmidt's applause fails to -- perhaps he doesn't even want it to -- veil his dissatisfaction at the manner in which President Carter has conducted policy recently.
Those close to the Chancellor say Mr. Schmidt believes the President ignored the danger to Afghanistan, and to Pakistan, for too long, then overreacted.
Mr. Schmidt thought the President's Feb. 20 deadline for Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan was unrealistically short. He was disturbed by the White House's abrupt attempt to "play the Chinese card," and angered by the President's failure to tell him in advance of the decision to delay ratification of Salt II and to seek a boycott of the Moscow Olympic Games.
The Chancellor's aides put what they call "the blame" for these policies on Zbigniew Brzezinski, the President's national security adviser, as well as on what they see as the President's need to do something vigorous to overcome his waning popularity in an election year.
In taking this typically disdainful European attitude toward American politics, Mr. Schmidt omits to mention that he, too, faces a general election, a good month before the Americans vote.
The Chancellor's cautious approach to Afghanistan certainly was developed with an eye on public opinion polls showing that in January more than one-half of the West Germans feared the superpowers were about to envelop the globe in a third world war.
Probably as a result, polls in February showed that Mr. Schmidt's government had improved its narrow lead over the Christian Democratic opposition.
Franz-Josef Strauss, the opposition's candidate for chancellor, reads the same polls. Instead of taking the fire-eating line he followed for so many years, he has entered this campaign on a high, statesmanlike plane, in order to avoid frightening anyone.
Mr. Strauss shares many of the Chancellor's criticisms of President Carter's policies. But he tries to claim that his Christian Democrats are much truer friends of the Americans than are Mr. Schmidt's Social Democrats.
Not coincidentally, Mr. Strauss will see President Carter in Washington next week.