West Germany's strong lead in getting its European allies to back the US call for sanctions against Iran has helped bridge differences between Washington and Bonn.
But some US-West German irritations persist.
"The Europeans all agree that something has to be done" to exact a price for the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, notes one former Carter administration official in exasperation. "But every time the US does something, they throw up their hands in horror. So I ask what should we do instead, and nobody has any ideas."
He deplores the Europeans' complaints about Mr. Carter's unpredictability and short-term reactions as an excuse to avoid facing the real problem of growing Soviet military power and assertion.
"They [US officials] must realize we are not cowards," counters an adviser to West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. "We are not thinking of making profits out of the Soviet Union, and we are not selfish." He stresses the need for both sides to "accept the good will of each other" without "asking for an unconditional surrender to [one's own] maximum ideas or concepts."
Both men are expressing gut feelings about a US-European quarrel that has become emotionally charged. Both men are concerned about the consequences of the quarrel. A third person, an American diplomat who has kept his cool more than a number of his colleagues, gives his evaluation: "I have always thought the [WEst] Germans would come through [with actions in support of the US], but that it might be too late for them to get credit for it."
This view would seem to be borne out by Mr. Carter's barbed remarks two weeks ago after -- not before -- Bonn had signaled its intention to emulate US economic sanctions on Iran. Despite the potential damage to the carefully nurtured Paris-Bonn cordiality and to pan-European political and economic coordination, West Germany was ready to impose sanctions unilaterally, had the European Community not agreed on supporting the US April 22.
Yet President Carter had implicitly lumped West Germany together with all the other European sinners when he asserted,. publicly, "They ask for understanding, yet they often decline to understand us in return. Some ask for protection, but are wary of the obligations of alliance." The West Germans were stung by the tongue-lashing.
A worrying aspect of the present tug of war is the increasing engagement in it by the less forgiving American and German publics. On the German side, novelist Gunter Grass and three other Berlin authors felt called upon in mid-April to ask the West German government to "loose yourself from the American government, which since Vietnam at the latest has lost all right to a moral appeal."
A similar mood is growing among some segments of Chancellor Schmidt's Social Democratic Party.So concerned about this are former Chancellor Willy Brandt and Deputy Party Chairman Horst Ehmke that they have felt compelled to warn against "cheap anti-Americanism."
A paradox in the American and West German hurt feelings is that the actual policies of the two most important NATO allies are not all that far apart. The West German government went along with the EC measures against Iran and is now hoping to persuade its sportsmen to boycott the Moscow Olympics -- and pull France and most of the rest of Europe along with it.
West Germany and the US will probably even come to an understanding (West German diplomats believe) on new restrictions on high-technology military exports to the Soviet Union.
More broadly, Jimmy Carter has supported NATO more staunchly than any other recent American president -- and this is appreciated in Western Europe and in West Germany especially.
Conventional wisdom has it that adversity pushes allies together. But so far the Afghanistan and iran crises seem to be pulling them apart. Alienation between the US and Europe is worse today, concludes the editor of the sober Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger, than at any time since World War II -- not excepting the period of the Vietnam War.