Campaigning for reelection, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has done it again. Speaking about how to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, he said at a rally on Saturday, "Let's take the military option off the table."
It was reminiscent of his 2002 campaign, when his vigorous antiwar stance on Iraq played well with voters and helped him secure a come-from-behind win.
But his political play of the antiwar card at that time set him at odds with President Bush, and helped turn the traditionally warm US-German relationship into an ice-cold one that's still thawing out.
Fortunately this time, the Bush administration did not react, even though Mr. Schröder's comments came on the heels of a statement by Mr. Bush on Israeli TV that "all options are on the table" with Iran.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack responded on Monday by saying simply: "We're working very closely with the German government on the issue of Iran. We're working well on the diplomatic approach."
The administration's refusal to take the bait and publicly further the dispute shows it's learned how damaging a division among allies over the Middle East can be.
But would that Schröder had worded his views more diplomatically. Certainly, he's entitled to his opinion, and many would object to the military option.
Yet it's unwise to remove any option, especially the stick, when trying to negotiate. A military strike in Iran is neither realistic nor desirable now, but to categorically discard that bargaining chip was premature.