YESTERDAY, German defense minister Peter Struck told interviewers from the Financial Times that Germany had not ruled out sending troops to Iraq. "At present I rule out the deployment of German troops in Iraq. In general, however, there is no one who can predict developments in Iraq in such a way that he could make such a binding statement [about the future]." In the context of the interview, it was clear Struck was suggesting that Germany might reconsider its position on troops in Iraq if John Kerry was elected president.
Well, there you have it. Just elect Senator Kerry and America's old allies--Germany and France--will return to the transatlantic fold, and all will be right with the world. Here's the problem: Struck's comments are malarkey. Given how few capable troops Germany has--and with many of them tied up in Afghanistan--it's unlikely Berlin could put any substantial numbers in harm's way in Iraq anytime soon. And, more to the point, given the declining popularity for Chancellor Schröder's government inside Germany, it is inconceivable that his government would risk angering the public further by actually deploying troops to a conflict that a large majority of Germans--with the help of the current government--have come to believe is morally bankrupt and certain to fail in any case.
No, what's really going on here is a not-so-subtle effort on the part of the Schröder government to influence the American election in its waning days, by giving Sen. Kerry's claims he would be a more effective leader than President Bush some faux credibility. It's not clear what impact Struck's comments might have on American voters. As poll after poll has shown, Americans do care what the other democracies in the world think and, regardless of how totally off-the-rocker much of Germany's commentary about George Bush and America is these days, it does bother them that an old ally is not supportive of U.S. efforts in Iraq.
The Bush team could counter that we can't let unfriendly European leaders monkey with our political choices. Moreover, the Bush campaign could note that John Howard, the Australian prime minister and U.S. ally in Iraq, was just returned to office in overwhelming fashion. Here's an ally with real troops and real combat power on the ground in Iraq. Surely the American public would credit Bush's real Australian alliance more than some nebulous prospect that Germany might, just might, rethink its position on deploying troops sometime in the future under a Kerry administration.
Gary Schmitt is executive director of The Project for the New American Century.