President Bush and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder met privately at the Sea Island summit, and the White House characterized it as "a warm meeting." Indeed, said the briefer, the meeting ran over schedule.
It was, reporters were told, the warmest between the two leaders since before the Iraq war. This is actually a pretty low standard, considering how bad relations were between Bush and Schroeder going back to the fall of 2002.
That was when Schroeder rescued his faltering re-election campaign by announcing — with no advance notice to Washington — that under no circumstances would Germany send troops to Iraq. The chancellor’s campaign was infused with America-bashing, playing to the popular European stereotype of Bush as a reckless cowboy and the United States as a reckless global bully.
The low point came when Schroeder’s justice minister accused Bush of using the same big lie tactics as Adolf Hitler. The justice minister was quickly gone but the rancor remained. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld snubbed his German counterpart and White House National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice spoke of "a poisoned atmosphere."
Since then it has been a long slog back to good relations between the two allies, carefully shepherded by German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. The mood was helped by the remembrance of Ronald Reagan in Berlin daring the Soviet Union to "tear down this wall."It also helped that a U.N. resolution on Iraq was about to pass with Germany’s support.
The range of issues discussed by Schroeder and Bush showed the importance of German-U.S. cooperation: NATO’s role in Iraq, the Mideast initiative, Iran’s nuclear weapons program, binding Turkey to the West, oil prices. And then there is the tricky question of the United States withdrawing two armored divisions from Germany, something the towns that host those bases are vehemently opposed to.
The upshot of the meeting, said the White House, was that "last year belongs to last year — that is, it belongs in the category of history." That might be a bit of a stretch, but it’s a good start.