American fury as German justice
minister compares Bush to Hitler
Toby Helm in Berlin and Toby Harnden
The White House last night lambasted Herta
Däubler-Gmelin, the German justice minister, for describing
President Bush's Iraq policy as comparable to the methods of Adolf
"Bush wants to divert attention from domestic
difficulties," she said. "That is a popular method. Hitler has done
Ms Däubler-Gmelin's comments are the latest attempt
by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's Social Democrats to pick up votes
three days before the most closely fought German election in
She played to the anti-war sentiment of many voters
but threatened the worst breakdown in relations between Berlin and
Washington since the Second World War.
Using unusually blunt language Ari Fleischer, Mr
Bush's spokesman, said: "The relations between the people of the
United States and the people of Germany are very important to the
"But this statement by the justice minister is
outrageous and it is inexplicable." The SPD was accused by the
centre-Right of rampant "anti-Americanism" and risking Berlin's
relationship with Washington to pick up votes.
The campaign has turned increasingly ugly with parties
trading insults over Iraq, immigration policy and how to deal
with Islamic extremists resident in Germany.
Ms Däubler-Gmelin also claimed in an interview with
the Schwabisches Tagblatt newspaper that if insider trading laws had
been in force in the 1980s when President Bush was involved in the
oil business "then Bush would be in prison today".
Later, in a bid to soften her remarks, she said: "I
did not compare the persons Bush and Hitler, but the methods."
As the opposition called for her resignation she
issued a statement saying: "It is erroneous and inflammatory to
imply that I compared a man who was democratically elected, the
American President George W Bush, and the Nazi era.
"I have always said to what point such a comparison
would be unacceptable and false. That was, by the way, implicit in
this confused article that some are now using for political
The comments were the most outspoken by any SPD
politician since Mr Schröder ruled
out German participation in any US-led military action to topple
Saddam Hussein, and said that as Chancellor he would never provide
money for such a campaign.
Edmund Stoiber's centre-Right alliance of Christian
Democrats (CDU) and the Christian Social Union (CSU) claim that Mr
Schröder's policy risks isolating Germany.
Mr Stoiber said: "The anti-American attitude of
Saddam is only surpassed by Schröder."
Thomas Goppel, the CSU general secretary said the
remarks "show how the SPD really view our American allies". He
added: "There is a strategy behind this. The SPD tries to give the
impression that the real enemy is Bush and not Saddam. That is
irresponsible and demagogic."
One of America's most senior foreign policy figures
said that Mr Schröder's comments in the New York Times went beyond
electioneering and had caused lasting damage to US-German
Mr Schröder criticised the US vice-president Dick
Cheney and said Germany would not back action against Iraq even if
it were authorised by the UN.
Dan Coats, the US ambassador to Berlin, registered
formal protests and said that relations between the two countries
had been badly affected.
Nonetheless, fearing that the SPD's anti-American
push might win votes for the SPD, Mr Stoiber opposed the idea of
America going it alone, saying the solution should by found through
"It is about destroying weapons of mass destruction
not toppling a dictator. There should not be a solo run by the
Americans but also not a German solo run." However, Mr Stoiber said
that if elected he would not permit the US to use its German bases
to attack Iraq if it acts unilaterally.
Since Mr Schröder hardened his opposition to an Iraq
war, he has wiped out a seven-point poll deficit and is a whisker
ahead of Mr Stoiber. The policy appeals to Germans appalled at the
prospect of their country returning to war.
Previous story: Morris
orders A-level inquiries
Next story: 'I
know our Milly has been murdered'