Do You Remember Herta Däubler-Gmelin?

Do You Remember Herta Däubler-Gmelin?

A German interior ministry proposal to grant Iraqi Christians asylum in Germany as a persecuted minority drew criticism last week from the chair of the Bundestag's Human Rights Committee, who insisted that the program should be open to other Iraqis as well. "We should also accept Christians, because they are under particular pressure," Herta Däubler-Gmelin said in remarks reported in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, "but not only Christians." "An appropriately large number of Iraqis should be taken in," she added, "commensurate to Germany's capacity and economic power."

Herta Däubler-Gmelin? If the name sounds familiar, that is because this is the same Herta Däubler-Gmelin who in September 2002, as Minister of Justice in the government of then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, famously compared George W. Bush to Adolf Hitler. According to the original report of her remarks in the German daily the Schwäbische Tagblatt, Däubler-Gmelin likewise said that the American president should be in jail and dismissed the American justice system as "lousy." This, it should be underscored, was a half year before the invasion of Iraq: at a time when such rhetoric was all but unknown in the United States and when virtually all the putative "causes" for it normally cited by American opponents of the president had not even yet occurred.

In Germany, however, the spring and summer months of 2002 would mark the return of a virulent anti-Americanism into the mainstream of German political discourse, as Schröder made a novel sort of "preemptive" opposition to military intervention in Iraq into the centerpiece of his re-election campaign. Däubler-Gmelin made her remarks at a campaign event only days before the elections and the -- at the time merely hypothetical -- prospect of a war against Iraq was again the theme. Bush wanted to use a war "to divert attention from domestic problems," Däubler-Gmelin suggested, just as "Adolf Nazi" had once done.

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