(By Ray D.)
"America has been hit by a major natural disaster, the likes of which are simply unimaginable in Europe. Imagine a category 5 hurricane (the highest possible category) wrecking an area half the size of France (or Germany), thereby submerging and completely destroying a city the size of Marseille (or Cologne) including many, many other towns and villages. I wonder whether this would not lead to a temporary breakdown of law and order in France (or Germany) and whether unprecedented large scale rioting by the so-called “underpriviliged” would not follow."
Election Debate: Schroeder Implies Katrina Comparable to Recent Flooding in Germany
If there is a single word that describes the horrific aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, it would have to be "unprecedented." Yet German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder apparently does not see things that way. Regrettably, Mr. Schroeder found it necessary to exploit Hurricane Katrina to push his big government agenda during Sunday night's big election debate against challenger Angela Merkel.
Here is exactly what he had to say about the Katrina catastrophe and the United States: (original German text/segment with Schroeder's remarks on Katrina, about 2 minutes into the clip/full debate footage)
"The American President himself, she (Merkel) could have said that, said that the way in which the aid efforts were proceeding was unacceptable. So it isn’t at all a criticism of him when one acknowledges that. And it is in fact so. And that, however, shows something else. That we are well advised to take a close look when it comes to the question of how much state we need and how much we don’t need. Because when I take a look at, how we, on the other side, surmounted such national catastrophes, then there are indeed noticeable differences. And I contend that this also is connected to the specific manner and way, as we say, for such situations, for people who are in urgent need, we need not a weak state but a strong state."
Noticeable differences in surmounting national catastrophes? How could Mr. Schroeder possibly imply that recent flooding in Europe (whether in recent weeks or in 2002) represented a "national disaster" comparable in the slightest degree to Hurricane Katrina? There can be, from a scientific, meteorological point of view (and from every other conceivable point of view) absolutely no comparison between Hurricane Katrina and the floods that struck Germany in 2005 and 2002.
Katrina was simply so much larger in scope than recent German floods that to speak of them in the same breath is sheer absurdity. Yet Gerhard Schroeder did exactly that in a major, nationally televised election debate watched by well over 20 million German viewers. The Chancellor first pointed to "noticeable differences" in Germany's response to recent floods versus the US response to Hurricane Katrina, clearly implying that the German response was far better and that the "difference" in response justifies a large state.
And here, again, is the central point. German authorities were not responding to a Katrina-like natural disaster in 2005 or 2002. Far from it. The storms that caused flooding in Germany, tragic as they were, were nowhere near the size, scope, impact and intensity of Katrina. Had German authorities been challenged by a truly comparable storm, an enormous category 5 hurricane that would have certainly ravaged enormous swaths of German territory, the situation would clearly not have ended nearly as well as it did during recent floods.
Roughly speaking: This is an approximate estimate of the size of Katrina compared to Germany. Ever seen a storm like this before Chancellor Schroeder? How would the German "state" have dealt with that? (Note: Germany may actually be a bit too large in our estimate)
One shudders to think what terrific havoc a massive storm on par with Katrina might wreak in Germany, a land filled with compact settlements. We can only hope that such a disaster never happens.
That said, the bottom line is that Mr. Schroeder could never have made the same ridiculous statements during the debate had a "national disaster" on the scale of a Katrina actually hit Germany during his term of office. Unfortunately, Mr. Schroeder found it necessary to exploit Katrina and the massive suffering and loss caused by the storm to further his big state agenda in an election that he is almost certain to lose. Why did he do it? Why have his Green coalition partners done the same? Well, sadly enough, a sort of sick Schadenfreude over the Gulf Coast tragedy has been the natural result of years of anti-American resentments prevalent among Germany's left-wing media and political elite. So Mr. Schroeder's comments on Katrina have gone largely uncriticized, and, if anything, have helped his election chances. Sad but true...
Schroeder: Playing the "Iraq-Peace" Card to the Bitter End
Oh...and by the way, Schroeder (again) proudly proclaimed his opposition to the Iraq war no less than three times during the debate, during his opening and closing statements, and at least once during the segment of the debate on foreign policy in which he also made his statements on Katrina. He also repeatedly emphasized his desire to position Germany as a respected power for peace in the world. (Of course one has to wonder how Mr. Schroeder's earlier push to lift the EU weapons embargo on Communist China meshes with that vision.) Nonetheless, German voters responded especially positively to that rhetoric as well, giving Schroeder a 71 to 19 advantage over Merkel in foreign policy during the debate.
On a positive note: Germany is sending some aid to disaster victims for which President Bush has already thanked Chancellor Schroeder. Of course Schroeder doesn't want things to get too friendly for fears it might hurt his election chances. Additionally, Bush obviously wasn't aware of Schroeder's debate comments or simply didn't care as he is currently more than busy attempting to manage a disaster recovery.
Update: In considering the opinions of Schroeder and others like him on Katrina, it is important to keep in mind Europe's disastrous handling of the 2003 heatwave in which well over 10,000 died. Read more on that here...
Endnote: Schroeder's comments on Katrina came about 1 hour, 8 minutes into the debate if you choose to watch it on your computer using the link we provided of the "full debate footage". You can skip ahead to that part of the debate by clicking on the foreign policy tab or "Die Außenpolitik" on the left-hand side. The comments are about two minutes into the foreign policy segment. Emphasis ours throughout this post.