Washington conservatives, foreign policy academics, and some Jewish groups are surprised that American Enterprise Institute scholar Norman Ornstein apparently plans to share the podium in Washington on March 11 at a U.S./German policy conference with former German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping. Scharping stepped down from his post in July 2002 amid ethics questions about his personal life as well as charges that he abused his office. But Scharping returned to the media spotlight that fall, when New York Times op-ed columnist William Safire detailed a meeting Scharping had with a group of American and German leaders in Hamburg on August 27, 2002.
According to Safire's column of September 19, 2002, Scharping was asked a why President Bush was looking to invade Iraq. Scharping noted in reply that he was often asked this question by his SPD colleagues. His answer? The Iraq war was all about "the Jews." Scharping went on to explain to the group, Safire reported, that President Bush was motivated to overthrow Saddam by his and other key Republicans' need to curry favor with what Scharping called "a powerful -- perhaps overly powerful -- Jewish lobby" in the November 2002 U.S. elections.
The report on Scharping's comments set off a firestorm on both sides of the Atlantic, because it came a day after another senior figure in Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's government, justice minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelin, had compared President Bush to Hitler. Scharping denied that he ever made the comments. He remained a vocal critic of America's Iraq policy.
The Ornstein/Scharping discussion is sponsored by the nonpartisan Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington and a German friendship and foreign policy organization with ties to Scharping, as well as to another disgraced German political figure, Walther Kiep, the party fundraiser to former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl who was caught up in the 1990s Christian Democratic Union fundraising scandal.
Scharping's political career has been reduced to pursuing the presidency of the German bicycling federation, the election for which will be held later in March. He also is listed as a visiting scholar at Tufts University's Fletcher School, where he teaches a single course, worth half a credit, on international relations.
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