Courtesy Reuters

The Secret of Genscher's Staying Power: Memoirs of a 'Slippery Man'

In This Review

Rebuilding a House Divided: A Memoir

By Hans-Dietrich Genscher
Broadway Books, 1998
752 pp. $40.00

If we don't count Bismarck, the Reich chancellor who was always his own foreign policy man, Hans-Dietrich Genscher is good for at least two superlatives. With 18 years at the helm of the Foreign Ministry, he was the longest-serving German foreign minister of all time. And he was probably the smartest of them all-more intelligent than the Kaiser's minions Holstein and Bulow, Hitler's diplomatic hustler Ribbentrop, or the men who came before and after him in the Bonn republic.

Was Genscher also the greatest? No, that accolade must go to Gustav Stresemann, the foreign minister of the Weimar Republic. Within three years, from 1923 to 1926, this brilliant manipulator had turned Germany the pariah into the road master of European diplomacy. He got the French occupiers out of the Rhineland, and he separated them from their wartime British allies. He wheedled the Dawes Plan out of the Americans, which lightened a crushing reparations burden and also helped distance the United States from the vengeful French. While securing Germany's western borders through the Locarno Pact, he set up a revisionist game in the East. Finally, he drew Soviet Russia into the German orbit: in the Treaty of Berlin, each country undertook not to join in Western combinations against the other. By 1926, Stresemann had vastly improved the strategic position of the Reich. For he had broken the encirclement by France, Russia, and Britain that had proved the Kaiser's downfall.

Stresemann was the master strategist, but Genscher was the master tactician-so much so that Richard Burt, the U.S. ambassador in the early 1980s, would end up calling him a "slippery man." The compliment was hardly misplaced, for Genscher was indeed hard to pin down. What did he want, and where did he want to take his country? From his rhetoric, it was usually impossible to tell.

He loved to wrap himself in the fog of bienpensant oratory. Genscher, the diplomat's diplomat, was an exemplar of political correctness before PC was even a gleam in a deconstructionist's

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