It is highly unusual, and may even be unprecedented, for one nation to rebuke the leader of another while he is engaged in a general election. But this is what has happened to the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder. The American Ambassador in Berlin called at the office of the Chancellor on Friday to deliver a message of Washington's “unhappiness” about Schroeder's statements ruling out any German participation in US military action against Iraq.

At the opening of his election campaign earlier this month Herr Schroeder said that Germany would “not make itself available for an adventure” in Iraq and would not help to pay for any such war. The word “adventure” may not have been well–chosen (and, in any case, may be a question of translation) but the sentiment behind the remark and the other comments made by Schroeder were a fairly accurate reflection of what the great majority of European leaders are thinking about President Bush's handling of the Iraq situation. Indeed, within the past few days, Schroeder's reservations have been echoed in greater or lesser degree by several distinguished Republican statesmen in the United States.

It is not easy to judge what effect Washington's intervention will have on the outcome of the German election, which takes place on September 22. After a period when Chancellor Schroeder and his Social Democratic party appeared to be losing ground to his right–wing Christian Democrat opponent, Edmund Stoiber, the latest polls are showing very little advantage to either side. But foreign criticism of a national leader more often strengthens than weakens his position.

RAY FLEMING