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Merkel and Germany Are Not Turning Away from America

Many headline writers are blowing Merkelís statement about US and UK reliability out of proportion. Putin will be happy about the display of transatlantic division. I think Merkelís comment could be very good for transatlantic relations in the mid-term.

She was speaking in a beer tent in Bavaria. Federal elections in four months. Merkel was making the case for a stronger EU and a more active German foreign policy. Her party is in favour of increasing defence spending and working towards NATO's goal of spending 2% of GDP on defense by 2024. The second biggest party is questioning this goal, although they have been part of the coalition government which made this commitment in 2014.

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Discussing Transatlantic Relations on Deutsche Welle TV

Ahead of Chancellor Merkel's US trip I had the pleasure to be on the TV talkshow "Agenda" at Deutsche Welle, Germany's international broadcaster.
I answered questions on Merkel's agenda, the NSA scandal, TTIP, and whether Germany is firmly in the West (at 34:55 min). I also participated in the discussion on Ukraine (3:37, 13:45 min) with Roman Goncharenko, DW Eastern Europe Correspondent, and moderated by Brent Goff. I conceded to panelist Fraya Frehse from Sao Paulo University that Brazil will win the World Cup.

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Transatlantic Unity on Marijuana

American and German Youtube users are most interested in asking their respective heads of government about the legalization of marijuana. This seems to be another indication that US and German social media users think much more alike than the political elites do. I am disappointed that more important questions are much less popular.

Last week, Chancellor Merkel responded on the government's Youtube channel to ten questions from citizens. She responded negatively to this questions about the legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana which had received the most votes on Youtube:

Wie stehen Sie zur Forderung, den bestehenden Schwarzmarkt für Cannabis durch einen regulierten Markt mit Jugend- und Verbraucherschutz (Kontrolle von Qualität und THC-Gehalt) zu ersetzen und mehr Suchtprävention über Cannabissteuern zu finanzieren?

For Merkel it was the first Youtube Q&A, while President Obama has been conducting three YouTube question-and-answer sessions already. According to CBS News, the session in January 2011 was "as always" dominated by marijuana:

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Wikileaks Hyperventilation or "Transatlantic Brainwashing"

According to Spiegel, Wikileaks reveals that US diplomats consider Foreign Minister Westerwelle to be incompetent and Chancellor Merkel to be risk averse. So what? Most Germans think the same. Of course, US diplomats are more candid in secret cables than in public statements. Everybody is.

I refuse to join the media's hyperventilation over these revelations caused by WikiLeaks' "information vandalism." The Guardian opines that the leaks have already created a "global diplomatic crisis." They used that headline right after publishing the cables. That sounds like we are at the brink of war. All of a sudden it is 1914 and Franz Ferdinand has just been assassinated.

Okay, for a few seconds, I was hyperventilating, when I read in the September 2009 cable published on Spiegel:

According to XXXXX Westerwelle has never been able to shake his skepticism about how the United States wields power in the world. Citing an exchange with former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Burt (1985-1989), XXXXX recalls how Westerwelle forcefully intervened in a discussion the Ambassador was having on U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War to say: "But you are not the police of the world." XXXXX comments further that Westerwelle was immune to any "transatlantic brainwashing."

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US, France and Germany: Divisions and Lack of Professionalism Everywhere

We all need more team spirit. Obama's Afghanistan team is in disarray. Their egos seem to be as bloated as the ego's in the French soccer team.

While President Obama is angry with McChrystal's frank comments and perhaps insubordination, President Sarkozy is reportedly furious over the national team's behaviour inside and outside the soccer stadiums. It was not really a "team." He even cleared his schedule for a one hour meeting with the captain on the day of a general labor strike. That shows how important the soccer team is for France as a symbol of national integration and unity.

Germany's coalition government has been in disarray for months as well with some calling each other "wild pigs" and "gherkin troops" (rank amateurs). (There are also rumors that one cabinet member called the defense minister "rumpelstiltskin.") Though, thanks to the national soccer team's victory over Ghana today, Merkel's government won't collapse yet. ;-)

If Germany had failed to make it into the round of sixteen for the first time in history, it would have been a national fiasco. Let's do not forget that the German coach is not called "Trainer der Nationalmannschaft," but goes by the official sounding name "Bundestrainer," just like the top government titles "Bundeskanzler," "Bundespräsident" etc.

On Sunday, we will play against England. One British fan said on TV that the world cup was invented for England and Germany to play against each other. Good point. Still, it is regrettable (but not at all surprising) that the British tabloid The Sun uses military language to describe the upcoming match. Come on, guys. It's just soccer. The real war is in Afghanistan.

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Mutual Disappointment

Chancellor Merkel is traveling across America this week. She loves the United States, but she is still having trouble connecting with Barack Obama, writes Spiegel International (HT: David). The media loves to personalize politics. I think at the end of the day the problem is not the personal relationship between Obama and Merkel, but its structural. After long descriptions of the well-known differences in Obama's and Merkel's style of politics, Spiegel comes to the same conclusion in the end:

At the moment, the partners on both sides of the Atlantic are disappointed with each other. Whenever the Americans want something from the Germans, they are guaranteed to be turned down: on prisoners from Guantanamo, on sending significantly more soldiers to Afghanistan and on new economic stimulus programs.

Merkel, on the other hand, was repeatedly appalled last year at how inconsiderate the Americans were of German or European interests. Whenever she spoke to Obama about climate protection, he was only concerned with the consequences for the United States. When the Americans settled on a new strategy for Afghanistan, they didn't ask their allies first. Merkel also suspects that the United States is not interested in reining in the financial industry.

She is forced to look on as America becomes more and more enmeshed in a duel with China. Nothing is done that could impair Washington's position toward China, which is why the United States doesn't want to take on the burdens of a strict climate policy or a more tightly controlled financial market. German interests are of little importance, because Germany has little left to offer the Americans.

Obama Does Not Have International Friends

President Obama thus far has failed to strengthen relationships with historic allies, focusing instead on a fruitless search for improved relations with adversaries, writes Robert Kagan in the Washington Post (via Atlantic Community):

The president who ran against "unilateralism" in the 2008 campaign has worse relations overall with American allies than George W. Bush did in his second term.

Israelis shouldn't feel that they have been singled out. In Britain, people are talking about the end of the "special relationship" with America and worrying that Obama has no great regard for the British, despite their ongoing sacrifices in Afghanistan. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy has openly criticized Obama for months (and is finally being rewarded with a private dinner, presumably to mend fences). In Eastern and Central Europe, there has been fear since the administration canceled long-planned missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic that the United States may no longer be a reliable guarantor of security. Among top E.U. officials there is consternation that neither the president nor even his Cabinet seems to have time for the European Union's new president, Herman Van Rompuy, who, while less than scintillating, is nevertheless the chosen representative of the post-Lisbon Treaty continent.

Before you dismiss these observation because the author is a neocon, check out the Roger Cohen's NY Times article, which describes Obama's disconnect with traditional allies in much stronger words:

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Angela Merkel in Washington DC

I wonder what the Obama team is asking the Merkel team right now.

The German election campaign is over. So is the grace period for tough demands for more German support, which the Obama administration probably gave the German government due to the unpopularity of the Afghanistan war.

Angela Merkel also had her big day at Congress calling upon US lawmakers to sign up to internationally binding obligations that global warming must not exceed two degrees celsius. (That's good and brave, but won't help to win friends at Congress.)

Addressing a joint session of Congress was a great honor that comes at a price, says Josef Braml of the German Council on Foreign Relations: "It is a gesture where a service is expected in return: the German government should do more to help shoulder the burden of international commitments." Braml said according to AFP that "the grace period is over -- now we need to deliver."

The AFP article also points out that Merkel's new foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, managed to insert a passage into the coalition agreement calling for the estimated 10 to 20 US nuclear warheads in Germany to be removed.

I wonder how team Obama is responding to all that. Are they having tough and frank talks with team Merkel right now? Will anything happen? Reinvigoration of transatlantic cooperation?

Endnote: And the American people? Is Merkel's speech getting noticed and discussed by anyone but the policy wonks and a few bloggers? After all, Merkel is supposed to be "Europe's quiet leader" is according to Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum:

She is, if you like, the anti-Obama: zero charisma, zero glamour, beige pantsuits and a spouse who rarely appears in public. And yet, partly by default and partly by design, Merkel is now the de facto leader of Europe. (.) Under her watch, Germany has continued to grow more powerful, more influential, more dominant than ever before. Yet not only has no one noticed, they applaud and ask for more. If a bull-necked Helmut Kohl or a flashy Gerhard Schroeder were running Germany, there would be rising anxiety and mumbling about the Fourth Reich -- just as there was 20 years ago, at the time of German reunification, when Kohl was still in charge. But Merkel provokes no jealousy or competitiveness among the alpha males who run large countries, and she inspires no fear among the citizens of smaller ones.