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Merkel’s VIP treatment in DC

The Local · 6 Jun 2011, 15:57

Published: 06 Jun 2011 15:57 GMT+02:00

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Chancellor Angela Merkel will get the full VIP treatment on June 7 from US President Barack Obama: An official state dinner, the Medal of Freedom award, plus a lunch hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden. There is not much more the Chancellor could expect in the way of American-style royal treatment. In making that effort, there is an expectation on the American side that the investment is worth it. Despite ups and downs in relations between Berlin and Washington, Germany remains an important if sometimes difficult partner.

Amidst all this fanfare, we are seeing the German-American relationship depicted as a high priority for the United States. The rationale is clear: Germany is the world's fourth-largest economy and a major player in the web of global economic relations, be it in the G8, the G20, or the many other international institutions shaping the world's economic health. Germany is also the economic leader of Europe and the US has a high-stakes investment in the future of that enormous market. With some nervous news making the rounds about double-dips and further Greek bailouts, Germany has a strong hand in determining which way the economic wind will be blowing.

Second, the EU is an important partner for the US in dealing with many challenges around the globe, even if relations are sometimes strained and complex. Germany's key position in Brussels is critical to the decision-making process when it comes to marshalling the EU's resources and the capabilities, and Germany has several important relationships with key countries like Russia where the US is also pursuing important interests. And, despite military budget cuts, Germany remains an important member of NATO at a time when the alliance is struggling to define its mission in the 21st century.

Meriting the Medal of Freedom?

Yet some critical questions have been raised about the merits of awarding Merkel the Medal of Freedom – America’s highest civilian honour. Wasn't it Chancellor Merkel who decided to have Germany abstain from the vote in the UN Security Council on Libya a few weeks ago in direct conflict with its allies? Has the Chancellor been taking sufficient lead in dealing with the euro crisis or has she been too hesitant about it? Why did the Chancellor pull an about-face on the use of nuclear energy following the Fukushima incident without thinking about the consequences not only for Germany but also its European neighbours?

During her seven years in office, Chancellor Merkel has generated a lot of criticism in Germany among both her supporters and her opponents for allegedly being indecisive and not having much of a vision for the future. Her domestic electoral record has been consistently bad, especially following a string of regional elections in which her political party and her coalition government is declining significantly in the polls. In fact – like Obama – she seems to be more popular abroad than at home.

Leading from the second row

But Merkel is a good representative of a Germany that is influential but cautious – more self-confident yet still hesitant about its role in the world. Germany's difficult legacy greatly affects its actions, and as such there is a constraint built into the struggle over how Germany can and should exercise leadership. This has been exemplified by a reference former Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer made to Germany's role as "leading, but from the second row."

Chancellor Merkel's leadership reflects this conundrum. There is a tendency to exhibit pride of ownership when it comes to Germany's economic power, but then a parallel reticence to take up responsibility when it comes to dealing with conflicts as in the case of Libya. It is as if Germany is still a reactive power, responding to external pressures rather than being a proactive leader. And there is a deficit of debate in Germany exactly about this challenge, which should be led by the Chancellor.

Redefining the partnership

Debates and arguments over what is needed to meet threats and risks will continue to define a future relationship between Berlin and Washington. More important is whether we can agree on what those risks and threats represent. Especially in an era of limited resources, the US will be looking for partners to deal with both assessments and strategy in a fast-changing world; a 21st-century Germany can continue to be one of these partners.

Story continues below…

The relationship between Germany and the United States is no longer defined primarily by the legacies of the past, as can be seen in the two leaders standing next to each other at the White House on June 7. They both represent countries which now look vastly different than they did when Germany was divided and the Cold War defined the world, and there is a similarly different equation of interests and goals in today's world. The legacies which made it possible to achieve German unification over two decades ago still form the basis of common set of values. The challenge today is to translate the common achievements of the past into tools for dealing with the future together.

This essay has been published with the kind permission of American Institute for Contemporary German Studies and it first appeared in the AICGS Advisor.

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Your comments about this article

17:34 June 6, 2011 by Major B
Chancelor Angela Merkel most certainly deserves the Medal of Freedom.

1) Hailing from former communist East Germany, this conservative chemist rose to prominence politically in the newly united Germany an on the Chancelorship, surely a marker for women everywhere and a symbol of the New Germany

2) Wading through the minefield of German politics, she has continued her country's NATO obligation in Afghanistan, weathering a hail of criticism back home and knitting together perhaps not the strongest coalition but one that has kept her conservative party in office

3)She has stood for human rights and women's rights. Her government has championed the causes of the oppressed everywhere.

The U.S. relationship with Germany is paramount. Strong U.S. policies and successively strong West German governments since the 1950's set up the scenario for eventual German unification. Oh, it could have been so different. The fact that the West got a unified German government, within the EU and NATO framework is the rich reward of over 60 years of investment and hard work.

For these reasons the U.S. will continue to value and ensure a strong German-American relationship and friendship. For these reasons Germany must courageously face up to its international responsibilities.
18:29 June 6, 2011 by trash head
> Strong U.S. policies and successively strong West German governments since the 1950's set up the scenario for eventual German unification.

Bullsh!t, the "glory" western wanted to keep the DDR alive. It was the strong neighbor with the cheap worker who served the western very well. The russian gvt is at least responsible for the reunification. Further, i remember who switched Westberlin with Badenwürtemberg, yeah US and A. Questionable to me, to switch on of the biggest and the most powerfule state of germany with a bombed ruin called westberlin -just for prestige reasons.
00:37 June 7, 2011 by Der Grenadier aus Aachen
Are we talking about the same US who's President secretly met with France and Britain to ensure their support in trying to derail the unification of Germany?

The only one we have to thank for unification, in the end, is Kohl, for swiftly settling with the Poles, thereby making any potential opponent to unification seem a fool.
01:46 June 7, 2011 by neunElf
Yes, doing secret deals to launder money for Iran, while selling technology and equipment to enable them meet their nuclear objectives, is that the actions of an ally?

Germany only reluctantly gets involved in world matters once they are shamed into action, even then with Afghanistan being the most obvious, they put very clear distinctions as to how and where they will act.

Merkel is a weakling who has destroyed her own party, now there is not a dimes worth of difference between her and Rot/Grune! Imagine, she makes me wistful for Gerhard Schroeder!
05:38 June 7, 2011 by Major B
It's you leftish conspiracy buffoons that slavishly stick to your cynicism and thus always end up on the wrong of history. Of course the world is dark. Thus with your glasses so tinted you can't see the light.

I don't care about intra or inter German politics so that I don't have to wade in the ongoing "petty nationalistic" comments that always come from the hyporcrits.One of my professors used to talk about "petty little European nationalisms". And those type of comments have no place in responding to this article. The article was about German- US relations and Chancelor Merkel being awarded the highest U.S. civilian honor.

You know, it seems it is always the unaccomplished, those with perhaps talent and ideas who have just thought so negatively for so long that always seem to comment. Of course crap happens. Of course she is a politician. Of course she is compromised in some way. Who isn't, including the multitude of snide snipers who love to infiltrate this otherwise O.K. online publiclation with useless comments.

at "Der Grande" Der Grenadier. O.K., qm confused as usual about your undclear comments. Now who was that U.S. President you are talkinng about? Name him or her And perhaps you in your ultimate knowledge have facts about this "so called" secret meeting. Prove it. The fact is that very very flawed and also honorable U.S. President OVER RODE strong French and British (but of course you aren't flawed) objections and supported German unification. Name him now.

@ Trash Head. About the DDR being kept as

"work horse slave." And so? Whatever. She arose out of that nit wit and became German Chancelor. Of course, you are much more accomplished to be sure. Your name is so appropriate.
09:22 June 7, 2011 by HistoryProffessor
@ Major B.- Glad to see someone here has their head on straight. The only thing worse than the snipers on this article is the completely ignorant snipers commenting on the US choppers Whip Bavarians into Fury Article. What do all of these people learn in their 2ndary education? I also enjoy how it seems to be a common european trait to pull random facts out of their @ss and claim them as the gospel truth.
09:43 June 7, 2011 by Angry Ami
Very Important Peon
10:12 June 7, 2011 by adipk
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
10:26 June 7, 2011 by trash head
quote Major Bob:

> bla bla bla

Good that you aimed not any of the following points which questioned your prev statements:

Here the glory statement

> Strong U.S. policies and successively strong West German governments since the 1950's set up the scenario for eventual German unification.

here the response from two other commentators:

> Bullsh!t, the "glory" western wanted to keep the DDR alive.

> Are we talking about the same US who's President secretly met with France and Britain to ensure their support in trying to derail the unification of Germany?

So dont spam around here and get into the pants, great history professor. Else - as Duke would say - "Eat sh!t and die"
11:00 June 7, 2011 by HistoryProffessor
I would say this is pretty typical, instead of having a mature debate, one individual has decided to make rude comments and go on the attack. Thats typical for someone who has no real arguement or any evidence to support their claims.
11:14 June 7, 2011 by trash head
> I would say this is pretty typical, instead of having a mature debate, one individual has decided to make rude comments and go on the attack.

Already teary eyes?
13:01 June 7, 2011 by Cayle
> Already teary eyes?

Ok, you maintain that the first Bush wanted to keep the DDR alive as a slave and that he was aligned with Thatcher and Mitterand (sp?) to keepGermany split.

Now instead of hurling insults, can you please back up your assertation?
13:49 June 7, 2011 by trash head
> can you please back up your assertation?

I read from the top to the bottom, as the most other reders too. Not sure. maybe you start from the bottom, so you iterate first over my reaction as over the source of the same.

Any questions?
15:23 June 7, 2011 by A real north american Indian
I hope the Germans have the courage to resist this evil American government. Based on our actions, both in this country and around the World, we should expect to be attact just the way we attack other sovereign nations.
15:50 June 7, 2011 by HistoryProffessor
North American Indian- can you provide some information to support your radical views? Do you also have any real time or actionable intelligence to support said attack? I find your remark somewhat humorous but if you can explain yourself a little bit more and provide some facts that arent just made up like most people's "facts" on here I would be more than willing to entertain your views.
16:02 June 7, 2011 by Sysconfig
Angies advice and valuable contribution should be to help them out of the hole they dug with Libya and the best way is to tell them :stop digging.!

Countries have people, culture, and borders, that cannot be erased to fit our ideas . The same people that ask for her help, were the ones that danced with the Devil, their industries benefited, the palms of their hands greased with money.

Now they don the Armor of the "white knight", but their hands are stained red.

..In stead of saving people, they created a situation where tens of thousands who had jobs, the Black Africans, under this so called "tyrant", now flee to Europe, where jobs are difficult to get.

.and William Hague of Britain said, Nato will stay beyond next year. It was" a few days"...now..indefintely..

If the history and these "Red Flags" are not warning enough for her, including the cost to the system, of the last involvements in terms of dead and wounded and disabled returning....nothing will .
15:46 June 9, 2011 by ryhntyntyn
"For these reasons Germany must courageously face up to its international responsibilities."

Major B, In your opinion, which responsibilites are those exactly.
20:53 June 9, 2011 by Major B
@ ryhntyntyn(gosh all these syllables are hard to get right)

(do you really mean it to sound like Rin tin tin?)

O.K. I won't start anything or get into a lot of bla bla

Suffice it to say the German Foreign Office has published those responsibilities and they are reasonable. I won't recheck the sources but they acknowledge that Germany, with its economic power must play a stronger political role. It talks about the dependence on international trade, and thus the contribution to anti-pirating efforts off the Horn of Africa as an example.

The new German Defense Minister also is more forward in talking about Germany being able to offer a credible contribution to international efforts, where it is in Germany's interest.

Efforts like this visit continue to give Germany the cover and perhaps additional confidence it needs to play the above role where it involves collective international security.

The U.S. President was pretty clear; it came through clearly that he valued highly the opinions and ideas of the German Chancelor. The lady is highly credible. I get the clear impression that he would call her before Sarkozy on many international matters. Even as quickly as the British Prime Minister.

Germany should have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. For those who say Brazil, Mexico or India first I say pooh pooh. Nonsense.

And finally, those "responsibilities" also include being a sound voice of reason and caution to U.S. overreaction to security situations. It(the U.S.) has halted the temporary unilateralism of the previous administration.

Those responsibilities also mean being a bridge between the East and West. Is this answer good enough?
11:39 June 10, 2011 by ryhntyntyn
My user name aside...

In Westerwelle's October 2010 speech the German International role is highlighted, and if Guido is to be believed, they are doing quite a bit already. But that role includes allowance, especially for the Mahgreb, that "stability comes about not through violence, but through dialogue and the implementation of reforms."

And even more importantly, de Maizière also talks about making a credible contirbution "where it is in Germany's interest."

I have asked repeatedly and not recieved any kind of answer as to why a huge military expenditure in Libya on the part of the Germans which would involve also the taking of life, is in their interests.

In this overall discussion about Libya, there seems to be some whiff that the Germans are overall, isolationist and make no contribution or that their contribution is minimal.

This is frankly not very accurate. They are active in international politics. In this case, they are not militariliy active in one particular theatre, They are also very active behind the scenes in trying to allocate Qaddaffi's seized assets for the use of the Libyan people.

But, If the US President valued Merkel's opinion so much, it did not seem to dissuade him from the current intervention in Libya, to which the lady seems unconvinced at best. And if he values her opinion, then I think he would not be trying so hard to change it. I suspect he likes the lady's purse more than her opinion.

I am undecided as to my opinion about the Germans on the Security Council. I suspect it might do them more harm than good. Power, responsibility and the ruin that comes with them are circular.

I do not think the Germans have been very successful in talking the US down when same goes all wally eyed and unilateralist (which is actually the exception rather than the rule of US foreign policy) and I don't see that as their role. That is the job of the American people.

Their might be advantages to the Germans being a bridge, but isn't that what the UN is for?

Overall, I see your points, although I am not convinced and your reply is certainly cogent, but I do not see that German involvement in Libya, anymore than they are currently ivolved, fits within Germany's responsibilites (which are still pretty murky) or the stated framework of the German foreign office.
20:23 June 13, 2011 by Major B
@ rhyntyntyn

Well let's see how the next 20 years play out. Sec Gates delivered the warning shot on the U.S. opinion towards NATO and the possibility of U.S. pullback.

If the American government turns inward and moves back to its more traditional isolationist roots(pre-WWII although the US people never changed) we'll see who can galvanize the EU and maybe even the WEU when the security issues that involve Europe invarialbly come up. And they will. Unfortunately they always do.

Has Europe achieved the collective peace it has dreamed of for centuries. We all hope so. But everyone isn't in the EU club and there are always dangers on the periphery. And I just bet Turkey wont't get a pass in.

Security Council_ those who have followed the major issues the last few years can readily see that when it can, Germany year after year has sounded and acted like it was permanent member of the UN Security Council. It almost seems to be a "de facto" member, especially considering it's primary position in other organizations like the G-8, and the EU, where it secures it's important business interests.

Given the past 80 years the reticence towards involvement in some international issues may be understandable. Sure, the revival of the Bismarkian playbook seems smart. But let's see what happens when real national interests are threatened. Like the former Yugoslavia.

It sounds good that Germany can take the "high road" in Libya, because it is "above" playing the European Afrika resources grab gain again and all that.

Question? Do the Libyan rebels have assess to some of those excellent German "weapons of export"?

Mathematically there is a good chance since Germany is what, the number 2 or 3 TOP world arms exporter?

What's that about not getting involved in the security affairs of other countries?
14:38 June 14, 2011 by ryhntyntyn
I hesitate to see it as the high road. I just think it's a matter of interests. Sadly the high or low road are very rarely considered in politics and more often than not Politicians look at the worldin terms of interests and convenience.

The Rebels look like something out of a Mad Max movie. I do not think that they have bought too much, but I suspect that is less because of a desire to sell on the part of German arms dealers and more due to a lack of money on the part of the rebels.

They recognized the Rebels over the weekend. That's a big step. They had been leaning in that direction.

But we can agree I think that we will just have to wait and see how it and the current German position works out. Both in Libya and the EU. It isn't a national tendency, just the tendency of this administration, and we know those do not last forever.
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