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Opinion

Opinion: A strategic embrace

Barack Obama demonstrated how close and personal his relationship to Angela Merkel is. A great deal of harmony was displayed in Hanover. Only Merkel will be able to manage Obama's legacy, writes DW's Richard Fuchs.

Although Barack Obama has offered to teach the German Chancellor golf, the outgoing US president is actually banking on the fact that Angela Merkel will not take him up on his offer anytime soon. The reason is as simple as it is obvious: A few months away from leaving office, Obama sees his political legacy in danger. The world order, which was created by the transatlantic alliance of the USA and Europe after the Second World War, appears to be in a more fragile state than ever after his two presidential terms.

A new Cold War casts doubts on the European peace order and has allowed Ukraine to degenerate into a zone where Russia and the West battle for power. The Middle East's terrorist militias and despots appear to be pushing the region to the brink of self-destruction. And within a period of a few months, the refugee crisis came to challenge the basis of over six decades of European integration history.

Obama is organizing the changing of the guard

Fuchs Richard Kommentarbild App

Richard A. Fuchs

The most powerful statesman in the world appears to be oddly vulnerable, and yes, noticeably powerless. It seems obvious to the 44th US president himself - so he has vigorously begun the administration of his legacy in Germany. Angela Merkel, in particular, is to follow his footsteps in matters of transatlantic free trade and the ideas of cooperation instead of confrontation and democratic strength. In Hanover, he demonstrated this with words, images and gestures: hugs here, words of praise there. Obama declared that he is proud to be able to call Angela Merkel his friend. He expressed his appreciation for her "steady hand and firm moral compass." Also her commitment to a unified Europe. He said that Merkel upholds universal values, even in difficult situations. The president also declared that she was "on the right side of history" with her stance on the refugee crisis. Obama hymns of praise seemed to have no end.

First of all, this is an expression of genuine, personal appreciation of a human relationship with Angela Merkel, which is not always simple. Obama's intelligence agencies had tapped the Chancellor's phone and for a long time, American partners did not realize that these activities had cost him the trust and respect of his friend Angela. But pragmatism united them again, not least because they both believed a world of "disorder" urgently needs rational and analytical leaders. In this manner, they have come to appreciate and trust each other.

But Obama's close relationship to Merkel is also strategic: When he hands over the presidency to his successor in January, Obama needs someone to carry on his vision of world politics. In his country, many do not believe that Trump would stand for reliability if he were to win. The prospect that the centrifugal forces of Europe's internal dispute over the refugee crisis could sweep Merkel, an essential element of stability, of the political scene, is a geopolitical nightmare scenario for Obama. This is the only way one can explain why Obama is throwing his full political weight behind this relationship. For this reason, he deliberately accepts confrontations with numerous opponents of Merkel's refugee policy.

The end of a unified Europe means the end of the free world

Joint projects help prepare the ground for new conditions, like discussions that go beyond the refugee debate and unite Europe again. To Obama, the transatlantic free trade agreement TTIP represents a unifying bond with which he wants to give new impetus to the transatlantic debate - and he wants to introduce Merkel as the organizer of a new transatlantic economic order. Obama also assumes that Merkel will guarantee the unity of Europe.

Obama senses that a political vacuum has emerged in Europe. Faith in the joint project of a united Europe is eroding. Obama believes that this unit is not only necessary for Europe, but for the rest of the free world as well. His concern for institutions like the European Union, the United Nations, the World Bank and the IMF is justified. Without a strong transatlantic alliance, these institutions, founded in the postwar era of world politics in the 21st century, will not exist much longer. This liberal world order is very important to Angela Merkel, so she is indispensable to Obama. This is also figures in his strategic embrace with the German Chancellor. Thus, support for Merkel is an important part of Obama's political legacy.