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Opinion

Opinion: Gauck in America - A man with messages

An official visit with Obama, fine and well - but what will come of Gauck's White House appearance? Friendship, appreciation - and a lot of open questions. DW correspondent Gero Schließ offers an analysis.

With Joachim Gauck, a German president has finally made it back into the Oval Office. That in itself is enough to satisfy many in Germany.

The Germans also attentively took note of the fact that Gauck spent much more time meeting with President Obama than was originally planned. The last time that a German president was received in the White House was 18 years ago, when Roman Herzog had the honor. Too long, say many, sensing a lack of regard.

However, that kind of diplomatic bean counting is completely superfluous. It is a remnant of days gone by, and comes from a time when the Germans - timidly cowering at the side of the USA - were uncertain of themselves and their role. Yet, anyone watching the world news today can see daily evidence that this is no longer the case. Germany appears self-assured, and its help is sought like never before: in the Ukraine crisis, the Iran nuclear agreement and now the Syrian conflict.

Germans need not be concerned about a lack of attention. Indeed, perhaps they ought to be more concerned about overwhelming expectations.

Obama's appreciation for Gauck - and Merkel

Deutsche Welle Gero Schließ

DW's Gero Schliess

No question, Obama's meeting with Gauck was intended to be a gesture of appreciation for Gauck, who represents German unity like no other; who - as a pastor and former head of the agency charged with overseeing former East Germany's state security files after unification - exudes moral authority. The American president's appreciation was also for Germany, his country's most important European ally - and above all, for Chancellor Angela Merkel, who no doubt opened the doors to the White House for Gauck. Appreciation was the message intended for the many doubters and critics in Germany, who during the NSA scandal saw their reservations about the USA confirmed.

But there was another message, and it was far more important. It came from Gauck himself: The German president reminded the Americans of their special responsibility in the refugee crisis, and did so in a much more direct fashion than Chancellor Merkel ever would have. For the chaos and refugee movements were set off, not least of all, by American military interventions in the Middle East. Gauck's call for more cooperation in the refugee question was one of the most political moments of his entire USA trip. Unfortunately, Obama only responded to the call with commonplace statements - though he correctly analyzed the fact that the refugee crisis could endanger German political stability in the longterm.

Never has this friendship been so important

More important than the USA taking in more refugees, would be to get the Obama administration to urgently begin working on a political solution to the root problem. But that is not the job of the German president, it is the job of the chancellor. Her open line to Putin is as valuable to Obama as Germany's special contacts to Iran were during the nuclear negotiations with Tehran.

Joachim Gauck tried not to let the big picture of the current political crises slip out of sight. He firmly traced the historical lines of German-American friendship. His message to the skeptical audience at home was unmistakable: Never has this friendship been as important as it is today. In light of the many crises Europe faces, America's help is more important than ever.

Gauck forcefully called for the Americans not to turn away from the old continent. Because Europeans cannot solve their internal crises, nor the conflicts to their east and south on their own. The refugee crisis caused by the conflict in Syria is simply the latest example of that.

Gauk's appeal - a pathetic display?

The appeal to the Americans to become more rather than less engaged in Europe was not well received in the White House. Obama's strategy is to distribute the burden that the superpower USA bears onto a number of other shoulders. When looked at closely, the appeal is a sad commentary on Germany and Europe, where there is no strategy for a common European security policy involving East European or Mediterranean states. However, that is not the job of the German president either.

Gauck's area of expertise is using words and gestures to formulate messages. That is exactly what he did on his USA trip. He was not uniformly successful, but consistently committed.

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