German Chancellor Angela Merkel is feeling very positive about her first visit to the White House. Merkel termed it an important and successful visit. US President George W. Bush received his German guest with pronounced warmth before engaging in extensive consultations. After the bad chemistry and acute political differences of the last Schröder years, German-American relations are about to turn a page. And the conditions seem about right, as Deutsche Welle editor Daniel Scheschkewitz reports from Washington.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Washington with US President George W. Bush
Expectations were high, especially on the American side. But nobody can revamp the complicated German-American relations in a day, not even Ms. Merkel, even with the best of intentions. Too many parameters have undergone a sea-change in recent years: strategically since the end of the Cold War, and politically since Sept. 11, 2001, and the Iraq war. Superpower America and the middle European economic superpower Germany are tied to each other in a complex skein of economic, political and geo-strategic interests. But the Bush-Schröder antipathy cast a shadow over it all.
Merkel had something on her side: she knew she could hope for a bonus by way of sympathy from President Bush simply by virtue of the fact that her party had not condemned the Iraq invasion right from the beginning, and given due prominence to German-US amity in their election campaign. Merkel could present herself in a friendly, free and relaxed manner in Washington, as a result. She was the representative of a new Germany, a Germany not shy of criticizing the Big Ally, but without putting the whole partnership in doubt.
Merkel met an American president who was far less overbearing than in the past, with a new understanding of the limits of US policy and his own politics. As such, Merkel got the full treatment, starting from the red carpet. But there’s no reason to feel overtly optimistic: there’s no sign of change in the Bush administration’s attitude regarding Guantanamo or the Kyoto protocol.
And still the Merkel-Bush encounter can be seen as a sign of the times. The chance of gauging the possibilities of a new US-German strategic partnership have never been brighter – as the current quandary over Iran has shown: Germany, as the biggest country in the EU, is automatically expected to take a leading role, so far as Washington is concerned. If Germany accepts this role – and not in the sense of counterbalancing the US stance but as their natural ally, then Germany’s opinion is again going to carry weight in Washington, irrespective of the present or the next presidential incumbent.
Today, Germany doesn’t require US help to defend herself. But Germany does need USA as a market for German products, as the economic motor for Germany’s export industry, and as a military power which is ready to defend democratic values all over the world. Not even Guantanamo or secret CIA flights over Europe can change that.
On the other hand, USA needs Germany as the biggest power in Europe, without whose economic and military resources America would not have the slightest chance of fulfilling its global tasks. Perhaps USA needs Germany to relocate its moral compass as well, which it seems to mislay from time to time in the heat of the battle against terrorism. Whether in establishing peace in the Middle East and in Afghanistan, or in the world-wide battle against terror, or at the WTO – USA needs Germany’s contribution.
All these subjects were discussed during Merkel’s visit, and in an atmosphere that gives cause for hope. The strategic dialogue regarding the global aims of a transatlantic cooperation – between Germany and Europe on the one hand, and USA on the other – has just begun. As such, Merkel’s visit might well have helped to turn a page.