What Does Merkel Plan to Do after Booting Anglo Allies?

A couple of sentences uttered by German Chancellor Angela Merkel Sunday, May 28, caused uneasy flaps in European and transatlantic chanceries. “The times when we could completely rely on others are, to an extent, over. I have experienced this in the last few days,” said one of the pillars of NATO and European unity: “And that is why I can only say that we Europeans must really take our fate into our own hands.”
She spoke at a Munich beer rally in her campaign for re-election to a fourth term in Germany’s September election.
In subsequent comments, the chancellor stood her ground, saying that although Germany remains a “committed trans-Atlanticist … reliable relations” with its closest post World War II ally “may be a thing of the past.”
Her words were taken as a thumbs-down on US President Donald Trump after their two weekend meetings.
At the NATO summit in Brussels on Friday, she heard him scold NATO members for “chronic underpayments” and decline to reaffirm the treaty’s Article 5; at the G-7 session in Sicily on Saturday, he postponed confirmation of US commitment to climate change.
But also over the weekend, Angela Merkel quietly met former US President Barack Obama, an encounter played down compared with the front page media chorus denigrating Trump’s performance in Brussels and Sicily.
Possibly in tune with the ex-president’s views on his successor’s ideas and unconventional bearing, she appears to have concluded that Europe – and Germany in particular – has little to expect from the Trump administration or from British Prime Minister Theresa May.
May is also contesting an election on June 8, running on a pledge to negotiate an advantageous divorce deal from the European Union. (She is falling back against Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn, according to the polls.)
BREXIT alone was enough to set Merkel, the strongperson of the European Union, against May, notwithstanding the fact that the Brits were moved to vote for exiting the EU largely by Germany’s open-arms policy for Middle East refugees and the fear of being swamped by the flood. And not the least of Trump’s sins in the chancellor’s eyes was his support for BREXIT.
But aside from the big bone Merkel has to pick with the two Anglo leaders, her leaning towards isolationism also comes from taking stock of her country’s closest neighbors: She sees Russia in expansionist mode; Turkey’s flouting of democratic norms with one leg out of NATO; economic woes all round; and the continent’s failure to stamp out marauding Islamist terror.
The chancellor appears to believe that the only way to keep the EU’s head – and the euro – above water is to insulate its members from US and British policies, lest they are infected by the BREXIT virus and the union falls apart.
The one ray of light in the chancellor’s gloomy aspect came from the election of Emmanuel Macron.
A dedicated European Unionist – although he calls for reforms, he said at the G-7 summit that his talks with President Vladimir Putin would be a “demanding dialogue.” He did indeed try and sound tough when he greeted his Russian visitor at the grand palace of Versailles on Monday, May 28.
At the same time, Macron is a cipher in the diplomatic world, in so far as his character and political predilections are concerned. He is known to be close to France’s big banking institutions, whose world views are hardly compatible with the general good.
But the new French broom is saddled with a rampant terrorist threat from home-grown Islamist radicals as well as economic challenges. Some derive from the aftermath of France’s participation in the military campaign which ousted Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. Libya ended up as a failed state beset in every corner by chaotic strife, and France failed to win its hoped-for stake in Libyan oil. Finally, access to Libya’s lawless shores has inundated Europe with an endless tide of African refugees.
So as a reliable German partner, France turns out to have serious limitations
But when Merkel took time off from her concerns to welcome Barack Obama, she was willing to forget their frequent spats and political clashes on such cardinal issues as Ukraine and his attitude towards Russia, which she criticized as too harsh and uncompromising. She was ready to let bygones be bygones – even on US intelligence eavesdropping on her personal phones.
But Obama’s avowed “pivot to Asia” away from the Middle East did no harm to Germany. Berlin never made a grab for US footholds in the Arab world and the oil-rich Gulf like London and Paris, having long preferred Iran as its leading Middle East trading partner. In that respect, Merkel was well satisfied with the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran Obama initiated and made sure to keep German feet clear of Obama’s “Arab spring” mess.
But that comfortable status quo is now gone. Donald Trump has ushered in an era of American re-engagement in the Middle East. He has performed a U-turn on Obama’s path by building a Sunni-led alignment in direct opposition to Iran’s Shiite bloc. Germany’s policy in the region is no longer apt.
Merkel’s prickly comments reflected resentment over Trump having forced her to rethink German policies – and to do so in practical terms.
Since determining that “others” – i.e. the US and Britain – can’t be “reliably relied on” to defend Germany, Angela Merkel has also given up its reliance on NATO. So what is the alternative? German voters will expect an answer, since the chancellor is a practical politician, not usually given to hollow slogans.
There are strong indications that Merkel may be planning to devote her fourth term in office (the polls are in her favor) to a major expansion of the German armed forces, as a vehicle for “taking our fate in our own hands.” The rebuilding of a big German army would be a systemic and financial task on a herculean scale and attended by many domestic perils – not least right-wing resurgence. Angela would also be accused by some establishment European circles of losing credibility as a respected symbol of the international liberal order.

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