History sometimes takes the liberty of veering off course. The decade’s long asymmetric relationship between Germany and the US seems especially changeable. From the onset of the Cold War until the election of Trump, Germany was a submissive and obedient client of Washington’s foreign policy, but sovereign in economic affairs. Things started to change under the Obama administration in light of an immobilised EU and the weakened global hegemony of the US. Berlin was chosen as the responsible architect to implement US objectives in Europe and to manage the Ukrainian crisis. Under the new US administration we can detect attempts of further changes in paradigm. The primacy of domestic policies intends a guarded withdrawal from ideologies of global mission.
However, embedded US financial, political, and media power groups fought hard and successfully, assisted by allies in Europe and Asia, to stop the erosion of the liberal institutional global dimension of US policies. On nearly all relevant issues, like world trade, NATO, the fate of the EU, China, Israel, and Russia, the Trump administration paddled back. Continuity of US foreign policy was re-established, but remains shaky because of the president’s unpredictability. In light of a vulnerable Trump administration, Merkel’s visit demonstrated overtly that Berlin’s role of a subservient vassal has not ended, but is changing.
Astonishingly, Merkel’s appearance was amazingly different from earlier ones. She resembled a sovereign, almost equal political leader, emphasising common values, responsibilities, and commitments, and warned Trump on issues like protectionism and an aggressive policy against China. Given the fact that no reset or rapprochement of US-Russia relations will occur, Berlin will remain in the driver’s seat to manage the Ukrainian crisis. And Trump’s demands for an increase in military spending up to the magical 2% of GNP have been stretched to 2024. They are manageable, given Germany’s economic strength, but will cause fierce debates among German political parties. Because of obvious negative upshots, such an increase will not strengthen security.
In political terms, Merkel’s visit was well received in German media – scoring high in the run up to national elections in September 2017.