Contributed by Joe Montero
US president Donald Trump and his German counterpart Angela Merkel met yesterday in Washington. The frost between the two leaders was obvious.
The stakes being played are high. One is committed to re-establishing the US as the number one super power. The other, to a German led European Union that challenges American global supremacy. Both face considerable economic and political hurdles in doing this.
Trump has the problem of an almost total ignorance international history and the needs of diplomacy. This puts him at a disadvantage on the global stage. This and his style, make him look like a slapstick act, stumbling from one mishap to another.Merkel is a much more capable and seasoned politician and can run rings around him.
Merkel for her part, has been able to paint herself as the defender of democracy and the Donald as a potential wrecker. The image that was already being worked on, when after Trump’s electoral victory she said that “cooperation with the US could only exist based on values,” which meant, “respect for the inalienable dignity of mankind, whatever one’s origins or beliefs”. This set a clear tone for the relationship.
Trump’s connection with the what the far right regarded anti-European Union forces in Europe, is a problem. There are also grave concern over the close tie between the Trump administration and the Washington based think tank called the Heritage Foundation, which has advised the president against the European Union and that the meeting with Merkel should focus on pushing for German military expansion that is integrated into NATO (which is under American control), while opposing any independent plan for European Union military integration; and to pressure for increased military spending to be mainly directed to support the embattled regime in the Ukraine.
Further than this, the Heritage Foundation champions building closer ties with a Britain outside the European Union.
The defeat of Geert Wilders and his Party for Freedom (PVV) in Holland (who attended Trump’s Republican convention last year, is a setback for Trump. The increasing likelihood of the same happening to Marine Le Pen and the National Front in France. This could even mark the turning of the tide for Trump type politics in Europe.
The main battle ground however, has been around the thorny matters of economic relations and trade. The American side wants more access into Europe, while at the same time restricting European access into the United States. For Merkel and the business leaders she brought to Washington with her, the demand is greater access into the United States, while consolidating the European Union as an economic block under German dominance.
The gap between the two countries has not been so large since the Second World War. Given that the United states is about 25 percent of the global economy and the European Union 22 percent, these two powers are like two moving tectonic plates and a colision, will cause a seismic shock.
While Trump works to change the political landscape in his image. Merkel seeks to preserve the traditional political orthodoxy: Continuing Europe in the two party system, where both sides move in more or less the same direction, with the European brand of neoliberalism that suits thecontinent’s major banks and multinationals, many of which are German.
This direction is also geared towards expansion to the east. There has been a noticeable increase of involvement in the Middle East and Africa. But it is Eastern Europe and Russia where the focus is.
While in one way increased military expansion in NATO is in line with what the United states has been pressuring, Germany also seeks to lift its own independent profile and no longer sits comfortably under the American order.
At the same time, the United states has long seen this region as its own turf. It was not long ago when American support went to a series of “regime changes.” Many of them are now under challenge. The United states has sought to partially disengage for now and focus on the China front.
Germany has been able to take some advantage and use anti-Russian rhetoric to build regional connections, mimicking Trumpesque politics, which blames ethnic Russian communities, backed by Russia, for all problems.