Germany’s Merkel: A Selfish & Isolationist America isn’t “Great Again”

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

In an interview with Handelsblatt , German Chancellor Angela Merkel took on Donald Trump’s philosophy directly.

She said that Trump’s isolationism cannot make America greater. Turning inward and abandoning friends can only diminish America, she said:

“An America that does not care about the rest of the world and just thinks about itself does not make for a big and great country.”

Asked about her philosophy for dealing with tough customers among other politicians, she said, “Don’t try to change your counterpart’s mind, but find and exploit the wiggle room within their own thinking. And if there isn’t any room for compromise, don’t be afraid to “voice dissent.”

And boy did she dissent from Trump on North Korea: “I do not agree that all diplomatic means have been exhausted,” she said. “We can and should do no more than that.”

She said that Germany would not necessarily follow a US lead into a more aggressive policy on North Korea, that she does not see a military solution.

She said Germany will try to raise defense spending to 2% of GDP, as Trump is insisting NATO members do, she would not try to achieve that goal by cutting social spending.

Merkel is in the midst of an election contest, and her Social Democratic Party rival has slammed her for being unduly deferential to Trump. She declined to speak disrespectfully of the American president, but her remarks were no doubt intended to underscore her independence of him. Restating that social programs will take precedence over defense spending was intended to blunt an SPD critique. She has a ten point lead in the polls.

Merkel said, “We can’t think that to become bigger others must become smaller…we should have the view that we can all win from globalization.”

Social scientists call the situation where if one player gets a bigger slice of the pie, it means the others get a smaller one a “zero sum game.” Merkel is saying that globalization is not a zero sum game, but can be pursued in such a way that the whole pie gets bigger so that all the players benefit.

Trump thinks of the world economy as a zero sum game. If China is getting rich it means the US is getting a raw deal. Economists view as fallacies such approaches to the economy that see it as fixed. For instance, the mantra that a higher statewide minimum wage will hurt business is always wrong according to empirical economic studies. It brings more people out into the labor force, which benefits employers and allows business expansion, and gives people more disposable income, which benefits retailers.

Immigration is another area where Trump incorrectly sees a zero sum game. Immigrants typically help grow the economy. Turkey had gone toward stagnation and then some two million Syrian refugees came in, and they contributed to an uptick of Turkish economic growth to 4% per annum. Some businesses, including farms, had been stymied with regard to expansion by a labor shortage, which the Syrians eased. Some also brought in money to invest.

In contrast, Merkel believes in at least having an immigration policy and won’t back off her commitments to refugees.

Merkel’s declaration of independence from Trump’s Washington on N. Korea is highly significant, since ordinarily Germany follows the US lead, even if its laws against foreign military entanglements make it a not very robust military partner. (It sent peace keeping forces to Afghanistan but the German officers did not see their mission as war fighting, to the annoyance of NATO allies in Afghanistan such as Italy).

Some are suggesting that Merkel is now the leader of the free world. Certainly, that is true at the level of moral tone. If only the world were so mature that a largely pacifist and unarmed country could be its leader!

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Related video:

Bloomberg Politics: “Merkel Stands by Her Decision to Open German Borders”

15 Responses

  1. America is not the slightest bit interested in any military contribution the Germans may make just as long as they are on side. This goes for any other European or world country. If other countries only supply a few men and some pots and pans then they are part of the all important “coalition” . Whenever there is a complaint that American or British bombs have blow a community of civilians to bits, it always said the coalition is looking in to it, or the coalition takes great care when it drops bombs etc. The term ‘coalition’ suggests there is a sense of world unity in making war on whatever country it happens to be this time. If Trump does attack North Korea you can be sure there will be a grand coalition of countries taking part even if they only have a population of a few million. It doesn’t pay to be out of favour with America.

    • You know, this observation goes to the heart of what passes for public diplomacy.

      All theses enormously expensive gestures would at first appear to be nothing more than self righteousness based on nothing, really.

      They do, however, amount to something when you consider the metaphysics of creating our own realities, which I’ve come to understand really is crucial to better managing our fate. This is especially true when faced with the reality that others will be able to create their own vision a whole lot easier if we just sit back and effetely intellectualize about things, putting forth no alternative vision.

      If they succed in nothing more than convincing themselves the US does not stand alone (for practical purposes), this BS is gold when it comes to motivating themselves and the many, many minds out there who hunger for easy answers and the low, authoritative tone of someone tall and loud.

      The trick for those in the opposition is to hew closer to the truth, and certainly to know better when selling their own easy answers to The Masses, who in no case will want to drink a whole glass of Reality straight, with no leavening chaser.

  2. As the clip demonstrates the positions of Merkel and Schulz are not that significant on most issues, more like two eyeing the same seat on a moving train. There is, however, a hint of something else, Germany’s relation to the US. Merkel disassociates herself from Trump’s position on a number of issues as clearly as the diplomatic demands of her position allow whereas Schulz specifically talks of removing all nuclear weapons from German soil. The upper limit for nuclear weapons in our country must be 0. He also says he would resist demands to raise NATO defence spending. Although their positions are far from anti-American, they both hint at a novel degree of independence from the US, and since this is a political campaign one must assume it betokens meaningful electoral support.

  3. She is a STATESMAN! The world need more of them and fewer self-seeking tin-pot tyrants like Putin, Trump, Orbán, Netanyahu, Erdoğan, Duterte, ….

  4. Germany doesn’t realize how much power it has. For if it did, it would be amazed at how pivotal Germany could be.

  5. Why are there more than 30,000 US troops in US occupied Germany? When the troops begin leaving I’ll take notice of some actual change in the situation

  6. Those who for whatever nefarious reasons voted Republican in the last U.S. Presidential elections would bitterly deny it, but the fact is that now the geopolitical political positions of Germany and the U.S. have been reversed from what they were in the 1930’s. The U.S. has an alleged President who is moving quickly toward fascism, while – fortunately for the world – Germany, the strongest country in the E.U. , has a President who strongly brings to mind Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Rump believes in baring his teeth and rattling his weapons. Merkel believes in negotiations and remaining calm and reasonable. Beyond them, then, what about the other two in the world’s Big Four? Pugnacious Putin is Rump’s natural partner, while the more circumspect but potentially strongest of them all because of China’s people and its strategic location, Xi is in Merkel’s league.

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    • Really, she’s a lot more like Eisenhower. She’s to the Right of most of her recent predecessors, she’s in the right-wing party due to where she comes from rather than lifetime dogmatism, and after all she didn’t stop the German bankers from wrecking four southern European countries for being too “generous” to the proles. Like the Pope, she’s what a conservative was before Anglo-American conservatism went senile and regressive.

  7. Greetings Juan. It was great finally getting to meet you at the University of Puerto Rico on your last visit. As an economist, I thought I would add my two cents to the following: “If China is getting rich it means the US is getting a raw deal. Economists view as fallacies such approaches to the economy that see it as fixed.”

    • What the heck does Putin expect will happen if the far-right German parties he’s supporting take control of Germany?

  8. if Trump wants to wage war on North Korea he can have at ‘er. the rest of may not be so interested. North Korea has always talked a good game and if you kind of ignore them, it gets quiet again. then the Americans had to elect Trump. I for one wish he would shut up.

    If Trump wants to wage war from now until the end of time or his time in office in Afganistan, he can go for it, but the rest of NATO doesn’t have to follow him into that mess. Lets see, they say Afganistan is the grave yard of empires. Well it sure didn’t work out for the Russian and if they couldn’t win then the Americans certainly won’t either.

    Just leave it all, tell Pakistan to get with the agenda and/or cut off all aid to them and for those who would like to leave, let them. Its no place for women and children. Invading Afganistan was one of the dumbest things the Americans have done in awhile. You can’t win against “guerrilla” types. they ought to have learnt that in Vietnam.

    Merkel certainly ought to be considered the leader of the “free world” whatever that means, but certainly she is the leader for those not aligned with the nut bars of the world. Trump is one of the nut bars of the world, sort of like the Pres. of North Korea, the guy running turkey, Egypt, Russia, etc. Too bad Merkel could take over for trump in the U.S.A. Hey a Canadian can dream can’t they. Most of Canada’s population lives close to the 49th par. One bomb slightly out of line could hit us.

  9. The same thing that will happen much like the far-right parties Putin supports here. The country develops a rectal Trumpistanic view.

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