How domestic politics dictate the German-American relationship

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The scholarship was established in memory of the Chancellor who led West Germany through some of the most difficult times of the Cold War. Here they share their thoughts on what stands in the way of the German-American relationship and what will need to be resolved for the transatlantic relationship to realize its potential in the 21st century.

The endurance of the German positions

By Scott Cullinane

When I arrived in Berlin, shortly after the elections last September, the political contrast with Washington was striking. While the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection and Republican slanders of President Joe Biden’s legitimacy have soured American politics, the German election has been a study in contrasts.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has resigned after 16 years in office, days before overtaking the term of her former political boss Helmut Kohl. Merkel ceded power to Olaf Scholz with characteristic humility. The two exchanged smiles and friendly gestures that have become rare in American politics.

Although the shift from 16 years of control from the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) to a resurrected Social Democratic Party (SPD) at the head of an unprecedented three-party coalition may seem like a significant transition, those who hoped for Massive changes have been disappointed so far. Despite the reversal of fortune between the CDU and the SPD, no candidate for chancellor has represented as much continuity with Merkel as Scholz. His SPD was Merkel’s coalition partner for much of her term and he served as finance minister in her last cabinet.

Merkel not only displayed her own style, but also maintained widely held German positions.

Many American observers, myself included, had hoped that the new coalition government, particularly under the influence of more strategic elements of the Green party, would bring about a decisive break with past German energy policies, in particular the controversial Russian-German North Pipeline Stream 2, on relations with Russia and China, or on leadership within the European Union. But the government has instead adopted a tone of continuity, emphasizing dialogue, the benefits of economic ties and resorting to strategic ambiguity to avoid specific public commitments.

Merkel has come to personify a specific style of German politics, marked by caution, consensus and calm. It became clear that in doing so she was not only flaunting her own style, but also maintaining widely held German positions – what used to be seen as Merkel’s positions must now be recognized as the continuation of German positions of long standing. dated.

This poses serious and uncomfortable questions for supporters of the German-American relationship in Washington to find a way forward. If the coalition government cannot get Germany to accept that hard power has a role to play in foreign policy or that economic interests must be tempered by strategic concerns, then questions about the country’s reliability will continue to arise. confuse the relationship.

America’s Dangerous Trail

By Markus Ziener

It had been nine years since I had been to Washington when I met my friend Ben at a nice restaurant on 17th Street one evening in September. We tried to catch up with everything that had happened in recent years. One of his statements sums it all up: “For me,” he said, “2020 was a lot worse than 2016.” He explained that “in 2020, people knew what they were doing. Yet 47% of Americans voted for Donald Trump. It was no longer a coincidence. »

This statement never left me during my stay in Washington. In my many interventions, one question came up regularly. Why have so many people voted again for a man who represents the opposite of what the United States once stood for, namely openness, liberalism, pluralism, honesty and the opportunity for a second luck ? These characteristics had laid the foundation for the great affection I had developed for the country many years ago. But starting in 2017, I saw those values ​​trampled, culminating in the events of January 6, 2021.

This unprocessed recent past hangs over the United States like a demon. Politicians, observers and academics are trying to make sense of this downward spiral. They talk about a broken system in Washington, a dysfunctional Congress playing by long-outdated rules, a constitution in dire need of an update, a vitriolic media environment that is deepening rifts. in society and social media that fuel the psychological construct of confirmation bias in which people only want to hear what they like and dismiss everything else as fabricated or fake.

This unprocessed recent past hangs over the United States like a demon.

While this phenomenon is not exclusive to the United States, it is exceptional there in its scope. The willingness of citizens to distrust the media and the other political side seems to be much greater than in Germany. “In the United States,” an American pollster told me, “fake news from foreign countries like China and Russia has less impact than in Germany. Why? Because we’ve already produced it ourselves breakdown in society.

No one I spoke to offered a solution to these problems. Under President Joe Biden, there is what you might call social engineering: billions of dollars to be invested in roads, hospitals, education or the fight against climate change. There are also efforts to correct gerrymandering or legislative deadlocks like filibuster.

All this is good and necessary. But much of society does not seem fundamentally aware of the dangerous path it is on or that the features that have made the country so attractive are in grave danger. While Donald Trump’s supporters generally seem unconcerned about the cohesion of society, part of the left wants to move the country away from the center, making it extremely difficult to find common ground.

There are so many red flags. If the United States continues down the path of division and rancor, it may not be able to find its way back. Getting to that point of recognition doesn’t take billions of dollars. It takes less emotion, more rationalism and an ever-increasing self-awareness. The United States is desperately needed as a bulwark against an authoritarianism that is on the rise around the world.

The path to follow

By Scott Cullinane and Markus Ziener

After changing places across the Atlantic, it became strikingly clear to us that German-American relations live simultaneously in the areas of foreign policy and domestic policy in each of our countries. Developments that are driven by purely internal politics – such as the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol – have massive fallout on US-Germany relations, and on broader transatlantic relations. .

The challenges and difficulties faced by both countries are clear; the solutions are not. What we can see from our respective stays in Berlin and Washington is that for the future success of transatlantic relations, the conversation between the two countries cannot remain confined to a narrow and elitist think tank on international relations. . On the contrary, transatlantic relations must have meaning in the domestic politics of each country. Although this may lead to difficult conversations for some, it is essential for the renewal and continuation of a strong partnership between Germany and the United States.

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