Trump Lays it Out for Germany’s Best Selling Tabloid
The news hit the stands (online) Monday night at 23:00 and has been burning it up on the air waves and the internet since then. Everyone has an opinion it seems on a German publication’s first interview with the president-elect. It was conducted by Bild Zeitung, Germany’s biggest tabloid, a brilliant pick to reach out to as many everyday Germans as possible. Editor-in-Chief Kai Diekmann did a solid job, asked the right questions and drew the right conclusions, among them:
1.) Trump is breaking all the rules, diplomatic,political and otherwise, and will continue to do so for as long as he governs.
2.) He’s rude, confrontational and annoyingly honest – which can actually be an asset in solving encrusted conflicts.
3.) Trump is the biggest political experiment since the end of the Cold War.
And then the kicker – Trump might just be the first president to change the office more than having the office change him.
It’s a good bet: after redefining campaigning, expect Trump to reshape the Oval Office.Think Twitter, cabinet picks he knew would disagree with him, and the call he repeated in his Bild interview with Diekmann to roll back NATO and his dire prediction for a demise of the EU.
German Politicos Bump Along in the Fog
I listened to a top CDU politician Norbert Röttgen on Deutschlandfunk giving his response to the Trump interview after dropping the kids off at school. He’s very bright but continues to analyze Trump from a far too German perspective. He remains confused about Trump’s intentions, and consternated that Trump thinks mainly of American jobs and America’s borders, deems NATO obsolete and thinks Merkel’s decision to allow in hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees “probably one of the worst if not the worst decision in the country’s history.” He shouldn’t be. Theses are positions, sometimes word for word, Trump laid out countless times in his campaign speeches.
They also represent a deep continuum in American Isolationism. And – like we’ve seen in the “Mother Country” Britain – isolationist populism erupts when America’s working and middle classes feel endangered by changes that pose a threat to the nation’s character and customs. Terrorism, radical Islam and mass migration top that list, although the rise of artificial intelligence and an economic system that mainly serves the hyper-rich as Oxfam just pointed out, are right up there.
Wait and See is the Worst Strategy with Trump
Other top politicians here have not been doing the character study of Trump they should have. In response to his plan to slap steep 35 % tariffs on BMW, SPD Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel says just wait and see what comes out of all this.
Foreign Minister frank Walter Steinmeier is taking a similar approach when it comes to Trump’s intentions of changing NATO. Both are banking on Trump running into opposition in Congress on getting protectionist and isolationist legislation pushed through. In doing so they are not taking three key factors into consideration:
1.) Many of the voters who put Trump in office are among the bottom 50 % of Americans who’ve seen no income growth for 30 years while the top 1 % has seen a 300 % increase in wealth. They are ripe for protectionism, not more globalism. Congress will mirror that.
2.) Donald Trump is the Ultimate Deal Maker. He is also a driven individual who works tirelessly to achieve his goals. His ego will allow for nothing less than total success and victory.
3.) European nations started closing borders as soon as the migrant crisis unfolded. It led to new alliances in the form of a revitalized Visegrad Group. The dynamic of crisis led Russia to decouple form the West and seek an invigorated Shanghai Group. America has seen that Europe’s East and Putin’s Russia are successful in achieving their goals via national and regional solutions as opposed to trans-national agreements and is opting for the same path.
Instead of playing defense and preparing to react to Trump initiatives, Germany and the EU needs to move forward with it’s own agenda on migration and jobs. If Europe does not act with athletic confidence in key policy areas, the EU will be steamrollered by a newly assertive America on everything from trade to migration to security.
Expect Much More of the Same – Not Less
“America First” has been the historic norm for America, not the corporate globalism and interventionism of the last 70 years. That is what’s behind Trump’s own consternation about how Merkel responded to the migrant crisis that unfolded in Europe in 2015. A similar migrant situation has been in the making on America’s southern border .It was Trump’s promise to “build the wall”, along with bringing home jobs, that galvanized the conservative base and got out undecided and first-time voters.
Photo :By P. Heinlein [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Safe Zones for Syria – Why Not for Somalia ? The Poisoned Chalice
Talking to Bild, Trump laid out a plan for “safe zones” in Syria funded by oil sheiks to shelter refugees until they can return home. He said that was what Germany should have done as as the crisis unfolded. But in 2015, Germany did not have the military and logistical capacity for such a mission. It still doesn’t. Could German diplomacy though have cobbled together an alliance to create safe zones in Syria? And if militarily protected safe zones could have been an alternative for Syria in 2015, are they an option today? Are “safe zones” perhaps the best solution for all involved in Iraq, Somalia and Eritrea as well? Those countries are sending tens of thousands of refugees to Europe monthly. Tragically, all too many die making the risky voyage to Europe.
Those questions are the poisoned chalice that Donald Trump has extended to Angela Merkel, her coalition and the next government as well. Trump’s delivery of his critique of Angela’s Merkel’s claim there was no other option at that time than to allow the refugees in, via Bild as the election seasons here kicks off, shows just how much of a political operator he is.
No wonder Angela Merkel has chosen to play down the Bild interview. But will her political opponents inside and outside of the coalition do the same for very long? Just as the Bild interview was making the rounds, so too was the news that a veteran CDU grand dame had quit the party , condemning Merkel for violating EU law with her unilateral decision to suspend the Dublin accords, a move that legalised the influx of refugees into Europe. The debate over migration and what transpired at Europe’s borders in 2015 is set to shape the 2017 German election.
Since Merkel has chosen to run for a fourth term as Chancellor, her decision not to engage Trump, but to avoid him at every turn, and not to rebut his criticism is a misstep. If she wants to win, she will need to explain to voters why her decision in 2015 was the right one and why her current migration policy is the best way forward.
As I have previously mentioned, instead of playing “wait and see” or taking Trump’s bait, Merkel’s adjutants should be down at Trump Tower glad-handing every palm they can press. Her success or failure at the polls could depend on her relations with Germany’s most important ally.
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