On the heels of the near love fest between French President Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump, the White House hosted a meeting with a rather frigid German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Trump publicly (and appropriately) lambasted Germany for its unwillingness to live up to its NATO commitments. The president also beautifully ripped into Merkel for the massive trade deficit between the United States and the European Union.
Trump was right and Merkel knew it.
Germany is a great country. Since losing two world wars and then surviving as a bifurcated frontline state in the Cold War, Germany has risen to be the dominant power in Europe. In fact, today, the European Union essentially is the German Union. After its disastrous experience in the 20th century, Germany opted to trade military might for economic preeminence. Today, Germany possesses the fifth strongest economy in the world, with a gross domestic product of more than $3 trillion. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, “In Germany, the average household net-adjusted disposable income per capita is USD $33,652” which is higher than the OECD average (America’s is slightly higher at $44,049).
And that’s a big part of the problem. Judging from Germany’s actions since the end of the Cold War, they certainly do seek dominance in Europe. Unfortunately, they still wish to be viewed by Washington, D.C. (as they have been up till now) as the helpless ward of the United States. Germany calculated that it was a very simple tradeoff: they rely on America’s military to defend them and the money that the German republic saves is then channeled into their welfare state.
This must end.
For all of her globalist rhetoric, Merkel is one of the stingiest practitioners of classical geopolitics in the modern age. For instance, in case the Trump Administration missed it, the recent Franco-American state visit (chock full of fawning rhetoric, awkward kisses, and the classic French slap at the end) was not what it appeared to be. Despite possessing the most advanced, nuclear-armed military in continental Europe, France is deeply indebted to Germany. Also, France forms part of an axis of anti-American European resistance, which includes Germany and, yes, Russia. It has existed in some form since the 1990s, but solidified over these countries’ opposition to the Iraq War of 2003.
Despite its military power, France’s turgid economy makes it the weakest of the three members of this European axis of resistance. Macron came to the United States not out of friendship to the United States but as Merkel’s errand boy. The new European order is easy to understand: the French military is subordinated to German economic dominance, and both are dependent (or were) on cheap Russian energy.
Germany needs the United States to maintain its commitment to the pathetic Iran nuclear deal that the Obama Administration crafted in 2015 (as does France and much of the rest of Europe). All of these countries are deeply committed to trade with Iran. If the United States were to withdraw from the deal, the Europeans would take a significant economic hit. Given the anemic economic situation in Europe, countries like Germany and France need every boost they can get. When it became clear that the Trump Administration was averse to recertifying the Iran nuclear agreement, Macron went to Congress and lambasted the American president. The French left in a huff, and a few days thereafter, the Teutonic Merkel came to Washington to badger the president.
But Merkel’s brinkmanship didn’t work. If anything, it had the opposite of the intended effect.
President Trump knows that the status quo has to change. We have to start giving our allies some tough love so that they stand on their own and give us relief for a change. What Trump did in his meeting with Merkel was necessary. No, he did not kill NATO, as his critics insist. Instead, he reinvigorated it by insisting NATO become a more European endeavor (in other words, a more German and French-powered alliance). Trump made clear his intention to protect American interests—and taxpayer dollars—with at least as much zeal as Merkel and Macron protect their interests and money.
Going back to the 1990s, French and German policymakers have sought to create a world where there were many powers to rein in America’s perceived “hyperpuissance.” Well, they have may have finally succeeded in crafting that multipolar world.
Be careful what you wish for, Frau.
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