Alles in ordnung? Is “everything in order” here in the capital of the most powerful nation on the planet?
That is the classic German question in good times and bad — and one wonders whether German Chancellor Angela Merkel will conclude that everything is normal when she visits President Donald Trump at the White House tomorrow.
He and she show signs of not getting along. When Time magazine selected Merkel as Person of the Year for 2015, Trump tweeted that he had been “the big favorite, but they picked person who is ruining Germany.”
A few days before he took the oath of office in January, Trump told the German newspaper Bild that Merkel made a “very catastrophic mistake, and that was taking all of these illegals.”
In Trump’s view, by being soft on immigration and offering asylum to Middle East refugees, Germany has helped turn the heart of Europe into a hothouse for terrorism.
Merkel insists the German economy is strong enough to absorb millions of newcomers. In addition, she is continuing the post-World War II trend of trying to erase the image of Germans as racist and murderous Nazis. And, of course, the notion of building a wall — in a nation proud to have reunited after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 — is out of the question.
The day after Trump was elected, Merkel congratulated him; but her statement pointedly added, “Germany and America share the values of democracy, freedom, and respect for the rule of law and human dignity, regardless of origin, skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or political belief.”
Chances are strong that, as a politician seeking another four years in office (after 12 years as chancellor), Merkel will want to make it appear that she is holding her own — and not knuckling under to Trump — when she appears with him.
Considering what Trump has said about the trade imbalance with Mexico and with Asia, he cannot be pleased with the statistics regarding Germany. The United States sells around $4 billion worth of goods to that nation each month, while Americans import $9 billion worth from German manufacturers.
As the net exporter, Merkel will try hard to avert a trade war or even a skirmish. With Trump, she might find herself defending the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership the Obama administration negotiated with the 28-nation European Union.
Trump turned his back on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, TPP, with Asian nations. The accord with Europe, dubbed T-TIP, seems similarly met by his disdain.
Then there is the matter of how U.S. policies are developed and expressed. While Merkel, like other foreign leaders who visit, will focus on understanding and befriending Trump, they wonder whether they should still count on the State Department as the reliable nest of expertise in Washington.
Everyone is aware of substantial budget cuts expected at State, but there is a promising sign regarding Rex Tillerson. The former chief executive of ExxonMobil, growing into his role as chief diplomat, will play host to officials of 68 nations and organizations next week to coordinate the fight against the Islamic State. They also will have to consider what might be next in Syria and Iraq if ISIS is vanquished, and where terrorists might go next.
Yet Trump, running a business analysis of costs versus benefits, might have calculated that State and its embassies and consulates around the globe are unprofitable.
By contrast, Trump believes that if the United States has the mightiest military on Earth, no one will dare to challenge this nation. Thus pumping an extra $54 billion into the Pentagon makes sense to him. The profit motive in that investment might include domestic politics: Trump is wooing voters in states with military bases and defense industries.
Dan Raviv, Washington correspondent for i24 News, is author of “Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.”