Merkel's Mission for Her Visit to Trump This Week

German chancellor Angela Merkel's goal for her White House this Friday would be humorous if it weren't so pathetically typical of what America often faces.  Here's a brief background on the episode I reference.

Ever since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and started encroaching on the Ukraine, Western Europe has been demanding that the U.S. sanction the Russians.  Whatever was done, however, never seemed to be enough to satisfy the enlighten muckety-mucks in Europe.  That brings us to today.  President Trump – you know, the man who is said to be beholden to Putin – has recently issued strong sanctions on Russia for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.  So far, so good.

But now Merkel and the rest of the German political establishment have flip-flopped.  They want President Trump to exempt their county's companies from these tough new sanctions.  Frau Merkel plans to bring this request up at her scheduled meeting with Trump at the White House this week on April 27, along with Germany's concerns about America's newfound attitude toward unbalanced trade, Iran, and Trump's withdrawal from the Paris accord.

The Germans are in a pickle.  Even more than China, Germany, the economic powerhouse of Europe, relies on exports for its economic well-being.  Some 46 percent of that country's GDP is due to exports in goods and services.  That's a staggering amount.  For the U.S., exports account for only about 12 percent of its GDP.  Germany's exports to Russia came to $30 billion in 2017.  That might not seem like a lot, but a loss of any of it would hurt German companies at the margin.

So Chancellor Merkel wants her industries protected.  The Germans desperately need this, as multiple sources say Germany is headed for a recession – herehere, and here.  On trade with the U.S., Germany is enjoying a $65-billion surplus.  This can only incur Trump's righteous wrath at his April meeting with Merkel.

The German chancellor is a political cripple holding together a fragile coalition government.  No question, Merkel is coming to Washington with an extremely weak hand to play.  If Trump can't wring major concessions out of Germany on trade and other issues, then he's a dunce who doesn't deserve the title of the master of the deal.  It would be a fortunate fly who is on the wall at the Trump-Merkel meeting.  No doubt, Merkel will insist on her issues.  It is as if she and much of Europe are in a time warp, thinking they're still dealing with Obama or someone like him.  Other leaders are quicker on the uptake, like Shinzo Abe of Japan and Moon Jae-in of South Korea...and even Little Rocket Man in North Korea.  China, too, is becoming  "woke" to the new reality.

This sanctions episode also sheds light on what I feel is a larger picture.  So often in the past, our allies in Europe hector the U.S. to lead while they essentially sit back.  And when action is taken, our trans-Atlantic armchair experts criticize that what was done – for being too much or too little, too harsh, or whatever.  This is called ankle-biting.  It's like when an annoying poodle keeping gnawing at its owner's ankle while fully expecting its meal to be served.  Trade is a good example.  Our partners want America to take the lead.  In their minds, this means free trade for them but not for us.  American markets must be open to them while their industries are allowed protection.  Europe has no problem in putting Europe first but goes apoplectic when Trump does likewise for America.  An interesting  dichotomy, no?

Another example is Iran.  Trump wants to tear up or at the very least significantly alter the nuclear deal with the mullahs.  France and Germany are opposed.  Why?  Basically because it would jeopardize their business dealings with Iran.  Look where that leaves us.  If Iran does go nuclear, which country bears the brunt of dealing with that awful situation?  Not France or Germany; it's the U.S.  And of course, if that came to pass, the wise men and women in Europe would have no inhibition in advising America on what to do and what not to do.

Past U.S. administrations have allowed the word "leadership" to be terribly misused.  A leader isn't one who rolls up his sleeves and does all the heavy lifting.  That describes a hired hand more than it does a leader.  No, for although a leader may do actual lifting here and there as a way of example, the leader's main role is to set direction for the team, delegate what others are to do, and maintain accountability standards.  It's time for the U.S. to get back to that type of leadership.  And if others don't like that, they're free to quit the team and look for greener pastures elsewhere.