POLITICS-For the last three quarters of a century, the question, “Who is the leader of the Free World?” inevitably was answered by giving the name of the president of the United States. Since World War II, America’s leader -- Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and so on -- was viewed as the person in charge of the non-communist half of the globe. His counterpart in the bilateral world of yesteryear was the guy who ran the Kremlin.
Following the fall of the U.S.S.R. and rise of China, bilateral has become multilateral, but the “first among equals” position of the president of the United States continued to be the norm. Until now.
The new leader of the Free World? The chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel.
Trump’s recent foreign trip was a nine-day demonstration of why he’s not the most inspiring, let alone greatest, of America’s chief executives. Forget the silly stuff, like fondling the illuminated globe with Mid East dictators or shoving the prime minister of Montenegro. The massive arms deal with Saudi Arabia ratchets up the militarization of a region already plagued by internecine warfare. Trump’s advisors told him the Saudis need the weapons as a hedge against Iran, but it’s Yemen that’s getting pounded by its neighbor.
And then there’s NATO. Trump called it obsolete and harps constantly that the 27 members which are not the U.S. aren’t paying their fair share. He refuses to acknowledge Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which requires members to help each other when attacked. For Europeans, this is a huge deal. Especially so since the renewed independence of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania following the breakup of the old Soviet Union.
For 50 years, these countries had been part of the U.S.S.R. After regaining their sovereignty in 1991, they all joined NATO seeking protection from the Russian bear. The invasion of Ukraine and occupation of the Crimean peninsula illustrates just how dangerous Putin can be. It also highlights the Baltic states’ justification for anxiety about Russian intentions.
Far from reassuring America’s partners, Trump’s visit to NATO headquarters in Belgium widened the gap between the U.S. and Europe. The Trump-Putin relationship is just cause for worry in the capitals of Europe. Trump’s avowed admiration for Putin, ongoing revelations about campaign hacks and back-channel communications, and payments to those close to the President are all reasons for European leaders to fret.
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May is seen as too close to the U.S. and Trump; not to mention the Brexit thing. France’s brand new president, Emmanuel Macron, is untried, but apparently possesses an iron grip.
Angela Merkel was raised in East Germany and speaks fluent Russian. She knows what life was like under the thumb of the Soviets, especially since her father was a Lutheran pastor. Merkel has been Germany’s chancellor for 12 years and has no illusions about Vladimir Putin.
The recent speech in which she said that Europe can no longer rely on allies like the United States is the sounding of an alarm. Unlike Trump, she measures her words carefully and with an eye on their import. And, unlike Trump, she understands there is strength in numbers.
(Doug Epperhart is a publisher, a long-time neighborhood council activist and has served on the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners. He is a contributor to CityWatch and can be reached at: Epperhart@cox.net) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.