Before hysterical Glastonbury-style crowds in Berlin in 2008, Barack Obama first burnished his international reputation as a “rock-star”.
Then just a presidential candidate, his vision of cooperation between Russia and the West, of Middle East peace, and of “a global commitment to progress” was excitedly greeted as the start of a new chapter in US foreign policy.
How the world has turned. Obama’s domestic legacy is about to evaporate, and his final presidential visit to Germany this week has been accorded even greater symbolism than his trip in 2008. He isn’t just saying farewell to a country he has called his closest partner – a pointed snub to Britain – but is apparently handing the baton to a new leader of the free world: Angela Merkel.
Let’s hope this is mere wishful thinking among those (rightly) fearful of Donald Trump. For Merkel’s reputation as a rock of stability masks a preference for sublime inaction.
She has won a lot of elections against some very poor opponents. But she has treated structural reform as for other people, lecturing the rest of Europe while doing very little (barring her brave refugee policy) to prepare Germany for a looming demographic crisis. There is no major free market political party left in Germany today.
Distracted by a never-ending Eurozone crisis, Germany is a poster-child for a continent that has failed to take responsibility for its own security. It will spend 1.2 per cent of its GDP on its armed forces in 2016. Germany would need to pay an extra $30bn this year alone just to meet the 2 per cent Nato target. And yet it’s Merkel’s government that wants clarity on Trump’s commitment to the alliance.
Merkel has manoeuvred Europe into an uncomfortable relationship with an increasingly authoritarian Turkey, has overseen fresh divisions between East and West Europe over refugees, and has mastered the dysfunctional European politics of late night, last minute compromise that nearly saw Greece ejected from the Eurozone last year.
Trump’s instincts certainly are concerning, but this is an argument for all of Europe – particularly Britain – to step up its commitment to global security. There’s no sense in transferring all our hopes from one over-rated “rock-star” leader to another.