Jacob Heilbrunn

Is Germany America's Ally?

When Germany reunified after the fall of the Berlin Wall, there was much speculation that it might return to its nationalist past. But it never happened. Instead, Germany has been an equivocal partner of America's. Sometimes it sides with America, sometimes not. The latest example is Libya, where it has managed to do both almost at the same time. First Germany said it would abstain from the UN Security Council vote authorizing the use of force. It ended up in the same camp as Russia and China. Yet it is promising to supply munitions to its European allies now that they are running low. So Germany gets to have it all ways. Enjoy the moral superiority of not voting for the war, or whatever euphemism, that is, that President Obama is employing today to describe it. And send some arms to salve the feelings of its European allies.

The other day I debated Malte Lehming of the Berlin Tagesspiegel about these issues. Lemming indicated that Germany is feeling more powerful these days. Before it sought what he, in a psychological analysis, called "compensation" for its relatively weak political position, dependent on America as it was. It could flay Ameria for its deficiencies—death penalty, environmentally destructive, and so on—while cozily reassuring itself that Germany was morally superior, even if the weaker partner. Now it is hard to avoid the sense that a goodly number of Germans feel that they have it right. Their economy is zipping along, while America is mired in the doldrums. Meanwhile, America is getting tired of the wars that the Germans originally warned against. And Obama? The nimbus surrounding him has worn off as well. Where Germany is headed depends on how well it manages its European problems. But America is no longer its patron. And Germany is no longer the obedient student. Now that it is graduation time, Germany seems to be increasingly striking out on its own path.