How Germany Won World War II (In 2017)

Angela Merkel in 2014. Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons/@FNDE

Has the political upheaval over America's 2016 election inadvertantly made Germany great again?

Remember the good old days? Back in the early twenty-first century, after China had joined the World Trade Organization, the Tom Friedmans of the world told us that before you could say “Jack Robinson” in Mandarin, China’s integration into the global economy and the free flow of goods and the Internet into the Middle Kingdom would create a new middle class that would unleash the forces of political freedom and transform the communist dictatorship into, well, not a Jeffersonian democracy, but perhaps the foundations of a flourishing “civil society.”

We’re all still waiting. But that hasn’t prevented Western pundits from engaging recently in what could be described as a form of dialectical thinking run amok. Some of them have suggested that communist China could replace the United States as the guardian of the liberal international order.

So after Chinese president Xi Jinping delivered an address in front of the business and political elites gathered in Davos early this year, in which he seemed to be defending “globalization”—depending on how you define the term—and even tried to make a joke about “Schwab-onomics” (Klaus Schwab was the founder of Davos. Get it? Ha!), the Financial Times posted a report titled “Xi Jinping Delivers Robust Defense of Globalization at Davos.” The speech by the Chinese president is in sharp contrast to the rhetoric from Donald Trump in recent days.

Yeah. Right. And how do you say, “Peace out, man,” in Chinese? Well, the Chinese communist boss only forgot to wear his Adam Smith necktie. Bummer! But otherwise, he made it clear that he likes what goes for the “liberal international order.” After all, that order has allowed for his country to get rich and powerful, and for its products to flood the entire global economy. It has attracted foreign investment to the economy and made business deals with dictators worldwide, while the Americans spread democracy in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East. All things considered, not a bad order, or whatever you want to call it.

OK. So associating the term “liberal” with a ruthless dictatorship, which has repressed the Tibetan people and other ethnic and religious minorities, and actually violated almost every human right (except the right to get rich), was a bit too much to swallow—even for those with a bad case of Trump Derangement Syndrome.

It makes more sense to state the obvious: China doesn’t want to change the current global economic status quo that seems to be aligned with its national interest, which is Making China First Again. Also prioritized are the interests of those business executives and politicians who have congregated at Davos to make deals with the Chinese.

But not to worry, Friedmanites! There is a nation that has been ready since the end of the nineteenth century—and for the first part of the next one—to fill geostrategic vacuums and exert its leadership role here, there and everywhere. And no one would deny that post–World War II Germany has become a beacon of liberal democratic principles and a force for peace in Europe and elsewhere, and that its current chancellor, unlike you-know-who, is committed to the Enlightenment project and its recent manifestation in the form of globalism.

Yes: for those members of Washington’s chattering class who imagine that the West is being dragged into the Dark Age of nationalism, protectionism and despotism—that Trump and Bannon are controlling the press, and curtailing immigration and religious freedom—Chancellor Angela Merkel has emerged as the anti-Trump, or the “this could have been us if Hillary had been elected” option.

Indeed, Trump bashers have been employing the Hitler analogy nonstop, and turned Merkel’s recent visit to Washington, DC into an opportunity to compare the American president to the German chancellor. The Economist magazine appeared to be leading the charge in a commentary titled “Angela Merkel and her press corps show how big democracies are supposed to operate.” It contrasted Merkel, who was “every inch the cool, reserved physicist-by-training,” with Trump, who was “dyspeptic, defensive and visibly irritated by press questions.”

The Economist, it should be recalled, served as a cheerleader for President George W. Bush when he decided to “liberate” Iraq and “democratize” it and the entire Middle East—a demonstration of American hubris and executive overreach. The magazine also criticized former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder for opposing what turned out to be a historic strategic fiasco that opened the Pandora’s box of the Sunni-Shia conflict. Not only did interference from the West destabilize Iraq—and eventually Syria—but it created the conditions for the current refugee crisis that ended up threatening German interests, not to mention Merkel’s own political survival.

The contrast drawn by the Economist and other media between Merkel and Trump goes beyond personalities or even specific policies. In the narrative the magazine created, which was captured in a New York Times headline: “As Obama Exits World Stage, Angela Merkel May Be the Liberal West’s Last Defender,” the German chancellor is portrayed as standing up to right-wing nationalist parties in Europe and assaulted by proponents of illiberal democracy. That list of opponents includes Russian president Vladimir Putin and his alleged admirer, Donald Trump.