Goodbye To Berlin?

Goodbye To Berlin?

Mini Teaser: A declining Germany gets no respect from Red State America--yet it wants a veto over U.S. policy. Surrendering this conceit is the first step back toward influence.

by Author(s): Walter Russell Mead

The recent storms in American-German relations illuminate two basic truths. First, a solid and stable relationship between America and Germany remains, as it has for more than half a century, the indispensable precondition for progress toward European integration. Second, the area now causing the greatest disputes between Germany and the United States--the Middle East--is the area in which the two countries have major interests in common, and where both stand to gain the most by finding their way to a cooperative path. There is a third truth, that in Washington German frustration over its lack of influence in American policymaking represents a threat to U.S.-German relations that both Americans and Germans must address.

German leaders used to be among the most respected world figures in the United States. From the final resignation of Winston Churchill to the arrival of Margaret Thatcher, German leaders and diplomats were consistently more respected and frequently more listened to in Washington than their (admittedly mostly mediocre) British counterparts. Yet, since unification, Germany's standing in Washington has fallen, and recent transatlantic spats over the Kyoto Protocol, the International Criminal Court (ICC) and Iraq have not helped matters.

Germany's problems today in influencing America can be reduced to the following conclusion: key "Red State" or "American Revivalist" policymakers think Germany's advice is mostly bad, and so want to take as little of it as possible. They will only take German advice when the benefits of German cooperation or the costs of German obstruction are greater than the perceived cost of doing what Germany wants.

These conditions are only rarely met. American Revivalists place a low value both on Germany's potential to help the United States or to obstruct American initiatives by non-participation or resistance. Since 1989 and the end of Europe's special status as the strategic focus of American foreign policy, several factors have combined to produce a gradual reduction in Germany's perceived importance to the United States. Therefore, it is a relatively unusual event for Washington to defer to Germany or to make a major compromise with it on an important international issue.

Many have thought that the most effective way to change Washington's disposition is to change our opinion about either the benefits of German cooperation or the costs of German (and European) opposition. This is partly why many Germans have placed such importance on the centralization of European foreign policymaking: they hope that a centralized Europe will be seen in Washington as a larger and more important actor with greater impact to affect U.S. goals for good or for ill.

The American Revival analysis, however, believes that divisive European politics will continue to make the eu an inept and weak power even if constitutional reform creates a new, vigorous continental foreign minister. European nations will continue to undercut or resist the common policy on many issues. The option of a "two speed" Europe with an inner core of countries might create more rapid movement, but to the extent that this inner core includes only France, Germany and a sprinkling of smaller countries, American Revivalists do not fear its weight in the world. For American Revivalists the calculation is simple: a smaller Europe could develop common institutions and common policies, but this small core could not seriously challenge American interests. A 25 or thirty member European Union might have the weight to counterbalance the United States, but is extremely unlikely to develop enough political and institutional cohesion to challenge the United States on anything other than trade issues.

So, the most hopeful way to change the melancholy state of German influence in Washington is to improve the perceived value of German counsel. If American policymakers respected German statesmanship more, they would treat German policy advice with more respect. They would do this whether Europe was united or disunited, weak or strong, rich or poor.

But this cannot come about by "converting" Americans to a European or German point of view about history, morality, legality or the optimal world order. It is no more likely that George Bush will renounce his faith than that Gerhard Schröder will seek baptism at the hands of Billy Graham. Yet Konrad Adenauer did not have to become "an American" in order for his advice to be taken seriously by American policymakers. Statesmen like Adenauer and Helmut Schmidt--who both knew very well how to say "No" to the United States--commanded enormous respect in Washington. They were able to influence Americans not because they overawed them or bribed them. They have done it by their powers of communication and attraction--their soft power, as it were.

It may seem strange counsel coming from an American in the Age of Bush, but Europe's chief problem in the United States today results from a failure of European soft power. Europe beats the broad back of American power with the sticks that it has--mostly, its trade power--but somehow that does not move the behemoth more than a few halting steps. It abuses the United States for its boorishness and its weak grasp of the fine points of international co-existence--but this somehow does not move the beast either.

That is why I am taking the risk of revealing the most important secret of dealing with Americans: We cannot be kicked into submission, but we are easily kissed into bed. Even those who affect to despise soft power are easily ensorcelled by its charms.

Dueling Realisms

Germany and the United States are divided by very real cultural issues. Germans and other Europeans often fail to understand that most Americans are largely satisfied with the underpinnings of their strategic approach to the world. They are not about to change an approach that is grounded in American folk values, that has stood the test of time and that has brought the United States great power and success while, most Americans feel, defending ideals and values of great value not only to ourselves but to all humanity. In the view of the Red States, fascism and communism both originated in Europe and flourished worldwide because Europeans supported them--and they died in large part because Americans fought them at great cost in treasure and blood. For the Red States, case closed. There is nothing more to be said.

The social and international peace that contemporary Europeans see as their proudest achievement strikes this kind of American as the quiet of the grave--or, at least, the peace that comes with utter exhaustion. Europe has stopped warring with itself not because it has reached a plateau of spiritual enlightenment, but because it no longer has the vitality to live even biologically, much less to fight. Red State Americans believe that while the European project is not failing in any immediate or short-term perspective, overall, Europe has not yet laid the foundations for real success or influence in the world.

Many Red State Americans, moreover, believe that Germany has not found an effective foreign policy stance or identity since 1989. They consider unification to have been botched, permanently weakening Germany's fiscal foundations and significantly reducing the resources that Germany could bring either to underpin European integration or support initiatives elsewhere in the world. It has led to a progressive loss of faith in Germany's ability to deal with its own problems and, therefore, to a loss of faith in Germany's ability to bring much insight to broader world affairs.

Germany's unilateral decision to recognize Croatia in 1991 remains notorious among American analysts as the immediate cause of the Balkan wars and one of the great blunders of the post-Cold War era. Germany's record in triggering these wars by its ill-judged unilateral action, and its subsequent failure to manage the situation in partnership with its European allies, created one grave crisis after another for the Clinton Administration and the aftertaste in American mouths of the whole experience is still very bitter.

Germany's role in the evolution of European institutions during the last decade has also not enhanced its image in the United States. The stability pact that Germany forced on its partners in creating the common currency appeared from the beginning to be a colossal blunder on economic policy grounds as seen through American eyes. The vehemence and rigidity with which the German government imposed this foolish and unworkable straitjacket on its partners also attracted unfavorable notice. Germany was wrong to impose it--and also wrong to destroy it the way that it did. The impression of rigidity and self-righteousness conveyed throughout these changing stands damaged Germany's reputation in the United States--even though American opinion was sympathetic to the argument that without some agreed framework, irresponsible spending by eurozone countries presented a serious moral hazard. Yet the inability or unwillingness of German diplomacy to find less destructive ways to pursue reasonable goals sent quiet shockwaves through the American foreign policy world.

Red State Americans and Germans see Europe in very different ways. The expectation in Europe is that Europe--with Germany at its core--is a rising power in the world. Integration and coordination have overcome the divisions that crippled Europe throughout the 20th century. Europe can now resume the place in the world from which its wars and divisions temporarily blocked it. Its economic might and soft power is so great that no state, not even the United States, can ignore it, and Europe's only real equal in the 21st century will be the United States.

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