Friday, May 26, 2017

Thrust Into Leadership

Give the Indian-British journalist Sunny Hundal credit for being if not the first, certainly among the first, to recognize (on February 1) that

the German Chancellor isn’t just the leader of Europe, she is now the de-facto leader of the free world. 

The thrice-elected, soft-spoken former scientist from East Germany, armed with a doctorate in quantum chemistry, doesn’t just carry the weight of Germany and Europe on her shoulders, but that of defending freedom and liberalism across the world.

To be clear- and it certainly is- she doesn't have much competition. I know only one word ("schnell") of German, and that from decades of watching "Hogan's Heroes" in first-run and syndication the better part of a half-century. Therefore, I went to Google (translate) for a translation of a Spiegel Online article about the truly remarkable confrontation between President Trump and European leaders.  Evidently a spinoff of Der Spiegel, the German-language news website reports

US President Donald Trump has complained bitterly about the German trade surplus on his meeting with the EU top in Brussels. "The Germans are bad, very bad," said Trump. This was learned by the SPIEGEL from participants in the meeting

Trump said, "Look at the millions of cars they sell in the US, and we'll stop that."

At the meeting, EU Commissioner Jean-Claude Juncker took the side of the Germans and disagreed with Trumps Schelte. Free trade is a good thing for all, said the Commissioner. Juncker had tried a friendly tone, but was hard on the matter, says the participants.

At about an hour's meeting, Trump first met with President Donald Tusk and Commissioner Jean-Claude Juncker, after about 45 minutes, other members of the European Parliament came, including the President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani and the EU's chief diplomat Federica Mogherini. (An analysis of the meeting can be found here.)

According to a report from the "Süddeutsche Zeitung", the EU side was horrified at the extent of the Americans' lack of awareness of trade policy. Apparently, it was unclear to the guests that the EU countries concluded trade agreements only jointly. Trumps economic consultant Gary Cohn is said to have said in the conversation between the US and Germany tariff tariffs other than between the USA and Belgium.

Germany has been exporting more than it has introduced for years. Trump had already made the German surplus on the subject earlier, and the President had already expressed his critical opinion in an interview with the Bild newspaper. "I would say to BMW if they want to build a factory in Mexico and sell cars to the US without a 35 percent tax, they can forget that" Trump said at the time. Since then, there has been a threat of a criminal tax in the room.

The new US president feels the German surplus is unfair because of the fact that trade deficits are elsewhere, he is especially thinking about the US. The federal government is also under pressure within the EU because of the trade surplus. Lastly, Federal Minister of Finance Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU) had described the surplus as too high in the SPIEGEL interview.

It was actually thought in the EU, after countless meetings of European leaders with Trump and many attempts to explain the international trade policy. This hope may well bury the Europeans.

"Apparently, it was unclear to the guests that the EU countries concluded trade agreements only jointly."  This is so hard to believe it would strain credulity. However, in April

Angela Merkel was forced to explain the “fundamentals” of EU trade to Donald Trump 11 times after he repeatedly asked to do a deal directly with Germany, a senior German official has claimed. 

The US President reportedly exposed "very basic misunderstandings" of how EU trade works during a meeting with the German chancellor last month.

“Ten times Trump asked [Ms Merkel] if he could negotiate a trade deal with Germany. Every time she replied, 'You can’t do a trade deal with Germany, only the EU,'" the official told The Times.

"On the eleventh refusal, Trump finally got the message, 'Oh, we’ll do a deal with Europe then.'"

This was not a good sign. And in the Brussels gathering, Trump chose to admonish the European nations for insufficient financial defense spending- or as the president of the most powerful nation on earth whined, "this is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States."  Calling allies out publicly (rather than, or in addition to, privately) is no way to keep friends- or garner respect.

This was moments after rudely brushing aside the prime minister of Montenegro, thereby demonstrating that nothing says "I am the leader" than rushing to the camera to plead one's case.

Oh, what a mess we've made of things.  However, by "we," I'm referring only to all those politicians, non-traditional media, voters, and others who contributed toward making this guy the President of the United States, previously the leader of the free world.

How quaint the Cold War quip "I love Germany so much, I am glad there are two of them." Now- at least with Trump and Merkel in Washington and Berlin, respectively- that remark has been turned on its head.

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