Merkel and Obama – A Sweet and Spicy Mustard

Merkel and Obama represent a good and deeply pragmatic relationship. Using the weisswurst (a sausage delicacy of southern Germany) analogy: For many, the German-American relationship is bitter as the spiciest dijon mustard, for others it is actually quite sweet. Both are correct. And that is their problem.

Can mustard ever be sweet? In Bavaria, sure, because there the spicy and bitter tasting mustard seeds are roasted and additionally combined with apple puree or honey. Surprisingly, the mustard doesn’t bring tears to the eyes, instead it accents the weisswurst and leberkäse (a kind of meatloaf) with sweetness.

Sweet mustard also represents one kind of Bavarian-style embellishment and is therefore fitting for a German-American friendship-fest that the chancellor and the president celebrated against the backdrop of the castle of Elmau .

The truth about this German-American relationship: For many it is as bitter as the spiciest dijon mustard, for others it is actually quite sweet. Both are correct. And that is their problem.

Angela Merkel and Barack Obama represent a good and deeply pragmatic relationship. Obama has stepped back and allowed the chancellor leadership over the containment of European problems.

Sometimes that makes these problems bigger than they ought to be, which isn’t Merkel’s fault. But other power figures such as Russian President Vladimir Putin want to be acknowledged and to speak at eye level, and are not always content with the attentiveness of the giant anthill that is the EU. The importance of psychology in foreign policy games is being demonstrated right now at Elmau.

German-American Problems Need More Attention

The chancellor and the president are very much oriented toward one another and get along just fine with this interdependence. Obama makes Merkel bigger, also because he is, accurately, of the opinion that the Europeans themselves need to maintain order in their neighborhood.

The other way around, the chancellor needs to acknowledge that she doesn’t only want the U.S. on her side based on political calculation, but that Germany needs this country out of purely practical reasons as well — such as the disclosure of danger with the help of the U.S. intelligence services, be it as it may.

Here, the bitter part of the relationship comes into view, as this interplay of questions of acknowledgment, sharing burdens and dependence is finally no longer accepted by the majority in Germany.

The G-7 Summit Alone Will Not Solve Errors Already Committed

A cascade of catastrophic leaks over the past two years has eaten at the substance of the relationship. An entirely well-nursed anti-Americanism was fed by espionage escapades, trade debates, and a rampant feeling of not being understood or heard.

Many errors were committed, much is being investigated; much remains in the shadows. Grave errors in political communication are being repeated again and again.

That lies in the nature of the subjects being debated — the details of these secret services are typically unsuitable for public discussion. That also lies in the nature of the political leadership that has, much too late and much too hesitantly, tended toward this trans-Atlantic relationship.

Weisswurst, weissbeer, and white-blue skies make good pictures and good moods. Whoever claims the importance of the German-American portion of world politics needs to travel more, speak more and explain more.

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