Stay Cool

Germany is outraged by U.S. ambassador Richard Grenell − and rightfully so. But expelling Donald Trump’s man from the country would be to fight populism with more populism.

Haven’t heard anything in awhile from … Wolfgang Kubicki? Don’t worry: He’s back. For weeks, it has been suspiciously quiet around the restless vice chairman of the Free Democratic Party, but now Kubicki is demanding, with his typically confident instinct for generating headlines, that Richard Grenell be expelled from the country. Grenell, who has criticized German budget planning because the defense expenditures that they stipulated were too low, should, according to Kubicki, be immediately declared a persona non grata.

Of course: Grenell’s acting like the governor-general of “Lesser Germany,” his reprimanding tone, his superpower attitude, his coarse attempt to pressure German companies and force the German government into proper conduct − that’s all insufferable. And it shows how bad German-American relations have become under this U.S. administration.

But to immediately deploy the most drastic weapon available to diplomacy? Kick him out? And then what? Chancellor Angela Merkel demonstrated in her speech at the Munich Security Conference that one can also defy Trump without pompous outrage.

It’s not the first time that the American ambassador is trying to tell the Germans how it should be done:

– Grenell began his appointment in Berlin by recommending to German companies that they avoid dealings with Iran.

– He threatened to impose sanctions on companies participating in the gas pipeline project North Stream 2,

– And last week, the minister of economics affairs, Peter Altmaier, received an urgent letter from Grenell in which he threatened to limit cooperation from American intelligence agencies if the Chinese cellular provider Huawei were to win the bid for the 5G network.

A Likely Unsuccessful Ambassador

Grenell has achieved nothing with his blustering offenses. Quite the contrary. His job description says that he is to represent American interests in Germany, and in this sense he is probably an unsuccessful ambassador. The public pressure with which he hopes to force good behavior by the Germans is generating just the opposite effect: The more that Grenell reprimands the Germans publicly, the less German politicians can respond to American concerns, even if they’re justified. All NATO partners unanimously agree, for instance, that Germany should spend more on defense. But Trump (and Grenell) have meanwhile made it almost impossible to fulfill this wish, because every additional million for the military now looks like subservience to an American mandate.

Grenell presumably doesn’t even care about achieving anything in Germany. His rude advances have one addressee above all: Donald Trump. The ambassador wants his Germany-bashing to score points with his own president, although he has yet to have any recognizable success in this respect. German-American relations don’t matter to Grenell.

That, by the way, is what links him to Kubicki: The FDP vice chairman likewise just wants his populist maneuvering to gain approval from his local audience. The much better alternative: Stay cool.

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