Olaf Scholz is visiting President Biden at a tense time. While Scholz is in Washington, he needs to finally make a commitment that if Russia invades Ukraine, the gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 will be dead. If Scholz does not agree to that, he might as well stay home.
When Joe Biden hosts Olaf Scholz in Washington, it will be more than just a routine inaugural visit for the new chancellor. Biden and Scholz are meeting at a very tense time. Russian troops are deployed at the Ukraine border and there’s a divided response from the West. Vladimir Putin is happy about that. Xi Jinping is happy about that.
For weeks, Germany has been competing for Olympic gold in the sport of omission, obfuscation and obstruction. The chancellor, who has always been a master of tight-lipped equivocation, is particularly accomplished in these fields. He is accounting for the Germans’ deeply ingrained, legendary aversion to ever again being party to a foreign war, and is considering the views of his party, which does not understand how the liberal policy of détente works.
But Biden is expecting straight talk from Scholz, not hemming and hawing. The U.S. wants to know if Berlin will stick to its stubborn decision to send 5,000 helmets to Ukraine at the most, along with some kind words. Is the largest nation in Europe continuing to shirk its responsibility, and doing so by relying on the false argument about German attacks on the Soviet Union, of all things?
As recently as December 2021, Scholz described the Baltic Sea pipeline Nord Stream 2 as a “private-sector project.” He is no longer making such claims, but Berlin and its chancellor are continuing a strategy of evasion. Just don’t commit. That may have been his recipe for success during the election campaign, but now that he is in office, he is not such a master at it. Skillful governing it is not. In Washington, Scholz needs to finally make the actual but simple point that if Russia invades Ukraine, Nord Stream 2 will be dead.
If Scholz cannot bring himself to do this during his U.S. trip in view of Putin sympathizers back in Germany, he might as well stay at home. Apart from the fact that the U.S. and nearly every European country opposes the pipeline, how does Scholz intend to make it through a week of summits revolving around the Ukraine crisis without committing to this sanction point blank? Scholz’s European partners also expect leadership from him.
Incidentally, the U.S. is also expecting straight talk from Germany in relation to China. The new German government began its term with grandiloquent promises of a new China policy. Scholz’s on-the-fence approach to diplomacy at the Winter Olympics demonstrates that there is still room for improvement.
Biden is looking extremely beleaguered domestically after just a year in office. Germany should not try Washington’s patience. The current American administration could be the last that will view Germany favorably and accept its leaders with open arms for a long, long time.