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Are Germans Falling out of Love with “The One”?

In 2008, one of Obama’s highest-profile speeches was delivered not in America but on the streets of Berlin. In front of a crowd of 200,000 starstruck Germans waving American flags, Obama laid out his plans for a new direction in American foreign policy. Unlike his predecessor, he promised, he would revive America’s world image, be attentive and respectful to the views of America’s allies, and make America an involved and committed member of the international community. The crowds in Berlin showered him with praise and adulation.

But now the Germans’ enthusiasm for Obama may be fading. At the recent G-20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, where the euro rescue was the primary topic of discussion, many leaders, including President Obama, were upfront with Chancellor Merkel about their opinion that Germany needs to be more active in addressing the needs of troubled Eurozone nations. This attitude was not exactly pleasing to the German press. Der Spiegel International translates a reaction from Handelsblatt:

 “It is rather hypocritical when the Americans and the British, whose own mountains of debt have reached a high point, try to lecture the Europeans. One number is sufficient to reveal what a bad tactic this is. At a time when the budget deficits of the US and Great Britain are about 8 percent, the euro-zone members have almost managed to bring their deficits as a whole down to 3 percent.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung agrees:

The G-20 is only as strong as the will of its members to work together cooperatively. That goes for the United States, which is resisting pressure to sort out its finances. That goes for the Europeans who, in the third year of their debt crisis, have still not convinced the financial markets that the euro in its current constellation can survive.

This signals a sea change in Germany’s attitude towards President Obama. In 2008, they loved him. Now his country’s deficits strike them as crazy, and his hectoring of Angela Merkel to underwrite the profligacy of her European partners strikes them as both bad advice and bad manners. After four happy years, the love affair is over.

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  • chase

    These newspaper articles are a joke! If they don’t want to bail out the southern countries, they should say so forthrightly and let all hell break loose. Don’t kid yourself, that is what will happen. And the German people – who foolishly believe that they will be just fine while southern Europe stagnates for a decade – will have increased unemployment due to the fact that their largest export market, the rest of Europe, has imploded.

    The Bush administration and Congress bailed out our banks. They obviously didn’t want to, but it had to be done. Don’t take my word for it. Dick Cheney, not exactly a died in the wool socialist, told the GOP Senate caucus in 08 that if they didn’t vote fo the TARP the world would have another great depression.

    Austerity is not working. Period. Don’t believe me? Check out Ireland.

  • Cunctator

    After pretending for years that an “empty shirt” was the greatest leader in modern history (after they had wrongly proclaimed another six decades ago), Germans have become aware that Obama is just an ’empty shirt”.

  • Felipe Pait

    The German fight against deficits is the cause of the depression Europe is in, not the answer to Europe’s problems.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Not sure I ever had an opportunity to say “I told you so” to the likes of Professor Mead, so you cannot expect me to pass this opportunity:

  • Jim.


    What advantage is there is “selling” your goods to people who can’t pay for them? Are you really going to claim that Southern Europe has been doing the Germans a favor for the last decade by taking all those burdensome goods and services off of their hands and giving them something to do in a day?

    By that logic, you should be mourning the fact that those poor slaves got emancipated in the 1860’s.

    Germany is simply going to have to turn East for its markets.

  • BBFS

    The below comment is incorrect. The crisis in Europe is due to insolvency. The club med companies borrowed so much that they cannot pay back their loans. In Greece’s case, they lied about their financial health and borrowed too much money. One man’s debt is another man’s assets. European banks have hundreds of billions in liabilities to these Club Med countries. The french banks, in particular, have among the highest exposure. A whole book can be written about the follies when creating the Euro but we will just over look that for this comment.

    The debt trajectory of the Club med countries are unsustainable, they cannot pay back what they owe now, they cannot borrow any more from the private markets at an affordable rate, and they are in an asset bubble. Spain or example has a real estate bubble 3x (relative to their size) worse than the USA in 2008. While America has de-leveraged a bit, very painfully, Europe’s asset bubble has done no such thing.

    If you want to look at a successful case of austerity, check out Latvia.

    “Felipe Pait says:
    June 20, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    The German fight against deficits is the cause of the depression Europe is in, not the answer to Europe’s problems.”

  • thibaud

    What chase and felipe said.

    Germany needs to bail out its major customers, and they need to cede more policy-making authority and political power generally to Germany.

    The Irish get this, and the Greeks et al will come around in due course as well.

  • Kris

    “his hectoring of Angela Merkel to underwrite the profligacy of her European partners strikes them as both bad advice and bad manners. After four happy years, the love affair is over.”

    Awww. This clearly calls for the return of someone with a defter touch. 🙂

  • Gary L

    Whenever I see a news item like this, I think of what might have been if our 2008 Presidential election had been won by some mere mortal (Hilary Clinton, John McCain, et al.). The Presidents of our alternate universe, I presume, would have had to deal with pretty much the same foreign policy crises that we’ve faced in the last three and a half years: Iran’s efforts to go nuclear, the continued Israeli/Palestinian deadlock, the Arab Spring, the Euro collapse, China’s pretensions to #1 World Power-ship, Pakistan, Libya, Syria, South Sudan, North Korea, etc..etc…

    My guess is that Presidents McCain/Clinton would have dealt with these issues in a manner not that much different – not much more deftly or gracefully – than the current incumbent. But there would be one significant difference…

    Every liberal/left wing commentator – whether critiquing the singularly inept reactions of President McCain to the Arab Spring, or President Clinton’s supremely maladroit response to the European financial crisis – would be professionally obligated to insert a paragraph lamenting Racist America’s failure to elect the junior Senator from Illinois, Hope ‘n’ Change’s Advance Agent, whose charisma and unequalled intellect would have miraculously harmonized global relationships toward a 21st-Century Utopia. The fantasy-President Obama would have the Israeli lion lying down beside the docile Palestinian lamb, the Iranians willingly renouncing their nuclear pretensions, the forces of liberal democracy emerging as the leaders of the Arab Spring, China eagerly negotiating with us to secure its spot as the #2 World Power, Russia enthusiastically pressing that Reset button, Europeans deferring to Nobel-Peace-Prize winning advice, etc. etc. ad nauseam…

    “Hope”fully, one effect of the Obama presidency is that it will wean America off of what Gene Healy called the “cult of the Presidency,” with the President regarded as a combination of secular Messiah, fairy-godmother and comic-book superhero….

  • Kris

    Gary@9: How optimistic you are!

    If Obama has been unable to usher us into a golden new age, it is obviously the fault of the obstructionist Congress, and perhaps (one is hoping) the Supreme Court as well. This obviously means that we need to increase the power of the Presidency. (Until one of those manages to steal an election, at which point we will break into arm-flapping hysterics over the Death of Democracy.)

  • Jim.


    You, chase, and Felipe can’t all be right. The first thing Germany wants to do with that political power you want to give it is to fight against deficits in Greece.

  • thibaud

    Germany needs export markets, period.

    If the eurozone implodes, then German prosperity implodes.

    Germany is like a banker with lots of shaky borrowers, Germany needs Europe to succeed, to grow, to have rising incomes, and thus to buy German cars and other exports.

    The best solution is one that puts Greece et al back on a growth path. Can’t do that without credit.

    Which means the Germans, being rational people, will eventually buckle down and agree to bail out, ie workout the debts of, the PIIGS.

  • Snorri Godhi

    You comment #5 was spot on, so I suspect that you, unlike thibaud, will have seen the problem with giving Germany political power over Greece: due to the EU’s democratic pretensions, that would imply giving Greece AND Spain, and Italy, and worst of all France, power over Germany. That does not look very promising.

  • Eurydice

    @thibaud – yes, indeed. Just yesterday, another EU talking head suggested that there’s plenty if room for Greece to cut its defense budget – and yes, there is. But France, being Greece’s major defense supplier, thinks this isn’t the way to go – some other part of the budget should be cut, or the timetable should be changed, or anything else. And the same is true for the defense contractors in Germany.

  • Jim.

    In general: for anyone who’s ever been tempted to think, “what’s so bad about genteel decline?”, this is it. Even the strongest of European countries (Germany) is vulnerable to the fact that overall European world dominance (particularly in trade) has been declining for years.

    If they were still dominant in trade and manufacturing, they wouldn’t need to be worrying about whether to cut defense budgets (further); there would be money enough for that.

    But Europe decided to allow itself to fade; they ate the lotus of Passivist Socialism and haven’t kicked the habit yet.


    I hope after your gracious compliment you’ll pardon my cynicism, but I’m not entirely convinced of the “democratic pretensions” of the EU. If Europe actually unifies to get through this, expect some dramatic maneuvering and power plays by the new non-heritable (and unaccountable to voters) aristocracy of technocrats.

    Will it turn violent at the ground level, with rioting in the streets? Will it turn violent at the highest levels, if one side or other succumbs to the temptation to use assassination as an instrument of policy? Will it turn violent at the militaristic State level? (Doubtful; those with the most to lose here have the least military power, no one has much, and a noncombatant (the US) has the most.

    We’re in for interesting times, at any rate. Hopefully someone in on these critical powerbroker meetings will be taking notes, or (as in Israel’s wars 1967-1973) many relevant facts will only ever be known by a few, and the whole picture may never be known by anyone.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Jim: when I say “democratic pretensions” I mean exactly that: pretensions.
    Democratic pretensions are attempts to _look_ democratic, while actually giving more power to the ruling class.

    What does the ruling class want, in the Club Med as much as in Germany? the power to spend money! and how better to gain power to spend money, than to share political power between national governments? in this way, no single government is accountable to the voters.
    Hence, democratic pretensions are attempts to _look_ democratic while actually taking power away from voters.
    (There are instances of this on your side of the Atlantic as well.)

    Not that unilaterally giving more powers to German voters over Greeks would be harmless, but that ain’t gonna happen, so there is no need to worry about it.

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