The Cowboy and the Angel; A New German Leader, Maybe a New Romance

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 12, 2006 | Go to article overview

The Cowboy and the Angel; A New German Leader, Maybe a New Romance


Byline: Suzanne Fields, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

When Angela Merkel meets President Bush in Washington this week the first German head of state arrives as the most powerful woman on the world stage. That sounds grander than it may be, since she has no like number anywhere else. Nor is she a Margaret Thatcher, with whom she has been compared. Her election was not a mandate for great change.

Nevertheless, her Luftwaffe Airbus arrives on a brisk tail wind of popularity. She's had successful foreign visits in Brussels and Warsaw, no longer the dowdy diplomat, and the Germans seem to be warming to substance as much as to her jazzed-up style.

Not everything she says about the United States is warm and fuzzy. She aims criticism at the detention of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay. "An institution like Guantanamo in its present form cannot and must not exist in the long term," she told the newsmagazine der Spiegel. The U.S. response was muted: "I think everybody hopes we get to a point where we don't need facilities like this," a State Department spokesman replied, "but we are not at that point." But the animosity that marked the tone created by her predecessor was gone. The newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung observed that her criticism "stems from her friendship and shared values with the United States," with none of the "moral grandstanding" of Gerhard Schroeder. She seeks "to improve the quality and substance of the German-American relationship."

That's a big change. Henry Kissinger famously described power as the "great aphrodisiac," and without taking that literally it's clear that Frau Merkel holds an advantage over Gerhard Schroeder, whose dislike of President Bush was returned. Her visit to Washington may reveal whether the cowboy and the Angel(a) can create "a coalition of new possibilities." Its antecedents go back to February 2003, when Angela Merkel, as opposition candidate, said positive things about the war in Iraq with an op-ed essay in The Washington Post headlined "Schroeder Doesn't Speak for All Germans."

She observed that the danger in Iraq was "not fictitious, but real." She argued that " ... the history of Germany and Europe in the 20th century in particular certainly teaches us ... that while military force cannot be the normal continuation of politics by other means, it must never be ruled out ... as has been done by the German federal government as the ultimate means of dealing with dictators. …

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