German chancellor Angela Merkel is in the midst of a re-election campaign where her primary opponents are on the far left. The populist Alternative for Germany party has suffered a huge decline in the polls, now garnering support in the teens.
Having dispatched her opponents on the right, Merkel must fend off the challenge from the left. To do this, she is feeding the anti-Trump hysteria generated by socialists and greens, giving them no opening to criticize her for being soft on Trump's America.
The recent G-7 summit offered Merkel an opportunity to bash the American president while advancing her pro-EU agenda.
"All I can say is that we Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands," the German leader told a crowd during a re-election campaign event at a beer tent in Bavaria. "The times in which we can fully count on others are somewhat over, as I have experienced in the past few days."
That was widely perceived as the German Chancellor's reaction to last week's NATO and G-7 summits, when the new U.S. President challenged NATO members to spend more on defense and refused to sign on to the climate-change policies of the other six leaders.
Mrs. Merkel seemed especially miffed about Mr. Trump's decision not to embrace the Paris climate accord that Mr. Obama signed in his final year as President. "The whole discussion about climate has been difficult, or rather very unsatisfactory," Mrs. Merkel told reporters. "Here we have the situation that six members, or even seven if you want to add the [European Union], stand against one.'
But wait. Since when is a difference of opinion on climate policy a signal of U.S. retreat from Europe? And why is Mr. Trump's reluctance to sign on to Paris – he says he'll decide whether to leave the accord this week – a failure of leadership? Mrs. Merkel's comments suggest that she is most upset because Mr. Trump declined to follow her lead on climate.
Mr. Trump should decline if he wants to fulfill his campaign promises to lift the U.S. economy. Mrs. Merkel's embrace of green-energy dogmas has done enormous harm to the German economy. She reacted to the Fukushima meltdown by phasing out nuclear power, and her government has force-fed hundreds of billions of dollars into solar and wind power that have raised energy costs. As Der Spiegel once put it, electricity is now a "luxury good" in Germany.
What's Merkel's real beef? Donald Trump came to Europe and refused to coddle NATO members while threatening the existence of the Euro-sponsored Paris Climate Accord by refusing to say the U.S. would agree to its draconian conditions.
What is Germany's complaint? The Federal Republic possesses Europe's largest economy and makes much of its money through international commerce. Berlin has achieved disproportionate influence in the European Union and possesses the continent's greatest military potential. Yet after promising to hike military outlays, this year Germany devotes all of 1.22 percent of GDP to its armed forces. At least that's up from 1.19 percent in 2016.
Of course, Germany's military spending is up to the German people. Berlin could disarm if that's what they want. But then the country shouldn't ask the U.S. for support. Berlin certainly shouldn't expect Washington to waste money and risk lives defending Germany if the latter won't do so for itself.
What was President Trump's real offense? He didn't slobber all over the Europeans, seeking to "reassure" them, as his predecessors routinely did. He didn't coddle them, offering hugs if they felt unappreciated. And he didn't ostentatiously reaffirm the Article 5 commitment, which theoretically requires America to fight a nuclear war with Russia if the latter attempts to conquer the Baltic States, which are important for the security of neither America nor the rest of Europe.
Fact: NATO countries have pledged to spend 2% of their GDP on defense. Fact: None of them has come close to doing so. Donald Trump may not have put the matter as delicately as some other presidents. But his criticism is nothing new, and to pretend that America has suddenly lurched away from NATO and the E.U. because of climate change disagreements and harangues over defense spending is absurd.
The narrative that Trump wants out of NATO is built on the ludicrous perception that the American president favors Russia over NATO. This is based not on reality, but rather on the advancement of political storytelling about how Russia helped Trump steal the election. Merkel's lament – an attack on Trump for not kowtowing to the "wisdom" of Germany and the E.U. in international affairs – may be good domestic politics for her, but it doesn't answer the fundamental questions raised by President Trump on his visit to Europe.
If push comes to shove, will Europe defend itself? Or will NATO continue to believe that the U.S. will once again spend its blood and treasure to do for them what they refuse to do for themselves?