Trump’s Military Flunky?

This week German Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel returned from her three-week vacation in the Italian mountains. Her absence meant she had to miss the famed “Diesel Summit” on 2 August with all of the country’s auto manufacturers, but at least campaigning towards nationwide election happening next 24 September was set to a low simmer while she was away.

She returned still enjoying a healthy lead in the polls over her nearest competitor, former EU Parliament President Martin Schulz. Schulz represents the Social Democratic Party, or SPD, the country’s next-biggest political party after Merkel’s CDU, but also the one that is in the current government with her, as they formed a “Grand Coalition” together after the last election in 2013. That’s always an uncomfortable arrangement – having to cooperate within a government even as your colleagues from the other main party are your main election-rivals – and I’m sure both sides are looking forward to seeing it end after this next election.

From Germany’s northern neighbor, the Danish newspaper Politiken has identified something a little strange in the German campaign:

“Merkel wants to increase NATO funding.” “What’s so strange about that?” you might ask. After all, it’s well-known that Germany’s defense budget has long stood below the 2% of GDP that is prescribed (by 2024) for all NATO member-states; currently the figure is around 1.26%. It’s a rich country, and the economy (including tax-receipts) is now doing very well; indeed, it is the leading country on the European continent, at least politically and financially. No excuse, it would seem, not to hit that funding target.

But here you might forget who has been loudly demanding that Germany raise its defense-spending*: Donald Trump. And, already, Donald Trump is someone you don’t want to be associated with in the eyes of the German electorate.

Well, when you’re behind in the polls you’ll go with anything halfway-plausible that you can think of, right? Sure enough, Schulz and other leading SPD officials are now attacking Merkel for her stated intention to raise the country’s military spending, should she be re-confirmed in office (for the third time in a row) in the election. This sort of thing even comes from Germany’s current Foreign Minister, Sigmar Gabriel (SPD):

For me, this means that Germany is subordinating itself to the American President. Up until recently I never believed that this was possible.

See what I mean about the awkwardness of Grand Coalitions? This is the person with whom Merkel still has to work closely – for another few weeks, at least – to formulate and carry out the country’s foreign policy.

Now admittedly, the military has always been a sore point in German politics, say, in the past seven decades or so. For example, it took the longest time even to overturn the law that once forbade German armed forces from being deployed outside the country. And we all know why that is, namely due to the rather unbridled use Germany made of its military some seventy-to-eighty years ago.

Still, it’s striking how Trump represents the Kiss of Death in Germany, even when it comes to policies for which you would think there would be general agreement. Here’s an idea: The German auto industry’s lobbying arm should try its best, at whatever cost, to get Trump to start singing the praises of electrically powered cars!

A final note: All of this could become academic. For the precise German election day is Sunday, 24 September, or the day after a widely accepted Internet meme claims the world will come to an end.

*Actually, in most of his statements Trump has made it sound like NATO members are required to pay 2% of their GDP to the US Treasury in exchange for defensive cover from the US military. It actually doesn’t work like that.

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