And then there was the content of the speech. “The U.S. has to lead, and we have to do it in partnership with our allies,” Bush said. That’s different from Obama’s message of “building bridges,” and it’s hard to find people in today’s Germany, even among the safely conservative audience that Bush chose, who would publicly agree that America should lead and Germany should follow.
There were other things Bush said that grated. The audience murmured disapprovingly at his remark that one can “combat climate change a lot by hurting the economy.” His compliment to Merkel for her toughness on sanctions against Russia sounded like faint praise, once he warned against “tepid” reaction to President Vladimir Putin’s “bad behavior.” And his argument that the U.S. doesn’t do industrial espionage, because it doesn’t have state companies, fell on deaf ears. There’s a strong feeling in Germany that U.S. spying has gotten out of hand.
Bush can flatter German conservatives about their fiscal responsibility — something he said the U.S. could learn from — but he is well to the right of the political spectrum in Germany’s parliament. Because of that, coming to Berlin was probably a mistake for Bush. This may be a freedom-loving city, but it’s an awkward photo op for a U.S. conservative, even with a smiling Merkel in the frame. She manages a smile for Putin, too, after all.