How many aircraft carriers, nuclear subs, and fighter jets has Germany christened in these four months? How much closer has Germany come to military parity with Russia? What do you think Poland or Latvia thinks of trusting Germany for political and military protection, absent the United States? C’mon, everyone. Get a grip.
European leaders, contemplating the last 15 years of American leadership, are asking themselves if the problem is one with the American public, who keep electing unserious presidents who make foreign-policy mistakes. Are Europeans immune from bad foreign-policy leadership? Ask the French about Mali or Libya. Ask Germans on the street about Merkel’s open migration policy, or the deal with Turkey meant to stanch the flow. Does the American public sometimes question the utility of NATO? Of course. But European publics are less committed to NATO’s mutual-defense pact than Americans.
Germany is hardly more prepared to lead Europe away from the United States than Spain or Bulgaria would be. Germany’s overt leadership would divide Europe even more into competing Western and Eastern blocs. It was the non-idealistic leadership of European institutions heavily tilted toward German bondholders that led to further disaffection in the currency union. It was the idealistic leadership of Germany in the refugee crisis that led to Brexit. Questioning the Atlantic alliance in a fit of pique could look stupidly short-sighted. Donald Trump’s presidency could be over before Germany or any other European country could even rouse its public for the massive public spending that being a real-world power would require.
“Europe is a union of peace and freedom and it is worth fighting for,” Merkel said, to a great surge of applause. Who could argue otherwise? But the rejoinder suggests itself: Is it worth 2 percent of GDP? Someone, maybe even an oafish American president, might ask. And when he does, it’s best to try not to lose the run of yourself.