18
Jun

America is the world’s No. 1 and Germany is Europe’s, yet both seem content to punch below their weights.

By Josef Joffe

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When U.S. President Barack Obama pays his respects to German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin this week, he will encounter a Germany that no sitting American president has encountered in many decades. No, not the “Fourth Reich” of punditry’s fevered imagination. For the first time since Harry Truman arrived in Potsdam in 1945 to dismember the Third Reich, Germany is Europe’s No. 1 again.

The irony couldn’t be thicker. Twice in the 20th century, Germany tried to grab hegemony by bayonet and blitzkrieg, almost destroying itself and Europe in the process. Now, primacy has dropped into Mrs. Merkel’s lap like an overripe plum. It’s dominion by default, and power sits uneasily on the chancellor’s head. It is literally an embarrassment of riches. Germany is so strong because Britain, France, Italy and Spain are so weak, their economies the victims of failed modernization and failing competitiveness.

Barack Obama will spend 22 hours in a country that is all dressed up but doesn’t know where to go. The U.S. and Germany are the last heavies standing in the West, but they would rather compete in the middleweight league. To invert Maggie Thatcher: They are punching below their weight. America is No. 1 in the world, and Germany is No. 1 in Europe, yet both are practicing what great powers have never done. Call it “self-containment,” or to use the language of the 19th century: They are balancing not against others, but against themselves. This is a first in great-power history.

Mr. Obama’s America is disarming and retracting, both from Europe, where there are only 30,000 U.S. soldiers left, and from the Greater Middle East, where the U.S. has vacated Iraq while pulling out from Afghanistan. In Syria, it has taken Mr. Obama two long years to figure out that he can’t play Ferdinand the Bull while Russia and Iran are playing power politics. Iran’s proxy, Hezbollah, has mobilized thousands to defend the Assad regime, and the Russians have deployed naval units to the Eastern Mediterranean and dispatched sophisticated anti-air and anti-ship missiles—classic 19th century stuff. Read more…

Mr. Joffe is editor of Die Zeit and fellow of the Freeman-Spogli Institute for International Studies and the Hoover Institution, both at Stanford.

As published by The Wall Street Journal on June 17, 2013.

Comments

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