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The U.S. Media's Admiration of Chancellor Merkel is Suddenly Over

merkel_newsweek.jpgAfter her election as chancellor of Germany in November 2005, Angela Merkel received a lot of positive press coverage in the US. Her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder was blamed for the bitter transatlantic disagreements over the Iraq war.

Merkel was supposed to be a pro-American and a strong reformer, who heals German-American relations and makes Germany more supportive of US policies around the world.

I expected some honeymoon for Chancellor Merkel, but was very surprised how long it lasted and how strong the admiration of Merkel was in the US mainstream media and on blogs. Three examples from December 2006/January 2007:

(1) David Rothkopf praised her in Foreign Policy Passport:

The most powerful female political figure in Europe since Queen Victoria has turned the methodical scientific training from her upbringing in Communist East Germany into a formula for gaining admirers worldwide.

I was pointing out back then on Atlantic Review that Foreign Policy Passport might have forgotten about Margaret Thatcher. I was wondering how long this admiration for Mrs. Merkel would last: "When will they realize that Chancellor Merkel is not all that powerful? Unlike Baroness Thatcher, Merkel is in a coalition government. Besides, power depends on having international partners, but Blair, Chirac, and even Bush look more and more like lame ducks."

(2) The New Republic Online for instance featured the article "Angela Merkel, Superstar" by Clay Risen.

He claimed: "For while Bush is one of the world's most reviled leaders, Merkel is just a few fans shy of international rock star status." (The article is not online anymore, but a longer quote is available at the above Atlantic Review link.)

(3) Andreas Tzortzis thought that Merkel was "able to share George W. Bush's fervor for freedom," whatever that means in terms of concrete policy decisions. He was writing about Germany's growing role as an agenda-setter and praised Merkel in the Christian Science Monitor:

Raised in a former communist regime, she's able to share George W. Bush's fervor for freedom and still criticize US policy in Guantanamo Bay. In fluent Russian, she can praise Germany's close partnership with Russian President Vladimir Putin and then raise questions about Moscow's treatment of NGOs and the deaths of journalist Anna Politkovskaya and former spy Alexander Litvinenko.

I don't know anybody in the German mainstream media, who was that excited about Merkel and praised her that much.

Now, American perceptions of Chancellor Merkel seem to have changed rather suddenly. And again, I am surprised by the rapid change of heart by many respected US observers of Germany. The love and admiration for Merkel has turned into strong disappointment. Four examples from this and last month:

(1) The Newsweek cover portrays Merkel as a "Lost Leader." Newsweek features several articles by German authors criticizing Merkel.
Oh, and by the way: The phrase "The Most Dangerous Nation" on the top of the Newsweek cover (see graphic above) does not refer to Germany, but to Pakistan. So, don't worry, Germany's "lost leader" is not all that dangerous. 

(2) Judy Dempsey criticizes Merkel's lack of leadership on Afghanistan in the International Herald Tribune article "Merkel is aloof as German public wavers on troops in Afghanistan." Good point:

It should be Merkel's job to explain why Germany has 3,300 troops based in Afghanistan. But she rarely does. She has not given a single speech devoted to Afghanistan to the Bundestag, or Parliament. She missed an ideal chance last Friday during a parliamentary debate over renewing the mandates for the German troops based there. But she left the explanation to her not terribly persuasive defense minister, Franz-Josef Jung.

(3) Similarly, Roger Cohen criticizes her in his NY Times column:

But Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has not visited Afghanistan, prefers talk of trendy eco-problems.

(4) John Vinocur in the International Herald Tribune: "While you weren't necessarily watching, the Queen of Europe transmogrified into Ms. Soft Power."

He makes it sound as if Chancellor Merkel has changed, but I think that he and the other US journalists simply had wrong expectations. Angela Merkel was never the "Queen of Europe." Never a rock star with a "fervor for freedom."

Chancellor Merkel was not as great as she was portrayed in the US media last winter. Though, currently Merkel is not as bad now as she is portrayed either.

French president Sarkozy has received quite a lot of positive press coverage in the US after his recent election. Perhaps the same phenomenon will happen again. Much of the US media loves new heads of state, puts too much hope into them, and when they don't fulfill their overly optimistic assumptions, they get dumped and called "lost leaders." What's this phenomenon called? "Disappointed love"?

I have first blogged this post at The Moderate Voice.

UPDATE: Merkel is only on the cover of the international edition, but not the domestic edition of Newsweek, as I learned from David, who asks in Dialog International: "How can transatlantic relations improve when the vast majority of Americans are woefully ignorant of European politics and culture?"

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Badboy Recovered on :

I have come to believe that the best thing we can do is go it alone. The marines want to take charge of the war against the talaban. I say lets let them. Soon we will be leaving Iraq in large numbers, as we do lets reorient some of those marines there to Afghan. Victor Davis Hanson said it best, Their is no reason to rely on someone who doesnt want to help and for all intents and purposes cant help much anyway. He said it was like asking employees at disneyland to go across town and police south central LA. Let's let all these nato "allies" go home. Its what they want to do anyway. It will be tough on us for a bit- more troop deployments in 08- but by 09- things will ne offset when tens of thousands of troops start leaving Iraq.

David on :

It is amusing to watch the handwringing over Angela Merkel by conservative pundits, who were furious at Gerhard Schroeder for refusing to be a lapdog of President Bush. Merkel owes her popularity in Germany to the economic upturn (Aufschwung) resulting from the reforms put in place by none other than the hated Schroeder.

Kuch on :

David I wouldn't exactly call Newsweek part of the conservative establishment... Also, what is to be said about electoral Germany when..." Merkel owes her popularity in Germany to the economic upturn (Aufschwung) resulting from the reforms put in place by none other than the hated Schroeder."? I agree that Schroeder's attempted reforms (Hartz IV and Agenda 2010) were exactly what the German economy needed, but didn't his support for these reforms lead to the public's lack of confidence in his government? How do they also lead to Merkel's domestic popularity?

elisabeth bathory on :

The phenomenon is termed 'unrequited love' or 'u.r.l' in preppy speak of the 80s/90s.

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