Why Would Trump So Viciously Attack Angela Merkel?

This morning I’m thinking about something Peter Baker wrote in his review of the book The World as It Is by Ben Rhodes, who served as a foreign policy advisor to President Obama for eight years.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany told Mr. Obama that she felt more obliged to run for another term because of Mr. Trump’s election to defend the liberal international order. When they parted for the final time, Ms. Merkel had a single tear in her eye. “She’s all alone,” Mr. Obama noted.

It is clear that, just as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was Trump’s target after the last G7 meeting, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be the president’s target at the NATO meeting in Brussels this week. Here’s what he said to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:

Germany is totally controlled by Russia because they were getting from 60 to 70% of their energy from Russia in a new pipeline and you tell me if that is appropriate because I think it’s not and I think it’s a very bad thing for NATO. And I don’t think it should have happened and I think we have to talk to Germany about that…

Germany is a captive of Russia because they got rid of their coal plants, they got rid of their nuclear plants. They’re getting so much of the oil and gas from Russia. I think it’s something NATO has to look at.

I think it is very inappropriate. You and I agree it’s in inappropriate. I don’t know what you can do about it now but it certainly doesn’t seem to make sense that they’ve paid billions of dollars to Russia and now we have to defend them against Russia.

Before getting to what Trump is up to with all of that, let’s consider some facts. First of all, Germany hasn’t gotten rid of coal, but they are phasing out nuclear power.

Germany does import a lot of power—over half its energy comes from imports—but Russia is not at the top of that list. According to Clean Energy Wire, natural gas makes up 22.6 percent of Germany’s energy imports. Those imports were split almost equally between Russia, Norway, and the Netherlands. Russia also has about 39 percent of Germany’s market for imported oil used, as in the U.S., for transportation. But Germany simply has next to no oil and gas. It’s not a matter of shutting down local production and taking gas from Russia. There is no local production.

But the biggest source of new power in Germany hasn’t been Russia—it’s been renewables. The big change in Germany over the last two decades has been the rapid, successful, and cost-effective growth of solar, wind, and off-shore wind. Renewables now make up 14 percent of Germany’s electrical production, and that number is growing rapidly.

Merkel has known since Trump was elected that is would be her job to lead the defense of the “liberal international order” that was developed after World War II. She knew that it would be under attack not only by Russian President Vladimir Putin, but that the new U.S. president would join him in those efforts. She was right, and that kind of leadership puts a target on her back, which is why Trump went after her so viciously.

More than anything else, NATO is the alliance that symbolizes the international order Putin set out to disrupt with his so-called “Trump operation.” What better way to do that than to attack the leader of the country that is pushing back against right-wing white nationalism and fighting back against Russia’s influence in Europe.

Jonathan Chait observes that the president has an agenda with all of these attacks. He is training his base to hate NATO and embrace Putin.

Compared to a week ago, it is now harder to imagine Trump will use the summit to leverage concessions that will make him appear like a strong negotiator, and much easier to imagine that he will use it to instigate a diplomatic crisis with NATO. By the time this is over, he may well have reoriented American foreign policy completely. It may seem bizarre that one man could do this, especially given that almost nobody in Trump’s administration or the ranks of the party’s political professionals share his goal of jettisoning NATO or closely courting Russia. Yet Trump has shown the ability to lead his base wherever he wants to take it. And where the base has gone, the party has eventually followed.

What we are watching is a complete reorienting of the foreign policy of the United States, and most Republicans are going along because they’re too afraid of blow-back from their base. It just so happens that this reorientation is exactly what Vladimir Putin has always wanted. It not only weakens our allies, it weakens us and turns Russia into a player on the global stage. At some point, we all are going to have to recognize that either Trump is a madman swinging wildly in a way that could destroy this country, or he is, as Hillary Clinton once pointed out, a puppet of Putin’s. Perhaps some of both.

Our founders attempted to provide us with tools to deal with a situation like this. What they didn’t count on was that an entire media apparatus would be developed to enable this kind of madness and that a political party would sit back and watch it happen because they were too drunk with power and/or too cowardly to do anything about it.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.