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Why Merkel fell out of love with America

Angela Merkel, who steps down as chancellor following the German election this Sunday, visits Marlow Bird Park, near Rostock. Georg Wendt/dpa/AP

Growing up in communist East Germany, Angela Merkel dreamed of America, says Bojan Pancevski in The Wall Street Journal. As soon as the Berlin Wall came down, her first overseas trip was to California. By the time she became chancellor in 2005, Merkel was still enamoured. She bonded with George W Bush – who cooked her hamburgers at his ranch in Texas – and firmly supported the invasion of Iraq. Now relations have cooled so much that Merkel declined to be Biden’s first international phone call. Instead, the chancellor was gardening.

So what went wrong? The 2008 crash, for a start. Merkel blamed “Anglo-Saxon banks and the hard lobbying of Wall Street” for hobbling German efforts to regulate the world of finance. Obama didn’t improve things much; Merkel found Bush’s successor “verbose and sometimes meddling”. And it didn’t help that Obama’s National Security Agency tapped her phone in 2013. But Trump was the nail in the coffin. He imposed punitive tariffs on the EU, accused Germany of contributing too little to Europe’s defence, and clashed with Merkel over the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran. After just a few months of Trump, Merkel was truly fed up and there was nothing to be done about it. “The times when we could rely on others are gone,” she said in a 2017 speech. “We Europeans must take our destiny into our own hands.”

Why it matters
Ever since she fell out of love with America, Merkel has fixed her gaze on China. She has studied Chinese history, visited the country more times than any other major western leader, and even spent her 56th birthday on a tour in Xi’an to see the Terracotta Army. She is critical of the regime but sees Chinese ascent as inevitable, says an aide, and believes in “more, not less” economic engagement with Beijing.