The Spectacle Blog

Vinocur Clarity

By on 10.12.05 | 12:06PM

You wouldn't know from domestic coverage, but Angela Merkel accession as German chancellor is a big victory for U.S. foreign policy. In its editorial today, the New York Times suggests that the "grand coalition" arrangement Merkel had to agree to in order to become chancellor cost her "half the seat in her government, including foreign affairs..."-- the implication being that she'll have weak impact on foreign policy and that Germany will continue as before in its anti-U.S. drift.

Not so, if you read John Vinocur in the International Herald-Tribune. Vinocur, an excellent former Times foreign correspondent and then editor of the Times-owned IHT for which he continues to cover Europe as a senior correspondent, has never succumbed to the temptations of European neutralism and easy anti-Americanism. Which might explain why his work is so rarely if ever seen in the New York Times itself these days.

Here, straight from the top, in a story emphatically headlined, "A Coalition It May Be, but Merkel Has Won," is Vinocur's take:

Angela Merkel becomes chancellor of Germany in the fog of a grand coalition's shared powers, but with an exceptional precedent in hand that should very likely allow her to carry out part of her platform for change.

She takes over the almost total control of German foreign policy by the chancellor's office that became routine under Gerhard Schröder. Since Willy Brandt in the 1970s, the chancellor's role as chief draftsman and actor in Germany's international relations has continuously strengthened, and under Schröder it became virtually presidential.

Now, with the likelihood of compromise limiting the extent of economic reform achievable between her Christian Democrats and their Social Democratic time-share partners, the force of appearing on the international stage as Germany's sole face and voice brings Merkel her clearest path to authority.

This is essential leverage and an identity that she will not care to delegate or water down.

They become all the more important against the real possibility that a coalition government, with posts like the Labor Ministry apportioned to the Social Democrats, will not be able to dramatically reform a job-protection system that stops firms from hiring and solidifies Germany's double-digit unemployment....

But foreign policy is different. The chancellor is on the phone with presidents and prime ministers. With a speech, or even a word, she holds a near total hand on public opinion concerning Germany abroad.

And at home, what a foreign minister from another party says, especially a Social Democrat with a potentially conflicting vision of the real world, can be praised away by a chancellor as fodder for future debate. If as rumored, Peter Struck, the current defense minister, moves to the Foreign Ministry, he'll be a compatible man who last year criticized Socialist Spain's sudden troop pullout from Iraq as destabilizing....

Let's see if anyone else notices what it is Merkel -- and by extension, Washington -- has won.

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