Merkel's fantasy land
Good morning, Madame Chancellor. Here you are, Germany's Angela Merkel, on your first trip to Washington, D.C., preparing for your meeting with President Bush. As you look out of your Blair House window over Lafayette Square toward the White House, consider the historicity of the era: the beginning of Mr. Bush's sixth year leading his country, and the beginning of your first year leading your country in the so-called war on terror. Or is that the war on Guantanamo Bay? I get them confused.
That's because in just about every account of your American trip -- biggish news in Europe -- it is prominently mentioned that Guantanamo Bay is prominently high on your list of, well, prominent concerns. Trouble spots. Global things you lose sleep over.
This is, with due respect, bizarre. Iran is going nuclear, Europe is going Islamic, Russia is going off the reservation, China is a fearsome thing, and your big concern is sending what is called a "clear message" to Mr. Bush about Guantanamo Bay, the tropical jail where the United States keeps jihadis on ice -- and keeps the rest of the world safer as a result. But that's not what you say. "An institution like Guantanamo can and should not exist in the longer term," you told the German news magazine Der Spiegel this week. "Different ways and means must be found for dealing with these prisoners."
I have a suggestion: How 'bout if we ship all these guys, unflushed Korans and all, to Germany? Maybe 72 Virgin Air would cut us a deal. Then you -- Germany -- can parole them to Lebanon. (...)
Again, read it all. And here is another view of Merkel from John Vinocur via No Pasaran.
Update: Here is an interview with yet another (more optimistic) view of Merkel from Gary Schmitt, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Congratulations to SPIEGEL for finally interviewing an American conservative! Here's an excerpt:
"SPIEGEL ONLINE: Merkel has maintained a highly conciliatory tone towards Washington, but she has also expressed criticism. During Condoleezza Rice's visit to Berlin in December, Merkel claimed the Secretary of State conceded the erroneous kidnapping of an innocent German national by the CIA as part of its "extraordinary renditions" program had been a "mistake." The State Department later denied Merkel's statement. And this week Merkel indirectly called for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison. Do these developments threaten Germany's fresh start with Washington?
SCHMITT: People have taken notice, but it hasn't been a major matter. Some of those issues are far more important in Europe than they are in the US. Still, in contrast to the previous chancellor, when Merkel makes her comments about Guantanamo or any of these other issues, she's likely to get more of a hearing than Schröder, who would have been viewed as raising the issue to bolster his own political fortunes at home. When her comments were published, people here said, OK, this something people need to talk about and we will do that when she's here."
Looks like there is some ground for optimism on German-American relations. But the jury is still out on how things will develop long-term...