Rattled by an election that doesn’t seem to be going their way, Germany’s Social Democrats are attacking Merkel at what they see as her weak point: her agreement to raise defense spending to 2% of GDP—specifically in accordance with the wishes of President Donald Trump. The WSJ:
Mr. Trump’s demand would mean “a Germany—surrounded by friends—that has armed itself to the teeth in the middle of Europe,” Social Democratic chancellor candidate Martin Schulz told an arena in Germany’s industrial heartland, at the party’s convention. “I ask you: Do we want this? We know from our history: More security does not come with more weapons.”
Politically, this may make sense. Trump is about as popular in Germany as cholera, and if the SPD can make the defense pledge look like Merkel is appeasing Trump, then some German voters could swing to the Left.
For Americans, this is a healthy reminder that voting for candidates that many of our allies loathe and despise is not a cost-free exercise. All over the world, Trump’s global unpopularity makes it harder for leaders to cooperate with the U.S.
But the SPD turn also says something about Germany. The most recent socialist to serve as chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, shocked and appalled the world by taking a job as the head of the shareholders’ committee of Nord Stream AG, a company controlled by Russia’s Gazprom set up for the construction and operation of an important Baltic undersea pipeline that Schroeder strongly supported while in office. Keeping Germany weak as Russian pressure on Europe grows, and as Turkey shifts away from NATO and a pro-Western orientation, is exactly what the Kremlin would like to see. It would also weaken the Western alliance and raise doubts in Eastern Europe and elsewhere that German socialists are looking for a deal with Russia at the cost of the transatlantic relationship.
Schroeder won an election running against George W. Bush; now his party hopes to make headway by running against the even less popular Trump.
Presumably it’s not a sign of electoral confidence that the SPD is aligning itself so clearly with Putin’s key foreign policy goals. And one can hope that the common sense of German voters that never rewarded appeasement of Moscow during the Cold War will reassert itself. But the Social Democrats are one of the great parties in German, and indeed in European political history. It is sad to see a great party like this taking the Russian bait.