The United States may still be considered the indispensable nation. But because of the leadership void left by a disengaged Washington — exacerbated by President Donald Trump’s alienation of allies and accommodation of adversaries — other countries are increasingly filling the void.
Some have nefarious leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, and some, like China, act antithetically to Western values.
At least one leader, however, has the consistency and competency to represent the West: German Chancellor Angela Merkel. And fortunately, due to a last-minute agreement recently reached after a marathon bargaining session in Berlin, Merkel seems a safe bet to continue to lead Germany and, by extension, the Western alliance.
The deal was brokered between Merkel’s party, the center-right Christian Democrats; their partner party in Bavaria, the Christian Social Union; and the center-left Social Democrats. Together they have begun formal negotiations to revive the so-called “grand coalition” that has governed for eight of Merkel’s 12 years in power.
The news is significant because Merkel’s previous efforts at coalition-building had collapsed and Germany has been politically adrift for the longest time in the postwar era. But it’s not a sure thing: Social Democratic leader Martin Schulz must still sell the pact to skeptical party members smarting from the party’s worst showing in decades.
Compromises were hammered out on a range of issues, including immigration, which has vexed Germany just as it has other European nations struggling to adjust to the Mediterranean migration crisis. Merkel’s leadership has been admirable, in our view, but it also became a fulcrum for the far-right Alternative for Germany party to gain a foothold in Parliament.
Elsewhere, anti-migrant sentiment bolsters right-wing governments in places such as Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, where illiberal leaders have propelled populism and pushed back against the European Union.
So it’s preferable to have Merkel, a staunch E.U. supporter, solidify her position so she can partner with French President Emmanuel Macron to bolster the E.U. as it faces challenges that include Brexit negotiations.
The intense international focus on what would usually be a lower-key story of German politics reflects Western worries that something is adrift. “Many people have to feel something is going on in the West,” Nico Lange, head of the Washington office of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Foundation, told an editorial writer. “With Brexit, with the Trump election, with populist movements getting stronger, I think that one reason why people are looking into Germany is because it might provide an answer to the question whether sober, rational, centrist policymaking is still possible, or [whether] we will all become [involved in] emotionalized, populist, irrational political movements.”
Sober, rational and centrist are admirable adjectives in a world reeling from crises, making leaders such as Merkel as indispensable as ever.