The Right Side of History: Germany Occupies the Moral High Ground

MAGAThe latest annual Gallup poll on the standing of nations seems to indicate that President Donald Trump has failed to Make American Great Again. The survey found that Germany remains the world’s most admired country with the US, China, and Russia trailing far behind and virtually deadlocked in second place.

Germany took the lead three years ago after the US lost its lustre and saw its global approval rating plummet with 18 percentage points. The sudden drop in the country’s popularity was caused by a marked shift in opinion amongst traditional allies. In Europe, 61 percent of respondents disapprove of US leadership. In Australia and Japan, an even higher percentage of people are unhappy with the performance of the country under a president who repeatedly states that he has vastly improved the international standing of the country.

Last Friday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed that his country is ‘perfectly positioned’ to lead the free world as it seeks to rein in expansionist China. Apparently out of touch with global reality, and blissfully unaware that most US allies have pinned their hopes on the November election and the subsequent ejection of President Trump from the White House, Mr Pompeo has set his country on an ill-advised and ill-timed collision course with China – at the precise moment the world has more important issues to deal with.

Under its current leadership, the US regrettably lacks the moral heft to face off an adversary that is, admittedly, the source of much evil. As it happens, global opinion isn’t fooled by China either. That country has lost its lustre too after it imprisoned a million or more Uighurs in concentration camps, stifled Hong Kong’s democracy, threatened neighbours, stole intellectual property, hacked into networks, and kept the world in the dark over the origins of the corona pandemic. In fact, a great many of the troubles currently besetting the world can be traced directly to China.

Though the US Secretary of State is right insofar as China needs to be reminded of the responsibilities that come with superpower status, Mr Pompeo couldn’t be more wrong when he asserts that his country must deliver the message. The United States may eventually resume leadership of the free world once its electorate has come to its senses and put a more thoughtful, reasoned, and pragmatic leader in the White House.

For now, all eyes are on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her steady hand. Mrs Merkel is, arguably, the only world leader left with credibility. She speaks for Europe with a moral authority that remains unchallenged and towers over a field of populist posers ranging from the accident-prone Boris Johnson in the UK to Vladimir Putin, the Russian conniver-in-chief, and Jair Bolsonaro, the Brazilian copycat Trump.

It is not so much a question of ideology or opinion, as it is one of experience and tact. With the possible exception of Mr Putin, Messrs Trump, Johnson, Bolsonaro, and a host of even lesser populists are found sorely lacking in administrative competence, ethical values, and political expediency. Vladimir Putin is the exception for he understands power politics, is a skilled diplomat, and instinctively knows how far he can push before resistance stiffens and tension may escalate – qualities that are essential for any world leader aspiring to greatness.

In the midst of a pandemic and on the cusp of a second wave of viral infections, and with the global economy on life support, the world stands in need of clear and decisive leadership yet is being led, at this crucial junction in human history, by a collective of clowns and wannabe potentates.

Derided for being slow to react, complex in its workings, and fragmented to a fault, the European Union is nonetheless the last sizeable bastion of political decency left – and that says more about the present state of the world than it does about the EU. The bloc’s soft power stands as a beacon of hope to millions, possibly even billions, who yearn for a return to normalcy in international relations.

The 27-strong EU has shrugged off the departure of the UK without much ado or theatrics and managed to unanimously agree on a spending package of €1.8 trillion in just four days. The bloc has demonstrated a maturity, resolve, and sense of purpose that was wholly unexpected by those who considered it yesterday’s news. It also, belatedly, answered Dr Kissinger’s rhetorical question: When you need to talk to Europe, you call Berlin.

The importance of German leadership is hard to underestimate: Chancellor Merkel is unique amongst global leaders for knowing where to find the right side of history – and how to land there. She’s also the embodiment of caution, becoming irritable only when pressed for a snap decision. What makes Mrs Merkel special amongst her peers – is she has any left – is that she dares update or change her opinion when faced with new fundamentals.

Recognising the outsized impact of the pandemic earlier than most, she turned on the proverbial dime to ditch Germany’s ‘Schwarze Null’ policy that prevented the government from running fiscal deficits and deployed the country’s almost limitless wherewithal to aid those in need of support – including fellow EU member states. Where others dithered, or denied reality altogether, the German chancellor moved swiftly and decisively to meet the challenge.

No longer hampered or much burdened by the country’s unfortunate past, but still mindful of its legacy, German diplomacy has filled to void left by the bickering superpowers and the swashbuckling second-tier powers to assume moral leadership – and do so in the most unassuming of manners. When London or Moscow wish to express their concern over EU policies, they call Berlin.

Adding to Mrs Merkel’s credibility is the fact that Germany didn’t seek a leading role on the global stage but was awarded one by default. China too knows who’s in charge of Europe and President Xi Jinping has so far refrained from challenging Europe, even as the EU expresses increased criticism of his rule at home and his shenanigans abroad. To attack the moral high ground requires a dedication to political ethics and diplomatic etiquette currently lacking to either one of the so-called superpowers.

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