Merkel Should Play Golf With Trump if She Wants Global Influence, Official Jokes as Germany Is Sidelined

Following the launch of U.S. military strikes in Syria with the support of France and the United Kingdom, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s reluctance to participate in the joint action is damaging her already fragile relationship with President Donald Trump.

Merkel’s relationship with Trump hasn't been especially good. Some reports suggest that this fact has frustrated Berlin's leadership, causing one German official to joke that maybe Merkel should take up golf in order to impress the U.S. president. Still, that approach doesn’t seem to have worked for everyone: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe famously engaged Trump in rounds of golf, but his relationship with the president appears to have deteriorated after the U.S. agreed to engage with North Korea without consulting its ally in the Pacific.

On Friday evening, the U.S., France and the U.K. launched over 100 missiles at chemical weapons facilities in Syria in response to the use of chemical weapons against civilian targets the week before. In the wake of the airstrikes, which Trump quickly proclaimed a resounding success, his nominee for U.S. ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, tweeted that Berlin should have joined the other European heavyweights in the endeavor. 

Most experts, however, noted that it would have been politically impossible for Merkel to push Germany to get involved in the airstrikes. Still, the decision could cause Trump to lash out in his upcoming meeting with Merkel, who is due to visit Washington around April 27.

“What Trump thinks of Merkel and how he’ll react, who knows? His behavior is volatile,” Jeffrey Gedmin, an expert on NATO and Europe at the Atlantic Council and former president of the London-based Legatum Institute, told Newsweek. 

“If he’s wise, he’ll understand that Germany doesn’t have the capabilities that Britain and France have and that for reasons of history and political culture, Germany has an attitude of reticence when it comes to political force,” Gedmin said.

“Her coalition is new and fragile and not entirely stable. She has a coalition partner in the Social Democrats, who would have been emphatically opposed to any strikes,” he added. "She did say she supported the strikes and that they were appropriate. People in the Pentagon and in Paris and London understand the context. But will it affect the conversation with Trump, will he vent frustration? You never know.”

French President Emmanuel Macron, on the contrary, enjoys a positive relationship with Trump and is planning to visit the White House next week. Some analysts suggest that a strong personal rapport is what underpins the alliance. Macron’s trip to Washington from April 23 to 25 will include Trump’s first state dinner for a foreign leader.

But Germany and France appear allied in opposition to Trump’s proposed trade tariffs, which are likely to come up in the president’s conversations with both European leaders. Trump has threatened to slap the European Union with tariffs on steel and aluminum unless Brussels offers a satisfactory proposal by May 1. In response, Macron will travel to Berlin this week so that he and Merkel can devise a joint position on trade.

Almost one year ago, Trump took to Twitter to slam Germany for what he called a “massive” trade deficit and the country’s low contributions to NATO. It remains to be seen whether Merkel’s united front with Macron on trade policy can successfully sway Trump’s stance.

Meanwhile, Grenell is likely to be confirmed for the ambassadorship and will be faced with the difficult job of representing a U.S. president who does not have the trust of the German population, media or political class, Gedmin noted. Only 11 percent of Germans surveyed say they have confidence in the U.S. president.

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