A Sisterly Kiss

A week ago today, when the German chancellor Angela Merkel, the most powerful woman in Germany, addressed a Joint Session of Congress, she exchanged a sisterly kiss with Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the most powerful woman in the United States. The kiss was symbolic. Konrad Adenauer, the only other Germany chancellor to have addressed Congress, in 1957, had chosen to bind Germany to the west and every chancellor in the last fifty years has remained faithful to that policy. It survived waves of anti-Americanism in the ’sixties, Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik and the decision not to support Bush’s Iraq war. In spite of his profound misgivings, chancellor Gerhard Schröder gave the U.S. Air Force the right to fly over German territory.

Adenauer’s choice was unprecedented. Before him, it had been the traditional German policy to perform a balancing act between east and west, which was considered dictated by Germany’s central geography. In the Seven Year War in the eighteenth century, Frederick the Great had fought east and west and was saved from imminent disaster only by an unexpected change of tsars in Russia. It was touch-and-go. Very nearly, Prussia was destroyed in 1763 and not in 1945, by which time it had morphed into Germany. Bismarck, the virtuoso master of Realpolitik, managed the balancing act for twenty years, only to be followed by Kaiser Wilhelm II who wanted to emulate him but lacked the talent, with catastrophic results.

For Adenauer the pro-western choice came naturally. He was Catholic and looked back eleven hundred years to Charlemagne as his model. Charlemagne’s empire included Germans, Franks and Italians. There was no power in the east with which to balance the west.

Angela Merkel prefers a sisterly kiss to death by strangulation should hostile powers in the east and west gang up and encircle her country. For her, and for Adenauer, the west meant not only France and England but, very essentially, the United States. That bond was celebrated by Angela Merkel in her speech in Washington last Tuesday.

Germany had a special relationship with America after 1918 as well, but it was far more remote. Still, among her former enemies, it was her favorite. The U.S. had not signed the Treaty of Versailles, was less vindictive towards Germany than the French and provided generous loans to the Weimar republic. After 1945 the Marshall Plan performed a similar service on a grander scale.

The senior President Bush promoted Germany’s reunification twenty years ago in the same spirit, in contrast to Margaret Thatcher who opposed it and President Mitterand who had picked up André Maurois’s bonmot:

“I love Germany so much that I prefer to have two of them.”


2 responses to “A Sisterly Kiss

  1. Eric,

    Must admit, the “sisterly kiss” had a somewhat different historical resonance for me, but at least in my view, no less significant.

    First, Two of the three most powerful women on earth, were now in solid control of their respective domains, whose gender, and thankfully what they chose to wear, getting less and less attention.

    Second, who would have thought that a “strong and united Germany”, with troops having served in Kosovo and now Afganistan would be such a complete non-issue so quickly, whether led by Kohl or the East German Merkel.

    Arriving German tanks have been cheered in the streets of Prestina with signs reading “Thank You Germany”, AND were thanked by people on the street upon their departure (largely Muslim by the way).

    Third, Merkel, as an East German presiding over the 20th anniversary of the collapse of the wall with Kohl, Gorbachev, and Bush Sr.

    While I suspect that Thatcher was too ill to attend, wonder if she would have been welcome given her opposition to unification.



    • Thank you, Henry, for your addendum.

      I have learned, since launching Tuesday’s blog, that the Russians nearly beat Frederick the Great in 1763 and nearly occupied Berlin. That is MY addendum.