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After Trump's Visit, Merkel Signals Shift In U.S.-German Relations


When President Trump wrapped up his tour of the Middle East and Europe, he promptly declared it a great success, a homerun. Well, a different verdict on Trump's maiden presidential voyage came yesterday from German Chancellor Angela Merkel heard here through an interpreter.


CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL: (Through interpreter) The times when we could completely count on others, they are over to a certain extent. I've experienced this in the last few days. And that is why I can only say that we Europeans must really take our fate into our own hands.

SIEGEL: Was Merkel announcing a new chapter in U.S.-German relations? And what would Europeans do differently if they did take their fate into their own hands? We're going to ask Anne Applebaum, who's a columnist for The Washington Post and who joins us via Skype from Poland. Hiya.


SIEGEL: Let's examine one of Merkel's phrases, first, when she spoke of no longer being able to count on others, she said, I have experienced this in the last few days, presumably the Trump visit to Europe. How would you imagine Merkel has experienced that visit?

APPLEBAUM: I think Merkel will have experienced it not quite as a shock but as a confirmation of some of her worst fears about who Trump is and what his attitude towards Europe might be. In his speech to NATO, he spoke about money that European countries of NATO owed to the United States, which is, of course, not true. He spoke of Germany being bad because it makes too many cars that it sells in America, seeming not to know that, actually, Germany makes cars in America. German companies rather make cars in America.

And so all of the worst fears, you know, that Trump doesn't feel any organic connection to Europe, that he doesn't understand how international treaties work and that he - really, he preferred the company of the Saudis - he prefers the company of dictators to a company of his fellow Democrats, I think the fears were confirmed. And that was what she was telling her German audience.

SIEGEL: Merkel is campaigning in Germany. I mean, was this possibly political bluster, or do you think she foresees a necessary shift in European dealings with the U.S.?

APPLEBAUM: Oh, no, I think she was certainly campaigning. And Trump is extremely unpopular in Germany. So I wouldn't discount that. And I think it's very important. But what she said is actually something she said before in other terms. And I think in a certain sense, that's healthy. I think she should begin to, at least, think about the possibility that the United States might not always be part of a relationship with Europe.

SIEGEL: How do you imagine, though, Anne Applebaum, translating that thinking into action? Would it mean a much stronger European defense force and European countries doing precisely the increased defense spending that Americans have urged them to do in order for them to feel more confident?

APPLEBAUM: Possibly. I mean, I - you know, look, I have argued for a long time that Europe should begin to think a lot more creatively about defense - perhaps, creating a European army, you know, kind of European foreign legion along French lines, perhaps, beefing up its capacity to conduct foreign policy, which right now it really almost doesn't have at all. You know, Europe is an incredibly wealthy and very powerful part of the world that has no ability to project that power outside of its borders in almost any form, I mean, not even in soft power.

SIEGEL: How does all this look to Moscow? You said on Twitter, since 1945, first the USSR and then Russia have sought to draw a wedge between Germany and the U.S. Thanks to Trump, Putin has succeeded.

APPLEBAUM: Look, it's been an aim of Russian foreign policy for many, many decades. You know, really, the American-German alliance has been the basis on which the NATO alliance is built - also the American-British alliance. But these are very important relationships. And now through their use of propaganda, through information warfare, through other means, they've at least contributed to the election of a very pro-Russian American president who seems like he might weaken the American-German alliance so much that it weakens the entire transatlantic community.

SIEGEL: Columnist Anne Applebaum Thank you.

APPLEBAUM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.