It should be said clearly that Barack Obama’s recent trip to Germany had no other purpose than to damage Donald Trump.
I say this because Obama’s visit to Berlin and his meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel days before the NATO and G7 summit meetings was obviously intended to highlight Obama’s popularity in Germany and to contrast it with the unpopularity in Germany of Donald Trump.
Obama’s current popularity in Europe is strange. Whilst President Barack Obama showed little interest in Europe, and declined to forge close relations with European leaders with the notable exception of Angela Merkel with whom he got on basically because she agreed with everything he said.
Obama as President always showed more interest in developing US relations with certain favoured countries of what was once called the “Third World” such as Indonesia and Vietnam, leading the US’s traditional allies in Europe to feel neglected. The result was that whilst Barack Obama was President the commentary pages of European newspapers – especially those in Britain – filled with complaints about him.
Now that Obama has been replaced by Trump, Obama and Europe’s neoliberal Atlanticist political elite have suddenly rediscovered an affection for each other.
It should be said clearly that Obama’s trip to Germany – perpetuating a personal feud with Donald Trump – was disloyal and wrong, though it was also very much in character.
It is a longstanding and commendable tradition in the US that partisan quarrels end at the US border. Obama travelling to Europe to undermine Trump on the occasion of Trump’s first summit meeting in Europe with Europe’s leaders openly violates that tradition.
As for Angela Merkel, her meeting with Obama was also wrong and unwise. Though she clearly does not find dealing with Trump easy, the fact remains that he not Barack Obama is now the elected President of the United States. It is Trump not Obama who is therefore the man she must deal with.
Purely as a matter of courtesy it was wrong for Merkel to show herself just before the summit meeting with Trump in the company of his predecessor and rival, giving every appearance of preferring Obama’s company to Trump’s.
In diplomatic terms it was also extremely unwise, aligning Merkel and Germany in a domestic US quarrel in a way which could only have offended Trump and his supporters back home.
With Trump already dropping hints of possible future measures against German car imports, it was a particularly unwise thing to do.
If Obama’s visit to Germany was intended to be a private trip then Merkel had no need to meet him and should not have done so. By meeting with Obama Merkel transformed his visit from a private trip into a political event. One day she may regret doing that.