German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s speech at the Munich Security Conference this weekend was met with resounding approval from the gathering. Throwing barbs back at US Vice President Mike Pence over a myriad of issues Merkel expressed Europe’s dissatisfaction with the Trump administration’s belligerence and lack of diplomacy.
And that’s putting it mildly.
Trump’s pressuring Germany over the Nordstream 2 pipeline, withdrawing from the JCPOA and increasing NATO funding all have a common theme which even for an EU-firster like Merkel is a non-starter.
Trump is trying to make Germany’s economy uncompetitive by raising the cost of imported energy.
This is obvious when we look at the US’s opposition to Nordstream 2. Trump has made no bones about his distaste for the pipeline because he’d rather Germany, his ally, buy beautiful, clean LNG from Cheniere in Louisiana rather than from dirty, nasty gas from Russia, his enemy.
The other two issues, however, are just as energy-focused for Trump, or at least, economically-focused. Let’s start with Iran.
The JCPOA was signed in 2015 when it looked like the Operation to Blow Apart Syria for Fun and Profit was on the verge of victory. Giving Iran a lifeline to begin selling oil on the open market again was Europe’s ‘get’ in that war.
Turkey would ‘get’ Idlib, Aleppo, Afrin and Manbij. The Saudis and Qataris would ‘get’ gas pipelines into Europe. Israel breaks up the Shia Crescent with the newly-independent Kurdish territory and ‘get’ a US/Israeli campaign to undermine Iran’s government while leaving a hotbed of terrorism to export around the region.
Elijah Magnier called this creating a ‘Syrian jungle.’ I just call it vile.
But it didn’t work because of Putin, Hezbollah and the IRGC with China playing silent partner.
So, Trump comes to power in late 2016 with a chip on his shoulder about this deal because Israel didn’t like it. It gave Iran and Europe too much while the US was still paying for everything, according to Trump. And that had to be reversed.
Ending US involvement in the JCPOA was meant to destroy the agreement and end all European investment in Iran’s energy sector, thereby stopping a steady flow of relatively cheap Iranian oil to Europe through its oil majors like Total (France) and Eni (Italy).
The same can really be said for Trump holding Europe’s feet to the fire on NATO funding. I think Trump sees NATO as an anachronism but there is no way to get rid of it at this point thanks to US and U.K. policy inertia. And, to him, if NATO then he’s going to use it as leverage any way he can.
He knows that the US is essentially an occupying force in Europe, still. And gets benefits that far outweigh NATO’s cost in terms of leveraging its political pressure. He’s not stupid. But he is amoral and so it doesn’t matter if it’s fair or not.
He will demand it because he can. The benefit is that Germany, in particular, would have to raise defense spending to such a degree that it would be unsustainable for them to maintain their current government funding in other areas.
This will pull capital out of the productive part of German society and lower their competitiveness vis a vis US producers. This is why Trump is obsessed with German car imports. He knows it’s a sore spot for Germany and the US car industry is non-competitive.
But, really that’s not NATO’s fault. That’s a domestic issue Trump won’t tackle. He’d rather do the politically easy and expedient thing by raising tariffs and blaming the other guy.
It’s unfortunately an easy sell on the American Right.
All of this, again, is another facet of Trump’s Energy Dominance policy that is designed around his ‘America First’ ideology. Control the flow of energy, raise costs on competitors, punish them if necessary and do so because that will help the American people who have been the victims of globalists like Merkel.
In many ways, I agree with him about that last bit. What I disagree with is the extent to which he absolves the US of its responsibility of creating this mess in the first place. And he’s done nothing but hire the most belligerent group of psychopaths to occupy the White House since Bush the Lesser’s first term.
These guys – John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, in particular – adhere to the Makinder “Heartland” theory about controlling Asia and that means doing everything possible to stop the natural alliance between German engineering and industrial prowess and Russia’s scientific community and its abundant natural resources.
And that leaves Germany right where it always is during times of geopolitical crisis, between warring major powers looking to control her.
So, Merkel is right to strike out against Trump’s calls to help him go to war with Iran for Israel, stand up for the Nordstream 2 pipeline and try to keep the JCPOA functional.
At the same time, however, she is always trying to appease the US by mouthing the right words about Russian sanctions and building an LNG import terminal, for example.
Let’s not forget, however, that Merkel is loyal to the European Union first and in all of this she is trying to extricate the EU from the US’s foreign policy direction and forge an independent path.
That’s what these dissentions are all about. And it is why everyone is so worried about the NordStream 2 pipeline. The US knows that once the gas is flowing an inseverable artery to German factories is in place for the foreseeable future. It’s a link that is stronger than any amount of bullying by Trump through sanctions and tariffs.
And it destroys further the Trump talking point about European energy security. As Merkel rightly pointed out, all throughout the cold war Russian gas flowed through pipelines regardless of how poor relations with the West were.
Why wouldn’t that continue today? The implication, of course, is that the Russians have always kept their word while the US, under Trump, has no words only the stick.
Thanks to John Bolton’s psychosis Trump has left Europe unsafe thanks to his exiting the INF treaty against the deployment of ground-based intermediate range missiles, creating an even bigger climate of frustration, resentment and fear.
And that’s the irony in all of this. Trump is ensuring, in the long run, that Germany learns the lesson that its future lies east, not west; that Russia is its natural partner.
Moreover, given the failure of the EU and Merkel to protect Southstream and instrumental in creating the mess that is Ukraine, Vladimir Putin knows that he can and will develop Russia’s business east and leave Germany twisting in the wind if Nordstream 2 fails to be completed through US legerdemain.
This is Merkel’s last chance to prove herself capable of leaving Germany in a strong position well after she exits the stage. And that’s why she was cheered in Munich.