When the Berlin Wall came down, Helmut Kohl was in power in Bonn, Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow, and George H.W. Bush in Washington. What do distinguish them from Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama? I’ve got a brief interview, via Facebook, with political economist Dwayne Woods, Associate Professor of Political Science at Purdue University (Indiana, U.S.) whose research interests focus on different regions, with a particular emphasis on Western Europe, and who has just co-edited the book The Many Faces of Populism: Current Perspectives. These are his (really funny) answers. (Read more | Read more…)
Alan Crawford and Tony Czuczka, authors of Angela Merkel: A Chancellorship Forged in Crisis, are convinced that the German Chancellor’s DDR’s years have “shaped her politics” – at all levels. How do you compare her to Mr. Helmut Kohl, and at what extent would the collapse of the Soviet Union and of the Berlin Wall had been possible if she was the “woman in charge” in 1989?
Angela Merkel is a physicist by training; thus, for her everything should be clear and precise. Like physics, politics is about discovering rules (in physics, its laws). Once those rules are known, you follow them. Kohl was more intuitive and flexible.
Like his non-diet, Kohl was a bon vivant. He liked a grand buffet. All was welcome as long as they ate like him and with him. Merkel says to Greece, Spain and Portugal rules are rules even if there is pain.
Would be possible a privileged relationship between Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Mikhail Gorbachev like the one established by Mr. Kohl? And would Mr. Kohl react like Mrs. Merkel in face of the aggressive position of Russia’s Putin in Ukraine?
Merkel would have had a cordial relationship with Mr. Gorbachev but it would not be a warm relationship. Merkel respects distance. Like a good physicist what matters is cold fusion. Her reaction to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine is contrary to Kohl.
Kohl would have called [Vladimir] Putin and said “my friend this nonsense must end.” Merkel called and said to Putin in her East German accent, Herr Putin, don’t break the rules. Putin responded in his East German accent – I make the rules.
In 1989, Putin was a KGB chief in Dresden, apparently unfamiliar with what was going on in Russia. For him, the end of the USSR was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century” and his policies nowadays tend to be seen like an attempt to restore the “lost dignity”. In your opinion, would the events of 1989 unfold like they did had Putin (not Gorbachev) been in power?
If Putin had been in power in 1989, he would have been more of a party hack than Gorbachev was. He would have staged a military coup against himself as an excuse to retake power and invade Eastern Europe.
Putin would have claimed that the break up of the Soviet Union was a plot hatched in a McDonald restaurant in West Berlin. Putin’s rallying cry to the Communist would have been this “big mac” will not stand.
In Putin’s mind, is Ukraine now what Germany was back in 1989? Is he equating the annexation of Crimea with the German reunification? How would Kohl react to this challenge, comparing with Mrs. Merkel’s position?
For Putin, Ukraine is part of the eternal Russian motherland. If he cannot have it all, he’ll settle for just the Eastern half. If Kohl was in power today, he would have told Putin breaking rules is one thing, ending a bon vivant friendship is unacceptable.
Kohl would have called for a unified front against Putin’s aggression. Being from the Rhineland, Kohl would have called a summit of European nations to adopt strong measures against Russia. Then, he would have opened up some fine bottles of German Riesling. He would have quipped: no good crisis should be wasted without drink.
Regarding Mr. Barack Obama, how do you compare his foreign policy with the one adopted by George H.W. Bush, his predecessor in 1989? “Bush father” was criticised for his alleged foot-dragging towards the pro-democracy movements in Eastern Europe, but in the Middle East, on the contrary, he was bold, briefly cutting off loan guarantees to the Israeli government over their settlement policies, successfully forcing Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to attend the Madrid Peace Conference.
Like all “badly” trained lawyers, Obama is cautious and a realist. Also, like all non-practicing lawyers, he forgets that waiting on events to unfold is not equivalent to stretching out billing hours. Still, he prefers to wait until things happen before deciding on what to do.
After things happened, he then decides that there is not much one can do. G.H.W. Bush was a man of action and principle. After all, he served for one year as the director of the CIA. In his worldview, there is no event that a bit of skullduggery cannot resolve.
Back in 1989, Obama would have patiently put together an anti-Saddam [Hussein] coalition like G.H.W. Bush [after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990]. He would have invaded with the coalition and then stopped before entering Baghdad.
He would have not pressured Shamir as much on the Madrid Peace Conference. Obama is pessimistic about chances for Peace in the Middle East. Then, he would have argued that both sides are acting in bad faith and little would come out of a peace conference. G.H.W. Bush believed American power could force Israel to make concessions.
Obama would have believed that Israeli clout in American politics would have forced the U.S. to back down. To avoid losing face, he would have been passive aggressive.
Finally, how do you evaluate the relationship between Mr. Obama and Mrs. Merkel and between Mr. Obama and Mr. Putin?
Merkel’s relationship to Obama is like her relationship with her husband. All is great as long as you keep your distance. Once she learned that Obama was listening in on her conversations, she padlocked the door. Obama now knocks and she ask, whose there? When he says Obama, she responded I’m busy.
Until recently, Putin’s breaking of the rules irked her but he still bought German goods. She still prefers an East German accented rule breaker to a non-German speaking snooper.
This article was originally published in the Portuguese news magazine SÁBADO magazine, on October 25th 2014, a special edition dedicated to the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall