This weekend I fly back from Washington to Germany after witnessing the surprise election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States.
Mr. Trump won’t enter the Oval Office for 10 weeks, and he may focus first on big campaign promises – a wall between the United States and Mexico, a massive domestic infrastructure program, and repeal of Obamacare, which gave 11 million Americans health insurance.
But when the new president turns to Europe and foreign policy, I hope he makes it a priority to sit down with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor and, for the foreseeable future, de facto leader of a European continent under siege.
It goes without saying that President-Elect Trump and Chancellor Merkel are worlds apart in many ways. During the campaign, he called her decision to let in 1.1 million refugees last year “crazy,’’ and said European nations like Germany needed to shoulder more of the costs of running NATO.
But this week in Washington, Mr. Trump found soothing words to console Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and there is a good chance he’ll have nice things to say about Ms. Merkel too.
Both leaders know that the U.S.-German relationship – what U.S. Ambassador John Emerson has called “America’s most important bilateral relationship’’ — is too important to neglect.
Ms. Merkel is a pragmatist and has worked with George W. Bush and Mr. Obama. She has taken a lot of heat in Germany for defending the United States. She has extended a hand to Mr. Trump.
When they do meet, she will encounter a U.S. president who grew up in liberal, Democratic New York City, a leader with the potential to rule more moderately than his campaign rhetoric suggests.
Mr. Trump has German ancestry and knows many Germans still look up to America. But after the second Iraq War, NSA surveillance and U.S. wiretapping of Ms. Merkel’s cellphone, the U.S. image has taken a few hits in Berlin, and rebuilding mutual trust is still a work in progress.
So when they do meet, I hope they hit it off. There’s too much riding on the relationship.
Kevin O’Brien is editor in chief of Handelsblatt Global. To contact the author: email@example.com