Scholz visit to the USA: Get out of the gray area

To analyse

Status: 07.02.2022 04:34

So far, Chancellor Scholz has held back on the Ukraine conflict. He now wants to change that in order to finally become more visible and audible. The trip to US President Biden should only be the beginning.

By Georg Schwarte, ARD Capital Studio

“The chancellor has a sense of humor and often makes me laugh.” It has been a good 16 years since a Social Democratic chancellor was greeted in such a friendly manner by a US President in the Oval Office. It was Gerhard Schröder of all people who sat opposite George W. Bush at the end of June 2005 as the last Social Democratic head of government. The same Schröder who was recently nominated for Gazprom’s supervisory board, who recently accused Ukraine of saber-rattling and who was already considered an insecure clerk in the US at the time.

George Schwarte
ARD Capital Studio

So today there is another Social Democrat on his inaugural visit to Washington. “Our allies know exactly what they have in us,” said Chancellor Scholz in advance. But does the US actually know? On the evening of German time, Olaf Scholz will sit across from Joe Biden. The 46th US President will be 80 this year and is a real foreign policy professional.

“A military intervention by Russia would have a high price,” said Chancellor Scholz

Report from Berlin, February 6, 2022

Olaf who?

Scholz, on the other hand, is so well known in the US that when Scholz met Biden with Merkel on the sidelines of the G20 summit last October, the White House later wrote of “Olaf Schulz” in the press release. It is also worrying for Scholz that there is at least some uncertainty in the US Congress as to where this social democrat and new chancellor really stands if the Ukraine crisis continues to escalate. Merkel was the constant even in the most turbulent Trump times, Scholz was an “Olaf who?” for many Americans.

For the new Federal Chancellor, it is therefore also a matter of visibly and audibly filling the vacuum of trust that Merkel’s departure left in the transatlantic region. In the Chancellery, they are working diligently on telling the story of how closely and harmoniously they cooperate with the Americans.

Germany and the United States set the pace, they say, when it comes to European-American cooperation. Also on sanctions issues against Russia. The Biden administration is also a “stroke of luck” for the transatlantic relationship, says the Chancellery. Whether Scholz two months after taking office is a stroke of luck from a US perspective – that will also be the focus of what is probably the German Chancellor’s most important trip abroad to date.

“The federal government is not supplying any lethal weapons to Ukraine,” said Chancellor Scholz

Report from Berlin, February 6, 2022

There should be clear messages

For a long time, Scholz was invisible in the Ukraine crisis. The fact that the word “Nord Stream 2” has not crossed the lips of the chancellor to this day when it comes to possible sanctions against Russia has also been noticed in Washington. The fact that Scholz fell by 17 percentage points in the latest Germany trend is registered in the Chancellery.

For Scholz, the appearance in the USA today is also a kind of foreign policy turbo restart. Get out of the gray area of ​​the rhetorically approximate, which Scholz loves so much and masters with virtuosity. There should be clear messages from a chancellor in crisis mode.

Scholz will travel to Kiev next week, and one day later – on February 15 – to Moscow. Tomorrow, after returning from Washington, he will meet Frenchman Emmanuel Macron and Polish President Andrzej Duda in Berlin. The three Baltic heads of government will follow this week.

Macron is visibly progressing

Scholz is very late in publicly going into a crisis mode that is then visible, in which the Chancellery has long been operating internally for weeks. Every other day you are in close contact with Washington and all allies, it says. Only Scholz could hardly be heard or seen. That should change.

Today in Washington, among other things, with a rare interview appearance by a chancellor on the US news channel CNN. Also part of the campaign to make Scholz visible and audible again. The fact that he speaks good English also helps.

In this phase of crisis, also for Europe, France is visibly progressing so far. “Everything is planned,” says the chancellery. Part of a carefully and, above all, jointly developed strategy. Scholz calls this “hard work”. Nevertheless, it seems a bit like the hare and hedgehog. Everywhere Scholz shows up, Macron was already there. Whether in Moscow or in Kiev. The fact that presidential elections are due in France in April only partly explains the activity of the incumbent EU Council President, Macron.

Biden shouldn’t make it difficult for Scholz

No problem for Scholz, whom they mocked as Merkel 2.0. Like the former chancellor, the incumbent chancellor likes to think things through from the end, and government circles say: Questions of war and peace in Europe are not about vanity.

When Social Democrat Scholz sits in US President Biden’s Oval Office today, according to Berlin sources, no one in the US will think of a certain “Gazprom lobbyist” named Schröder. Or as Scholz recently put it: “There is only one Chancellor. And that’s me.”

US President Biden should not make things unnecessarily difficult for the German Chancellor during his inaugural visit in times of crisis. “Germany and the United States have a responsibility to lead by example with our common values,” Biden said recently. At lunch together in the White House, Biden was able to explain to the quiet Scholz that this should occasionally be said clearly and loudly in public.

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