George W. Bush and German Chancellor Angela Merkel Meet the Press in the East Room of the White House

RealVideoWHITE HOUSE VIDEO: German Chancellor Angela Merkel Press Conference With President Bush, Jan. 13, 00:26:24
RealVideoBBC VIDEO NEWS: Merkel and Bush United Against Iran, Jan. 13, 00:02:27

Merkel's 24-Hour Massage of Bush's Psyche

Love of a political nature has definitely broken out between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President George W. Bush. That may explain why, according to this account of the trip from Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Merkel gets away with discussing issues that past German Chancellors wouldn't have dared broach.

By Christoph Schwennicke

Translated By Carl Bergquist

Weekend Edition, January 14-15, 2006

Original Article (German)    

On Angela Merkel's First American Visit as Chancellor
Political Love Has Broken Out (Photos above, below)
RealVideo[NEWS SLIDE SHOW: Merkel and Bush].

There it was fortunately - last but certainly not least, the question everyone here in the White House's ostentatious East Room had been waiting for. George Bush is asked whether things are better with the Chancellor than with Gerhard Schroeder. As the question is being formulated Bush is already grimacing, and it would have surprised no one if his forefinger had gently pulled down a lower eyelid just a little. Well, first of all, best regards to Gerhard Schroeder, the President says, adding that he spent a lot of time with him, "I hope he's doing well."

The Chancellor and he share the experience of not exactly "landsliding" their ways into office, Bush jests. Laughter resounds not only throughout the room, the Chancellor also finds this highly amusing. During their private conversation, he found her to be smart and capable; it was "uplifting" talking to her. And it was touching, especially when shared her experiences in "communist Germany." They will continue to communicate in all possible ways. "And now," the President says with those Bush-winks, "I'm taking her to lunch."


A press conference in the main hall of the White House is an event in and of itself, "two minutes and counting," an emcee-like voice advises just before the President and Chancellor arrive. Something noteworthy then actually occurs. Merkel's press conference with Bush, on the heels of their 45-minute tête-à-tête, starts off quite formally. There is none of the "I like that guy"-show that Bush once put on with Schroeder in the Oval Office. A few minutes go by before Angela Merkel, as she speaks, turns her head toward Bush. In contrast, leaning relaxed against the lectern with one arm as a brace, he surveys her with noticeable interest. At one point, as she is describing the good foundation for their relations, it is almost as if he turns a little red. Another time, she just keeps on talking even though he had wanted to add something. Then, they whoosh off to the aforesaid luncheon.

A romance, as prophesized by American newspapers, probably manifests itself differently. Still, a good, trusting and solid relationship is perhaps more appropriate, and overall it seems certain that Angela Merkel has sated the U.S. yearning for a new Chancellor.

She uses the opportunity to confront the President directly with her criticism of the Guantanamo prison camp. This doesn't prevent Bush from praising Germany as "a valued ally," which shares both the values and goals of the U.S. The two also agree, according to the President, that the nuclear issue with Iran should be resolved diplomatically.

It all already began with great promise on Thursday evening with a dinner at the German Embassy. And if the future of the German-American relationship could be read from the facial expressions of William Cohen, then there could be little reason to worry. Everyone present was ensured that a wonderful transatlantic era lay ahead. Perhaps the former Defense Secretary – now an author – is simply a romantic or sentimental in the way poets sometimes are. Whatever the reason, from his seat just below the Embassy's lectern, his gaze was star-struck, as if the guest of honor and speaker were an epiphany.

She is a 'guest visiting friends' - as the Chancellor put it - and soon thereafter she garnered  the greatest plaudits by adding that it would be just terrible if you could not muster the courage to speak the truth while amongst friends. That would mean just repeating "how great everything used to be," and would never summon energy for new discussions. Plaudits, lots of plaudits.

There is an amazing buzz surrounding the Chancellor's inaugural visit to Washington, the first official meeting between Angela Merkel and President of the United States George Bush since she assumed office. Everyone exudes relief and is teeming with goodwill. German Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger introduces Merkel by way of two of her own quotes, and in the process intentionally massages the American psyche in front of 190 American and German guests. In one, she defines the state as a gardener, not a fence. This metaphor has earned her much ridicule at home, but in the U.S. it hits the spot. The second quote has the same result; it refers to Merkel's concept of freedom. Bringing out the best silverware.

From the get-go, people take their time with each other. As Merkel's table neighbor, the retiring Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan - whose glasses grow larger by the year as his face seems to shrink - almost physically gets to experience her considerable interest in his person. Flanking her to the left is Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright sits across and if Henry Kissinger had not incurred a compound shoulder fracture, she would have been joined at the table by a third former Secretary of State. Her speech, in any case, makes it seem as if she speaks about this and that with old Henry at least once a week. And if not, she definitely reads all his interviews on NATO and Europe, especially because his questions are so "stimulating."

On Friday morning, following the German-American evening at the Embassy, Merkel has already polished off breakfast with a dozen Members of Congress before being received by the President. Half an hour one on one, then one hour together with their advisers, another half hour for the press conference and finally lunch, complemented by the presence of people like Bush's wife Laura, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. Three hours in total with Bush, who himself definitely also seems to have brought out the best silverware. If he doesn't get tired and is having a good day, then a thirty minute meeting is great opportunity, says a connoisseur of White House practices and protocol minutiae.

Merkel With Fed Chairman Greenspan and General Colin Powell (above).

Merkel Has Breakfast With Congresspeople (above);
Merkel Leaves German Embassy on Way to the White House (below).

Heading up the White House Driveway, Chancellor Merkel and Her Staff

This inaugural visit is a political balancing act. Even if she would never say as much, perhaps the Chancellor in a certain way should be just a little grateful to her predecessor: for wherever there has been a lengthy drought, the soil greedily sucks up every drop of water.

And Merkel had previously been sowing. During a White House visit in February 2003, she left impressions, which to this day have not been forgotten in the U.S. - by distancing herself from Schroeder's intractable opposition to the invasion of Iraq. "Schroeder does not speak for all Germans," she wrote in an op-ed for an American newspaper.


So while Schroeder reaped his crop during the 2002 elections (editor's note: by waging a populist anti-war, anti-American campaign), Merkel is now harvesting hers. At the Embassy reception she is able to say, for example, that she would be happy to meet the first American who sees Airbus as a benevolent competitor to Boeing. Playing on American egocentrism, she can say that she would "not necessarily ask Americans where the borders of Europe lie," with regard to enlargement of the European Union (editor's note: this in reference to her own party's negative stance toward Turkey's candidacy, which the U.S. supports). She can vocalize in ways that would have earned members of the Schroeder government an icy silence.

Even Guantanamo was not off limits, as Merkel proved before the trip by uttering words that had not been heard from her previously. Even if her spokesman cheerily maintains that she has offered this critique time and time again. He is so convincing that you almost believe that all archives, search engines and you yourself simply have to be suffering from a collective memory loss. At any rate, with this amnesia you would then be in illustrious company, for even her close friend - and near coalition partner - Liberal Party leader Guido Westerwelle states she has not made "such a clear pronouncement before."

Of course, the declaration is new, of course it is provocative, and yet it has no obvious repercussions for this visit. Rather, it shows that the division from the time of the Iraq invasion can be overcome with the nuclear seal-breaking Iran. Here, the U.S. is dependent on the support of China and Russia - and here Europe, and thus Germany, can be helpful.

The self-confidence Merkel displays on the international stage is striking. This was already evident a few weeks back in Brussels, Paris and Warsaw. And it appears to have grown during this trip to the U.S. She also seems more at ease than before the September 2005 elections, a lot more at ease. And she is also freer as well as more independent and authentic in her choice of words. Whoever thinks that "two to three hours" per year will do the job for the Trans-Atlantic partnership, she said on Thursday evening in a sly reference to notoriously U.S.-averse Schroeder, "is sorely mistaken." You have to make time for each other, time is the most precious of commodities: "As long we find the time, then all is well." In the end, Angela Merkel has spent a grand total of some 24 hours in Washington.

At any rate.

© Watching America and All Rights Reserved. 2005

Site Design v1.0 & v2.0:
Fifth Wall Media Design