Simply Unfathomable

December, 2017

Berlin -- Germany is trying, so far without success, to put together a coalition government under the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

The first attempt has foundered. The CDU (along with the Christian Social Union, its Bavarian sister party) offered positions in the government to the Green Party and to the Free Democratic Party (FDP) to form a voting majority in the Bundestag. This somewhat unlikely joining of four parties was given the short-hand name of "Jamaika" coalition, because the colors of the party symbols were black (CSU/CSU), green (the Greens) and yellow (FDP), the colors of the Jamaican flag.

Surprisingly, it was the FDP that blew up the talks. The Greens and the CDU were making solid progress. The pro-business FDP had been aligned with the CDU in previous governments, so why not once again? There is not a lot of daylight between the CDU and the FDP ideologically.

What on earth was the FDP thinking? It had been out of power for years, and had even lost representation in the Bundestag. It campaiged on its reputation for responsible government, but once Chancellor Merkel offered it the chance to act responsibly, it bolted. It was a shock. This, after all, is the party of the late statesman Hans Dietrich Genscher, who was foreign minister in both the governments of Helmut Schmidt (SPD) and Helmut Kohl (CDU), during the 1980s and 1990s.

So it is back to the drawing board to see if the Social Democratic Party (SPD) will once again join the CDU in a grand coalition government. That is the coalition that has governed Germany for the past several years, quite successfully, but it has cost the SPD votes in several elections, as the SPD has not been able to distinguish itself from the CDU on many issues. SPD reluctance to join a coalition is understandable.

Moreover, the SPD wants to act as the main opposition in the Bundestag. If it joins the government, that would leave the far-right Alternativ für Deutschland (AfD) party as the main opposition, giving it recognition and authority far beyond the 13% share of votes it got in the recent national elections.

The CDU talks with the SPD will linger on for some time.

What is the American interest here? Doubtless it is to see Germany led by a stable government. What is the Russian interest here? Doubtless it is to see turmoil and instability in the leading European country that has stood for Western values and democracy. Russia chafes at the effectiveness of the NATO alliance, through which Germany and the United States, for decades, have defended freedom in the Baltic States, in Eastern Europe, and on the Southeastern Europe flank.

Which is why it is troubling to think Russian interests are being coddled by the current U.S. president, and to worry that he was the product of Russian meddling in American elections.

Like the unfathomable and irresponsible leadership of the FDP, what on earth can the U.S. president be thinking? Was fighting the Cold War all for naught?