Disclaimer: I am not a political scientist, diplomatic, trade negotiator, or anything professional of the like. I am just merely a master’s student here in Berlin that’s just sharing my thoughts and observations about the dwindling alliance between the U.S. (my country) and Germany (my host country). Why should I care? Well, as an American, my decision to move to Germany was unconsciously encouraged by our countries’ strong connection.
Since the unification of Germany back in 1990, the relationship between Germany and the United States has had a pretty healthy trajectory towards closer partnership. On a personal level, I came to Germany in December 2014 and could already feel to a certain degree, just from local interactions, in which American culture has been embraced by the Germans. The injection of American words and expressions in daily German phrases (Denglish) for example. Public spaces like night clubs or supermarkets play mainly American music, and the Germans are fairly up to date with American movies, and TV shows. “Do you watch Game of Thrones?!” (No, I don’t or ever will.) But let us face it. The relationship wasn’t as good as it used to be. First there were hugs and kisses, then now suddenly “Omg, you looked into my phone?!
So, at what degree has American fallen from Germany’s grace? This Pew research survey, “Which Countries don’t like America and which do?” shows that of the European countries surveyed, “Only in Germany, where U.S. favorability is down 13 points since 2009, has the positive image of the United States slipped significantly.”
Yes, the “white papers,” may offer an official recognition of the U.S.-German alliance on the world stage but civil society and bilateral military agreements don’t always consistently align in their objectives, especially in the face of recent controversial issues. Three things that I would highlight that has made Germany fell out of love with us:
Foreign Policy: “You haven’t changed.” When President Obama took office in 2008, German approval was quite high for him but when we examine closer, from 2009 and onwards, it seems that Germans have lost faith in the United States because President Obama did not live up to Germans expectations. No doubt the Bush Administration radicalized feelings of resentment for American imperialism, but irregardless, the Germans still feel that Obama has not done enough to recover from America’s plunge into Iraq.
Breach of National Sovereignty: “I thought you trusted me.” Then America’s failure to balance national security and privacy eventually was exposed when the whole world found out that American spy agencies tapped into Angela Merkel’s (Germany’s chancellor) phone, as well as spying on ordinary German citizens in their own land. Serious trust issues!
Trade: “Have I lowered my standards?” The above threatens the current negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), an already controversial trade agreement between the U.S. and the EU that strives to mutually boast both stagnating economies but may also lower EU regulations and standards.
Negative stereotypes: “I don’t agree with your lifestyle” Besides the image of the obese American, the generalizations extend to believing that all Americans possess guns and other firearms and will shoot any home invaders, in addition to consuming poor quality foods (Chlorine chickens), or over-consuming on poor credit.
This is definitely not to say that the German people hate American people! But with our different values, history and culture, it is unreasonable to expect Germany and the U.S. to agree on everything. But I can understand why the Germany reacts this way…
Germany is still so guilt-stricken by its Nazi past that it is fearful of using any kind of military action. As a consequence, the strongest economy and political power in the EU shies away from using its power on the world stage, even struggling sometimes to take moral stands on issues that are clearly right/wrong. Whereas America’s emphasis on individualism and self-determination may have helped conjured greater morale for military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan in the wake of September 11th. Then add to this hot mess the NSA spying scandal–the ultimate betrayal in my opinion. With a history of the Stasi, I think Germany has every right be sensitive to on issue.
America cannot expect an easy trade deal with the EU after these events that has dwindled the relationship. Since details of the negotiations are kept pretty much hushed, hushed, there’s not point in speculating who would lose or win more from this trade yet. But it is obvious from my observations here that the majority of the Germans believe they will lose much more from this deal. Given our differences in food, labor, and environmental standards, the Germans aren’t ready to change their lifestyle, especially the introduction of American GMOs (genetically-modified foods).
As an American abroad, I confess this mainstream trend of anti-Americanism around the world troubles me just because I am for a greater partnership between America and Germany. I think there’s a lot to learn from the Germans and there’s a lot they can learn from us. Things are changing in the U.S., as well as the global world order so let’s see if this relationship can be mended.
This is Hong, reporting from Berlin, Germany 🙂