- By Emily TamkinEmily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. She writes for FP’s The Cable, a real-time take on the news in Washington and the wider world. She has been at FP since the fall of 2016, before which she was an associate editor at New America, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington. She has a B.A. in Russian literature from Columbia University, an M.Phil. in Russian and East European studies from the University of Oxford, and studied Soviet dissidence in archival centers in Moscow, Tbilisi, and, on a Fulbright, in Bremen — all of which means that at FP, she writes when she can on Russia and Central and Eastern Europe.
On Wednesday, President Barack Obama landed in Berlin, site of his inspiring 2008 campaign speech and his 2013 address at the Brandenburg Gate. On Thursday, he is to meet for the last time as president with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom he has called his “closest international partner these past eight years.” And on Friday, WirtschaftsWoche will publish an op-ed co-authored by the world leaders-turned-writing buddies on the benefits of a U.S.-European Union free trade deal that is in the works but, much like liberalism, losing steam.
After last week’s American presidential election, Merkel was quickly hailed as the new guardian of the norms and institutions that govern the Western world. President-elect Donald Trump isn’t her biggest fan. Or maybe he is. Maybe it’s too soon to tell. But given that her congratulatory statement warned America’s incoming leader about the importance of human rights, and given Trump’s penchant for Putin, it’s fair to say that, for the woman many call Mutti, things won’t be the same without Obama.
We cannot, of course, know what will be said between two pragmatic partners and dear friends. But we can imagine, and we have. Here is how we believe it could go.
Scene: Somewhere in Berlin. Obama and Merkel sit in firm yet comfortable chairs in a room that is austere yet somehow, at the same time, warm and welcoming. They both hold half-consumed pints of beer. Obama raises his.
Obama: Well, folks —
Merkel: I’m the only one here, Barack.
Obama: Right, sorry, force of habit. Angela, here’s to us.
Merkel: Us. Who is this us? You are leaving me here alone.
Obama: You know we have term limits, Angela.
Merkel: Yes, yes, I know. But look at what I must do now: My country’s leading academics expect me to stop Brexit; Frauke Petry is leading her merry band of xenophobes to challenge me; Hollande is fending off Marine Le Pen and my one-time non-doppelganger, Sarkozy, with an approval rating of 4 percent; Vladimir Putin is trying to ruffle Europe’s feathers in every way imaginable; and your voters decided to throw, as you say, caution and their own world leadership to the wind. I’m tired. It’s too much for one person, even with a haircut as youthful and invigorating as mine, to bear.
Obama: I know, Angela. I know. But you have to get over that time Vladimir made you sit with his dog.
Obama: And, like I’ve been saying, I’m sure that Trump, once in office, will see that campaigning is different than governing, and that he needs this European alliance. That (he pauses, sighs) he needs you.
Merkel, shyly: You are just saying that.
Obama: I’m not! Now, let me be clear: You’re a strong leader. And you’re a fighter. Remember that time in 1996, when Gerhard Schröder said you were “pitiful” as environmental minister? And then, that same year, you said in an interview, “I will put him in the corner, just like he did with me. I still need time, but one day the time will come for this, and I am already looking forward.” What did you do nine years later?
Merkel, blushing: I put him in the corner.
Obama: Yes! Now, “I will put him in the corner” is not “Change we can believe in,” but it’s not bad, Angela. It’s not bad.
Merkel: Oh, please, Barack. Call me Mutti.
Obama, raising glass again: To us, Mutti.
Merkel: To us. My distant but still heartfelt love to Michelle.
Obama: And mine to your publicity-shy husband. And to you!
Merkel: And mine to you. Professionally and platonically, of course.
Obama: Ja, klar.
Photo credit: Guido Bergmann/Bundesregierung via Getty Images