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Opinion | ‘Evil Has Won’

Category: Diplomatic Relations,Politics

Ironically, part of the original purpose of NATO was to prevent a return of German militarism: Lord Ismay, NATO’s first secretary general, once quipped that the organization’s purpose was “to keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in and the Germans down.” European integration was premised on American protection. Now that protection is no longer reliable, and to some, America itself seems like a threat.

When I met with Cem Özdemir, a member of the German Bundestag from the center-left Green Party, he spoke with awe of the Statue of Liberty and all it represents. “That was the dream of everybody in the world, that one day we would all live in democracies,” he said. “One day, we would all live in a world that is fair and just. If the guy in the center of this world is evil, evil has won.”

Özdemir was the first politician of Turkish descent to serve in Germany’s parliament and, as a former Green Party co-chairman, the first to lead a major political party. He has sometimes been referred to as the German Obama; an Obama bobblehead sits on the desk of his office. He was staggered by the turn America has taken.

“It reminds me of a James Bond movie,” he said. “You have a guy” — Putin — “who has a clear plan. Step 1, Step 2. It’s Brexit, it’s President Trump, it’s having Europe stumbling, it’s having authoritarian regimes getting stronger on a daily basis, it’s an escalation in Syria. He gets everything he wants.” But while the world seems to be ruled by Bond villains, he said, there is “no James Bond.”

Özdemir hopes that a more integrated Europe, anchored by a Franco-German alliance, can serve as a counterweight to mounting illiberalism. Knitting the countries of Europe even closer together will be a monumental challenge, since right-wing populism is on the rise within France and Germany as well as outside them. But he sees no other choice, given the existential threats to liberal democracy bearing down on Europe. “From the East we’re attacked by Mr. Putin, and now we’re also attacked by the White House,” he said.

It’s mind-boggling that one freakish American election, resulting in a presidency that a majority of Americans never wanted, could do so much damage not just to the United States but also to the global order that the United States created in the wake of World War II. But Germans know as well as anyone the havoc a single demagogue can wreak when the forces of decency are exhausted and unsure of themselves, and they can’t help seeing Trump through the lens of their own hideous history.

“When I talked to my American friends in 2016, I always reminded them of what happened in Europe,” Scharioth said. “Nobody thought in the early 1920s that Italy would become a dictatorship. Nobody thought that Germany, supposed a quite cultured nation, would get rid of democracy in a very short time. Maybe when you have this European experience, you might be more pessimistic than others.”

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