Angela Merkel: what’s next for Germany?

After 16 years as Chancellor of Germany, Frau Merkel will depart politics with little fanfare and much mixed populace feeling. Love her or hate her, Angela Merkel was Margaret Thatcher and Golda Meir rolled into one. Born in 1954 in the northern German city of Hamburg to a student of theology and a teacher of Latin and English, Angela Merkel became the first female and East German Chancellor in modern day German history. Stoic, unapologetic, resilient, pragmatic, and determined, she shaped Germany into one of the strongest economies in Europe and the world. Who is Angela Merkel?

Angela Merkel

As soon as Angela was born, her father received a pastor ship and moved the family to Brandenburg, in East Germany. In 1973, after finishing High School, Angela entered Karl Marx University (renamed University of Leipzig) in Leipzig to study physics. She met and married fellow physic student Ulrich Merkel in 1977. A year later she earned her diploma and became a member faculty of the Central Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Academy of Sciences in East Berlin. Her marriage only lasted five years and she divorced in 1982 retaining her married last name. In 1986, she earned a Doctorate on her thesis on quantum chemistry.

A very young Angela Merkel

Like most children and youth growing up in the former Eastern Bloc and in the former DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik), Merkel participated in state owned youth organizations. However, as she grew older, she never opted or applied to become a member of the Socialist Unity Party. It’s interesting that at one point in time, the State Security Service (Ministerium fur Staatsicherheit) or STASI approached her to become one of their informants. Angela refused. The STASI were close “relatives” to the KGB.

Berlin Wall coming down, November 1989.

In 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down, Angela joined the Democratic Awakening party and eventually became their press spokesperson. In February 1990, the Democratic Awakening party joined with the Alliance for Germany, which formed a coalition with the German Social Union (DSU), and the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). In August 1990, Angela joined the CDU and found herself in the position of Deputy Spokesperson for the government of Lothar de Maizière of the same party.  These parties were counterpart to similar parties in the west. Maizière’s CDU formally joined with its western CDU on October 2, 1990, on the eve of Unification Day.

Kohls Madchen

Angela Merkel caught the eye of then Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and in January 1991 Kohl appointed her minister for women and youth.  This earned her the nickname of “Kohls Madchen” (Kohl’s child). She became his protégé, and when Maizière resigned as Deputy Chair of the CDU in September 1991, Angela was elected to replace him.  Maizière’s resignation was compelled by accusations that he was allegedly a STASI collaborator.  In 1994, Angela was elected as Minister of environment, conservation, and reactor safety.  She also presided over the first UN Climate Conference held in Berlin in 1995.

(FILES) This file photo taken on December 09, 1989 shows West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl giving a press conference at the end of the two-day EEC Summit held in Strasbourg. Former German chancellor Helmut Kohl, a colossus of contemporary European history who was celebrated as the father of German reunification and an architect of European integration, died on June 16, 2017 at the age of 87, Bild daily reported. / AFP PHOTO / MICHEL FRISONMICHEL FRISON/AFP/Getty Images

When the CDU lost to the SPD (Socialist Democratic Party) in 1998, Angela was elected Secretary General of the CDU, and in that year also married a long-time friend and chemistry professor Joachim Sauer. But 1999 was not kind to the CDU.  The once popular and revered Helmut Kohl became embroiled and implicated in an illegal campaign contributions scandal which divided the party into Kohl loyalists and those who wanted change.  In December 1999, Angela wrote an open letter to the CDU encouraging a fresh start and accountability.  Her charisma raised public focus and approval. Inadvertently, in April 2000, Angela Merkel was elected as head of the CDU.  She was the first woman and the first non-Catholic to lead the party.  Although facing division and hostility from Kohl supporters, and Kohl’s financial scandal, Angela continued to lead the party in the hope that she would be selected to run for Chancellor in 2002.  But that role was given to Edmond Storber of the Bavarian CDU counterpart, CSU (Christian Social Union).  In 2002, the CDU-CSU lost the election to Gerhard Schroeder (SPD) by a very slim margin, and Angela was elected as leader of the opposition. In 2005, Schroeder’s popularity plummeted, and he called for early elections. The CDU-CSU won by only 35.2% of the votes and settled for a coalition with the SPD. In November 2005, Angela Merkel became the youngest person to become Chancellor of Germany at the age of 51.  She was also the first woman and the first East German.

Angela’s Chancellery had its moments. The Eurozone financial crises almost saw Greece out of the zone with a close possibility of Italy following.  Years of government mismanagement and unchecked spending brought these two countries to their knees. Angela’s determination in forcing austere financial demands slowly and eventually stabilized the union. But when Ukraine ousted its pro-Russian Prime Minister Yanu Korych, Russia quickly annexed Crimea in retaliation.  A move that brought anger in the west and prompted Angela to lead efforts in sanctioning Russia. But Angela’s love hate relationship with Putin drew both admiration and criticism. While sanctioning Russia for Crimea she was later negotiating a pipeline.  The 2015 European refugee crises brought approximately one million refugees to Germany, a move that angered some Germans, especially those in the former eastern states, where unemployment remains the highest. This gave rise to the AfD party (Alternativ fur Deutschland) which in 2016 placed second in regional elections ahead of the CDU. 2016 was the year when global nationalism resulted in Brexit and Donald Trump.

Throughout her political tenure, Angela tried hard to remain a centralist. In 2017 she reversed her opposition to same sex marriage legislation and the measure was approved.  This won her overwhelming support among the majority of Germans. However, her CDU-CSU and SPD coalition had their worst electorate results in 70 years. Minor parties like the Greens and AfD gained enough votes for parliamentary representation.  Angela reached out to conservative voters who were leaving the CDU-CSU party in favor of the AfD which gained votes in the former East German states. Angela’s immigration policy alienated the CSU which resulted in her Interior Minister, Horst Seehofer’s resignation.  This threatened to topple her government, but diplomacy and tenacity held the coalition together albeit huge losses for the CSU and CDU in both Bavaria and Hesse.  In 2018, Angela Merkel announced that she would not seek reelection as either CDU leader or the Chancellery in 2021.

Where is Germany heading to? What’s next? Who is the next Merkel? Is there a next Merkel? Several polls and pundits have determined that the German people are not really enthusiastic by any of the candidates.  The flavor of the month word is “uninspiring”.  Three candidates are leading the pack. Armin Laschet, governor of North Rhine Westphalia for CDU, Annalena Baerbock, a relative unknown and the Green’s hopeful, and finally, Olaf Scholz, Germany’s Finance Minister & Vice Chancellor for SPD. “Uninspiring” describes these candidates to a tee. They are either politically bland, inexperienced, or intellectually deficient.

2021 Germany Election Candidates: L to R Armin Laschet, Annalena Baerbock, and Olaf Scholf

Armin Laschet, governor of North Rhine Westphalia lost most of his credibility and points when flooding in his State took life and livelihood. His response to the disaster was often flippant and disconnected, leaving his constituents angered.  Unprepared and overwhelmed, the region watched in awe as homes, property and people were lost in uncontrollable flooding. Reports of poor evacuation and non-functional alarm systems added to the malcontent and loss of confidence.

Annalena Baerbock at 40, is the youngest candidate and the Greens’ hope that they might finally have a chance at the Chancellery. Educated in Hamburg and London, she earned a degree in International Law, and for a while worked in Brussels for an MEP.  She is charismatic and energetic, but inexperienced.  She has been accused of allegedly beefing up her resume and of plagiarism. Most Germans find her fake and out of touch.

Olaf Scholf, fondly nicknamed “scholzmat” has the habit of repeating himself and is regarded as intellectually silent.  A former Hamburg Mayor and Federal Labor Minister, he is SDP’s lead candidate to replace Angela Merkel. To avoid gaffes, which he is prone to make , he is said to answer all questions virtually the same.  As it has been reported: “…not saying anything seems to be his main achievement.”

A few minor party candidates have also thrown their hats into the ring. Christian Lindner of the centralist Free Democratic Party (FDP) runs for free market and social economic reforms. Alice Weidel and Tino Chrupala, the hard right AfD, are mostly popular in the former east German States. Janine Wissler and Dietmar Bartsch of the Linke (left) party espouse government run economy and withdrawal from NATO.  It is not surprising that the majority of pollsters agree that German voters are skeptical and opting for “none of the above”.

Germany is prepared for the prospect of several months without a government until a viable coalition is formed. The Merkel magic of forming governments even during stalemates and rocky alliances seems to be absent in this lack luster collection of candidates.  Angela Merkel provided stability and dependability even during the worst of times. Her appearance seemed to provide comfort, confidence, and resiliency. The pending election is bringing jitters to a nation used to a “mother” figure that speaks with authority but also with empathy. This was apparent during the pandemic, when borders were closed, and lockdowns and restrictions were implemented. Her appeal to the nation were heeded, and although some protests were held in large cities like Berlin and Munich, most Germans remained attentive and appreciative of her guidance.

While writing this blog I had the opportunity to discover the woman behind the Chancellor. Few women would I consider leadership quality let alone intellectually superior. Very few public figures would I want to meet. My list has always been extremely minimalistic. My women’s Hall of Fame includes Mother Theresa for her courage, Margaret Thatcher for her tenacity, and Golda Meir for her intelligence.  Angela Merkel will be added to the list for resiliency and leadership. A quantum chemist raised as a communist lived to lead one of the strongest economies in the world with strength and determination.

My admiration for Angela Merkel is on several levels. As a woman she went “mano a mano” with the likes of Putin and Trump and remained unfazed. She exuded confidence without arrogance. She ran against a historically paternal and patronizing establishment and managed to part the seas of doubt through four terms in office. Her strength lies in her ability to maintain equilibrium in the midst of chaos. Qualities so hard to find in current politicians and world leaders.

Die Medal of Freedom wird Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel (CDU)durch den Präsidenten der Vereinigten Staaten, Barack Obama am Dienstag (07.06.2011) im Weißen Haus in Washington (USA) verliehen. Zum Abschluss ihres Besuches erhielt die Kanzlerin die Freiheitsmedaille, die höchste zivile Auszeichnung der USA. Foto: Rainer Jensen dpa +++(c) dpa – Bildfunk+++

Angela Merkel led Germany for 16 years through the good, the bad, and the ugly. She was mutually admired, disliked, and respected. She was the lone woman ranger at world summits and conferences. Her steady stride never faltered. In 2011, Angela Merkel was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then President Obama. The first time a foreigner received the prestigious award. But ironically, and only two years later, in October 2013, she accused the NSA and the Obama administration of tapping her phone.  During a European summit she openly rebuked the US by saying that “spying among friends is never acceptable”. That show of defiance pushed her into her third term in office. Such is the character of one of the most important women politicians in history. Such is the reason why Angela Merkel will be missed by most Germans and Germany. Such is the reason why I admire Angela Merkel. Frau Merkel, auf wiedersehen und viel gluck!

Angela Merkel – Age, Education & Parents – Biography

With Merkel going, candidates fail to inspire German voters (

German elections: Who’s who in the race to replace Angela Merkel as chancellor? | Euronews

Incompetence surrounded by incompetence: Afghanistan

Scenes akin to Saigon in the 70’s have brought bad memories to those of us who remember Vietnam and the disaster that followed the US exit from the region.  We left pain, suffering, and years of devastation as the US decided it had had enough. Images of people hanging on to helicopter skids in a last-minute futile attempt into freedom, still haunt us. That was 1975 and this is now. The images out of Afghanistan are no better and equally disturbing. After 20 years of sweat, treasure, and often blood, we are “getting out” in a similar way.  Lacking planning and leadership, a populace is again abandoned and left to fend for itself. We came, we fought, we died, we pseudo trained, and we left.

The original withdrawal plan from the prior administration was to open dialogue with the Taliban and ease into a withdrawal by May 31 of this year. The Taliban sat for a few discussions but talks stalled. They didn’t agree to some terms, which included their demand for the release of 5,000 Taliban fighters in Afghan jails which was refused: well go figure. In the meantime, the Taliban reorganized and came back stronger than ever.  They had 20 patient years to train and recruit. Resuming withdrawal and draw down plans should have remained shelved until a livable agreement was drawn that included safe passage of Afghans who supported US & coalition troops, and secure civil rights for women and girls. This was not given the time and diplomacy that might have saved Afghans’ return to pre-9/11 conditions.

The US Military and its allies, “trained” the Afghan Forces under conventional methods and ideology assuming all Afghans were of one intent.  Afghanistan is historically tribal and factions dominate various areas and provinces combining fundamentalism, feudalism, and a flavor of the month ideology that keeps the local population inadvertently loyal and in some cases purposely medieval. From Alexander the Great to the USSR, rough terrain and fragmentation of authority has made the country impossible to control and worse to rule. Furthermore, the “new” Afghan government was fraught with corruption and weak in attaining its own populace trust.  What is worse is the total misdirection of the US military in a concrete objective for the country. As one good friend, officer, and US Army veteran told me: “poor leadership with little thought to what we were supposed to be doing there.” The Taliban waited in the wings patiently.  In the meantime, they quietly and strategically crept toward their previous strong holds and willing sympathizers.

The military is not a nation building tool.  Soldiers are trained for war not social community service.  They can train within their scope of training other soldiers with the same ideology and mindset, two attributes that the Afghans do not have and will never have.  It’s a cultural and ideological difference of significance. The USSR learned their mistake after wasting 10 years in a hostile tribal terrain that left them defeated and determined to take the failure in their stride.  Historically, Afghanistan is not conducive to be conquered. Many tried, and almost always failed.  However, Afghans’ lives did improve, especially for women. Girls went back to school, teens played music, and women went back to universities and into politics. The invasion of Afghanistan was initially called Operation Enduring Freedom. Great words that unfortunately did not endure.

China is salivating as it sees itself a step closer to Europe.  Rumor has it that they are already in contact with the Taliban.  In the meantime, women are back in Burqas, girls out of school, and female Afghan politicians targeted for retaliation.  The biggest fear is among interpreters and informants who risked their lives and helped US and NATO troops maintain a viable presence and minimized causalities .  They and their families have a target on their backs. Basically, we are back to square one.

A combination of poor decision making, and politics has brought us back to pre-9/11.  A July 2, 2021, Stars and Stripes article (“US Leaves Bagram Airfield as America winds down its longest war”) described the insidious way the “winding down” was accomplished.  US troops left Bagram Airfield, once home to 10,000 troops, at night, leaving the front gates open to looters who ransacked the place while Afghan Special Forces were waiting for the official transfer of power which they later received in a Twitter message!  The airfield was a “fortress” with a state-of-the art runway that cost $68 million to renovate in 2006. The Afghan general and troops waiting to take over the airfield arrived finding the place deserted and trashed. Courtesy was obviously not part of the Washington plan either.

This is a question of incompetence surrounded by incompetence.  Asinine and child-like hatred of anything Trump, compelled this administration to go at it “their way”. The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal (August 15) called President Biden’s August 14 statement on the withdrawal from Afghanistan as “one of the most shameful in history by a Commander in Chief”. The editorial was referring to Mr. Biden confirming without apologies the abandonment of Afghanistan by the US while absolving himself from any responsibility and blaming of course his predecessor. A common theme among incompetent individuals who are arrogantly clueless and ethically deficient. Washington is culpable of both.

The rhetoric that the Afghans were not prepared to fight is not only disingenuous but disrespectful to the many who tried to fill in the gap that the US military left as they bugged out of the country.  As the Taliban approached Kabul, the Afghan President Ghani fled as well. No surprise there, it’s not like him and thugs like him were ever held responsible. The same Taliban that was chased 20 years ago in the hunt for Osama Bin-laden, will fly its flag on the US Embassy compound. The same embassy, where evacuations are going in earnest, and where plans by the same president that capitulated on the 14th, are in earnest to send in troops to evacuate those left behind. Where they will be operating from is still a mystery. Every military installation has been abandoned.

A “Keystone Cops” moment by a President who has been in public office for 50 years. He was Vice President when ISIS ran amok in the region.  Obviously, he has either forgotten what it was like when his boss abandoned the region as ISIS decapitated people, or he is truly incompetent and not fit for the office he has been elected to serve.  This is his shift and his shit.  His responsibility. His shame.  Infantile deflection of blame is futile. Your watch and your buck.

Mr. Biden’s reasoning is unbecoming the title of Commander in Chief. Saying that it would not have made a difference if the US left now or five years from now is demeaning to the many Afghans who risked their lives for a better Afghanistan. Ignoring advice from military leadership and senators, as early as April, President Biden continued the road to a withdrawal without a plan. The Taliban advance took the queue from a White House that bumbles its way through decision making with little resistance from a Congress that is just as out of tune as Mr. Biden himself.  The Taliban divided and conquered as it took over major cities on its objective to take Kabul and overthrow the government.  Their objective is to reinstate Shariah law and go back to the fundamentalist ideology that threw acid on little girls’ faces as they walked to school, and stoned women in public for adultery. After 20 years of war, rebuilding, hope, and treasure, incompetence and arrogance threw a country back to where it was in 2001 under worse conditions. But hey, it was Trump’s fault. Frankly it was everybody’s fault from B to B: Bush to Biden. All presidents in between were clueless leading with partisan ideology instead of military strategy. Add partisan general officers who threw their two cents in with however was in the White House for a career move and a retirement as military ‘experts” on major cable news networks.

What could have happened? The White House needs to open some history books and read about the Marshall Plan after WWII. A plan that gave assistance to the local population to rebuild their country while keeping a presence as a deterrent. There were barely 3,000 troops left in Afghanistan, but enough to keep the Taliban out of major provinces and give moral support to local armies. The Taliban would have been pseudo contained and possibly compelled to come back to the discussion table.    The complete withdrawal just signaled utter indifference to the country that we invaded and had promised to assist. We basically gave them the birdie.

“Experts” in Washington still hold on to the inane self-centered opinion that there was no solution for Afghanistan.  Really? The Taliban found one. They also managed to replenish their ranks with 5,000 released prisoners.  Negotiations didn’t succeed because there was no superpower across the table that determined an outcome less than favorable to the Taliban if not in agreement.  The Taliban could smell weakness in the water, and it bit where it hurt the most. Kandahar and Kabul have fallen, and so has the US reputation.

 The same incompetent geniuses that advised against staying are now scrambling to send a few thousand US troops in to “evacuate” Americans and hopefully rescue Afghans who are in danger of retaliation and death. To the rest: tough shit.  The building is burning, and we locked the front door.  And if the same incompetent fools think that this is the end of a war, then they must have forgotten what caused 9/11.

The strengthening of terrorist groups is in the weakness of western governments eager to appease until terrorism hits their shores. New York, London, and Paris are as close to Afghanistan as we allow them to be.  We have emboldened the terrorists who had 20 years to recruit and strengthen.  Stupid in our government has reached epidemic levels. Idiots like Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who gave a warning to the Taliban on the abuse of women.  I’m sure they are sweating under their turbans. In her Washington glass house, she has the audacity to even utter a word to those women. An offense to Afghan female courage that is now a death sentence.  Incompetence wrapped in arrogance and tied in stupid.

Afghanistan will go down in history as another Vietnam. A betrayal to a people who have had little choice in their lives by either the Taliban, the Afghan government, or the foreign occupation.  Now, those who arrived 20 years ago bringing some semblance of hope, especially to women and young girls, are scurrying away like rats in the night. The only superpower on earth built on integrity and the promise of freedom sends a Tweet that its leaving, and the Commander in Chief gives them the proverbial finger.

Shame on a self-righteous global community obsessed with human rights until they become inconvenient. Shame on every politician, general, and advisor in Washington who bought into the “withdrawal” cabal without accountability.  And shame on you Mr. President, for blaming your incompetence on someone else. The buck stops at your desk.  You own this as you will own every persecution of every female, informant, and family that was willing to fight and resist alongside our troops. On the doorstep to the 20th anniversary of 9/11, incompetence has never been so apparent and obvious in the White House.

US Chinooks over Kabul US EMBASSY