The bankruptcy of Merkel’s liberal cheer squad

The liberal press are hailing German chancellor Angela Merkel as the champion of the “free world”, a defender of civilisation against the barbarian hordes led by Donald Trump. In a paean for Merkel, the Guardian’s Suzanne Moore wrote, “Theatrics don’t interest her but there is a vision, a morality, a core to her … one thought comes to mind: this is what strong and stable actually looks like”.

Merkel’s real vision and morals were on full display when it came to Greece. She was central to enforcing a series of austerity memorandums that devastated the lives of a whole generation of workers and young people – destroying the health system, savaging wages, slashing pensions and imposing mass unemployment. Yes, only a “strong and stable” leader could show such an unflinching commitment to that “core” moral value of capitalism – maintaining the profits of the German and other European banks whatever the human cost.

But commentators have rushed to endorse Merkel’s response following the G7 meeting with Trump: “We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our hands”, she said.

The veneer of European “sophistication”, when counterposed to Trump’s brutish crassness, appeals to many of Trump’s liberal opponents. But there is nothing in the least progressive about the chorus of demands for greater assertiveness by the European powers. 

For the likes of Merkel and her media cheer squad, taking “fate into our hands” is not about European governments providing a less militaristic, more democratic, more genuinely reforming alternative to Trump’s far right challenge. The European leaders, such as new French president Emmanuel Macron, want to step up the neoliberal attacks on working class living standards, further undermine democratic rights with draconian state of emergency laws and boost military spending to defend their imperialist interests.

There is a widely held assumption that Europe’s rulers are somehow more peace-loving than the warmongering US rulers. This goes back to the opposition of a series of European governments to George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq.

The European powers have also been more supportive than the US of a negotiated settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and most recently German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel’s savaging of Trump for his $110 billion arms sale to the Saudi dictatorship.

However, these divisions do not reflect counterposed moral values. They are about competing financial and imperial interests.

The European powers understood that the US invasion of Iraq was not simply about deposing Saddam Hussein. By seizing Iraq’s oil wealth, the US hoped to strengthen its hand against all its rival powers and force them into line. It was an attack aimed as much against Germany and Japan as against Iraq.

Meanwhile, France has been engaging in a series of military adventures in its former colonies in Africa. And government after government in Europe, well before Trump was elected, has been ratcheting up its military budget.

In the face of Trump’s failure to give a clear commitment at the G7 summit to carrying out the US’s obligations under the NATO treaty, a series of commentators has called for further increases in military spending and the formation of a unified European army to fight border wars with Russia. Paul Mason stridently spelled it out in the Guardian

“[T]he US president’s latest speech leaves European powers with little choice. Jeremy Corbyn, although he has left behind pacifism and unilateralism, needs to facilitate the emergence of a new, positive Labour defence and security policy. It should be focused on the real threats – a disintegrating world order and the growing unpredictability of thousands of jihadis in the UK – not just a set of old left wing nostrums.

“In a world as dangerous as this, led by men as dangerous as Trump and Putin, we should need no prompting to exceed the 2 percent of GDP defence spending target, and to reverse all cuts to police.”

So, according to Mason, in the face of Trump’s dystopian world we should ditch our quaint “old left wing nostrums” of opposing war and militarism and go for that really progressive, thoroughly new alternative of a stepped up “war on terror”, more police powers, more attacks on democratic rights, more Islamophobia and further cuts to essential government services to pay for it all.

Similar arguments have surfaced here in Australia. In the light of Trump, it has been argued that Australia can no longer afford to be so reliant on the US militarily.

Yes, the Trump presidency is another clear reason to break out of the ANZUS alliance. But ANZUS has never been about the defence of the living standards and democratic rights of workers and the oppressed. It has been about defending the profits and imperialist interests of Australian and US bosses.

A more “independent” but more heavily militarised Australia is not a progressive alternative to the US alliance. Instead, we need to advance those “old left wing nostrums” of opposition to war, racism and attacks on working class living standards and fight for even greater democratic rights.