What Helmut Kohl Taught Bill Clinton

Mr. Kohl had an ignominious end to his career, perhaps the steepest fall from grace in German postwar politics, when his former protégée and now chancellor, Angela Merkel, pushed him from power over a scandal involving illicit campaign financing. At one moment he was the hero behind German reunification; the next he was seen as an embarrassment within his own party, increasingly lonely and isolated.

But recent history has been kind to Mr. Kohl, if only by showing the contrast between the sort of international statesmanship he stood for and what passes as leadership today.

there are some important lessons to be learned from Mr. Kohl.

  1. For one, the West is doomed when it starts giving in to Russian intimidation.
  2. A second: To keep and nourish an alliance, you sometimes have to do things that are good for all partners but don’t play well domestically.
  3. And finally, trust among allies is perhaps the most precious commodity of all, which you play with to everyone’s peril.

Chancellor Kohl knew that alliances are not measured by annual balance sheets; they pay off over a longer term. His stance on the Pershings earned the trust of his American counterparts, a credit he could draw on in 1989 when the peoples of Eastern Europe, including in East Germany, were in revolt against Soviet domination and homegrown dictators.

.. Other nations in Europe were afraid of the overwhelming power a reunified Germany could muster within Europe, and did what they could to oppose reunification.

.. It wasn’t because Mr. Bush thought he owed Mr. Kohl something; it was because Mr. Kohl had earned Washington’s trust.

.. In a time of Russian revanchism, it is crucial to remember how many billions of dollars Germany and Europe invested in Russia to stabilize a failing country.

.. the American people are against your proposal to help Russia 74 to 20.’ ” But Mr. Clinton, like Mr. Kohl, knew that a stable Russia made everyone safer. “We got hired to do the right thing here,”

.. To demonstrate the continuing German commitment to a common Europe, he agreed to give up the most cherished symbol of Germany’s postwar economic success, the mark.

.. he urged his countrymen to be more forgiving toward their European brothers and sisters in distress, because he more than anyone knew how much Germany had relied on the help of others during its own trials.