George W. Bush has a way with the ladies. You could ask Condi, Karen, Harriet (and of course Laura). Now another fraulein has sauntered onto the scene, looking for extra public (and private) courting. The new interest is Angela Merkel, who is about to be the first woman chancellor of Germany. Foreign women, as any good old boy could tell you, aren't always as easy to impress as one of the locals. They not only play hard to get, but they've got other men eager to fill in their dance cards.
Frau Merkel follows Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who was downright hostile to the president, encouraging a "special relationship" with Russian President Vladimir Putin while indulging frequent insults aimed at Washington. The new chancellor can change all that. But it won't be easy.
Three weeks after the inconclusive German election, often compared to the U.S. presidential election of 2000 because it, too, went into overtime, Angela Merkel emerged with a Mona Lisa smirk.
With Gerhard Schroeder finally out of a spotlight he monopolized for seven years, she moves into her own special place in the television lights. At the press conference where she announced the deal that would make her chancellor, she enjoyed an aura of Cinderella, a woman who needs no glass slipper to dance among the bits of glass that showered from the ceiling that she shattered. But she had to hurry through the brief moment of euphoria. At midnight, the carriage, just like Cinderella's, turned into a pumpkin, and the snow-white horses became mice scurrying across the landscape where friend and foe began taking potshots. The "grand coalition" sounded more like a grand-standing coalition. If Leni Reifenstahl had made this movie, she would have called it the "Triumph of the Weak." The new chancellor had to barter away eight important ministries to her rival party, including the two most crucial of all, foreign affairs and finance.
But if optimism isn't the proper mood of the moment, neither is pessimism, especially when we consider Germany's relationship with the United States. The coalition partners expect a correction course in the relationship with Russia that Herr Schroeder fashioned at American expense. Though Mrs. Merkel won't send troops to Iraq to participate in a war exceedingly unpopular with the Germans, she will no doubt smooth some of those feathers Herr Schroeder took such delight in ruffling.
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