Olaf Scholz with Joe Biden in Washington: Friendship is not enough at the moment

Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited US President Joe Biden in the White House. Both agree on issues of war and peace – unfortunately that doesn’t help Ukraine much at the moment.

In the Oval Office, the office of the US President, there is this old fireplace, ivory white, with subtle ornaments. Before him, it was possible to observe many times what the state of German-American relations was like. Gerhard Schröder and George W. Bush celebrated their reconciliation here in a friendly manner. Donald Trump rather grimly refused to shake Angela Merkel’s hand.

There are only nice fireplace pictures of Olaf Scholz and Joe Biden. Two statesmen listening carefully to each other. Two social democrats who like each other. That’s how it was before, and that’s how it is now.

Biden welcomes Scholz, a fire crackles in the fireplace behind them. The wood cracks so loudly that you can barely hear Biden’s greeting three meters away.

Scholz is the speaker in this duo.

Olaf Scholz could use the encouragement of a friend

He congratulates the Chancellor for his leadership in supporting Ukraine, Biden says clearly enough for all the cameras in the room. Scholz nods happily.

The German Chancellor visiting the American President is officially a working visit. For Biden and Scholz, however – and they never tired of emphasizing this – it is an exchange between good friends.

The timing of the meeting could hardly have been better. Scholz is traveling to Washington in a week in which billions in aid for Ukraine and Israel failed after long negotiations in the US Congress. And it comes at a time when he is lobbying Europe to supply more weapons to the Ukrainian army.

Scholz says he hopes that Congress will approve the aid quickly. Biden raises his right hand slightly and clasps his index and middle fingers.

Fingers crossed.

Biden and Scholz – they need each other

It’s a bleak scenario: If military aid stops coming from the USA, if other European states stop delivering, Scholz and Germany’s commitment to Ukraine will be lonely. The Chancellor could really use the encouragement of an old friend – even if he can do little about Ukraine at the moment.

In return, Biden can particularly tolerate the solidarity of his guest this afternoon: In the US election campaign, the president’s slips of the tongue and suspected lapses in memory are the topic of the day.

Sure, Scholz and Biden talk on the phone regularly. But such a personal exchange is something completely different, it was previously said from people around Scholz. The relationship is trusting. The meeting in the Oval Office was scheduled to last an hour. In the end it takes significantly longer. The Chancellor particularly wanted to discuss support for Ukraine and the situation in the Middle East with the US President.

Traffic light disputes and household chaos are far away on this trip abroad. This is about more.

After the conversation, Scholz stands outside the White House in Lafayette Park. His last statement of the trip is accompanied by the sound of a street musician’s trombone.

“One can safely say that the relations between Germany and the USA are currently as intense, as close and as amicable as they probably haven’t been for many years and decades,” says Scholz.

He seems correspondingly satisfied. But of course, what the Chancellor’s office had previously stated also applies after the conversation: one should not overestimate German influence in Washington.

But you can still try, can’t you?

Scholz placed his message to the American establishment in the Wall Street Journal on the day of his arrival. The business newspaper is read well into the more moderate Republican camp. In other words, from people who are quite critical of arms deliveries to Ukraine. Which are still accessible for good arguments.

Discussion about arms deliveries to Ukraine: Strack-Zimmermann and Hofreiter like it

“We must do everything in our power to prevent a Russian victory,” writes Scholz in the guest article and calls for further military aid for Ukraine. “If we don’t do this, we could soon find ourselves in a world that is even more unstable, threatening and unpredictable than during the Cold War.”

It is a text that Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann and Anton Hofreiter should also like.

Scholz appears in Washington with the self-confidence of a man who fulfills his target. Germany has now delivered or already decided to deliver military equipment worth more than 30 billion euros. From the Chancellor’s point of view, the days in which the Federal Republic had to justify its contribution to the security architecture of the West are also over. NATO’s two percent target? Fulfills.

Scholz has always coordinated German support for Ukraine closely with the USA. His text is above all an appeal for it to stay that way. We must “continue to proceed strategically in lockstep on both sides of the Atlantic,” he writes.

The Chancellor has every reason to be concerned. The situation in Ukraine is developing in a direction that should alarm the entire Western alliance. The government and military have been arguing for months. President Volodymyr Zelenskyj has just replaced the commander in chief. After the failed offensive last year, the army in the east of the country is now barely managing to hold the front. Only the clever use of drones saves Zelensky’s troops from relevant Russian breakthroughs and terrain gains.

Is the West’s support shaky?

The Ukrainian army is missing almost everything: soldiers, tanks, artillery ammunition. Morale doesn’t just die in the trenches.

In this situation of all places, an impression is now emerging in Europe and the USA that Putin’s propaganda machine could not have staged better: the West’s support is shaky. The problem is that it’s not just an impression.

Shortly after his arrival, the day before his visit to the White House, the Chancellor met several senators and members of the House of Representatives for dinner, four from each party. Rock bass is served with vegetables in lobster sauce. At dinner, Scholz can see how his call for arms is being received in Washington. Lindsay Graham came, an influential Republican man, sometimes a Trump critic, sometimes a Trump fan. But there is also Chris Coons, a Democratic senator who looks so similar to Scholz that the two posed for a lookalike photo.

To put it mildly, there are eventful days ahead for members of Congress. After long negotiations, an agreement between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate failed for the time being on Tuesday. In order to get billions in aid for Ukraine and Israel from Congress, the Democrats would have agreed to stricter laws for border protection with Mexico.

The Republicans had pushed for this – before they realized shortly before the vote that this wasn’t enough accommodation for them. There are now further discussions about how military aid for Ukraine and Israel can be decided. Exit? Open.

Donald Trump controls the Republicans

Scholz said after the meeting with members of Congress that he was confident that a decision could be made soon. Not many in Washington share the Chancellor’s confidence. Negotiations have been going on for too long.

Where did the Republicans’ latest about-face come from? US President Biden quickly identified the culprit. Donald Trump hasn’t even been officially elected as the presidential candidate yet, and he’s already back in control of the party. Wouldn’t an agreement with the Democrats be good for Trump? Okay, then there aren’t any.

Scholz does not allow any thoughts of a second term in office for the ex-president on this trip. He doesn’t even have to. Cooperation on military aid is already difficult enough – despite the old friend in the Oval Office.

If there is no agreement in Congress, Biden says in front of the crackling fire, then that would be “close to criminal neglect.” Scholz just nods again. What would he have to add to that?