- - Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Angela Merkel, Germany’s long-serving chancellor, speaks carefully with Teutonic precision. In her conversations with President Obama on his visit to Britain and Europe she spoke with a certain plaintive tone, seeking reassurance that America hasn’t really withdrawn from the leadership on which Europe has relied for 75 years. She repeated, over and over, the importance of U.S. participation in fashioning the strategies of the Alliance. She seemed to end each such assertion with an unspoken, “that’s right, isn’t it?”

In an unusual public display of disagreement over policy, the two leaders outlined a basic conflict over what to do about Syria and the inundation of migrants and refugees swarming across Europe.

Frau Merkel, facing growing and bitter opposition to her handling of the invasion, is desperate to get the rest of Europe to bear its share of the burden. More than a million migrants arrived in Germany last year, not only from Syria but from other miserable places in the Middle East and Africa, eager to sample “the free stuff” of the European welfare state.

She has been trying to close the door she eagerly opened to all, in part from a good and compassionate heart and in part to assuage the guilt of Germany’s 20th-century past. The business community at first welcomed the new labor recruits, but as the numbers increased, with the prospect of a permanent flow and the difficulties and cost of settling the newcomers, more and more Germans have questioned the policy.

In her conversations with President Obama she was clearly asking how far Mr. Obama’s withdrawal of American leadership will go, and inferentially, whether the president of 2017 will continue that strategy — or lack of a strategy. He was the wrong man to ask; he obviously wants his legacy, such as it may be, preserved. The president in Europe was a man of contradictions. He lectured the British against leaving the European Union and did nothing to reassure them that he appreciates “the special relationship,” beyond his affection for the queen. Nor were they reassured by Mr. Obama’s confusing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization with the European Union. Did he not read the briefing paper on his way over?

The differences between Berlin and Washington over Syria were laid out unusually clearly. Frau Merkel has repeatedly called for the establishment of “safe zones” in Syria. These would put refugees into areas protected through military intervention, if necessary, by the Western powers. President Obama has emphatically rejected this strategy, even as he announced sending more American soldiers to Iraq to help in the fight against ISIS. Everything in the Middle East is connected.

Mr. Obama is counting on Secretary of State John Kerry’s usual cliche, a call for another conference about a negotiated political settlement. This assumes that the Russians and Syrian President Bashar Assad want an authentic settlement, and that the president has the kidney to make and enforce such a settlement. Mr. Obama’s famous “red lines” tend to fade quickly to a sickly pink. The problem bedeviling Germany and Europe is the invasion force of illegal migration.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is blackmailing Germany with the threat to renege on his agreement to stop the migration through Turkey to Europe if the European Union rejects his request for visa-free EU entry for 78 million Turks. President Obama’s retreat to the rear, there to nurse his fear of leadership, leaves doubt and chaos as the only portion for Angela Merkel and Europe. Like the rest of us, she can only count the days to Jan. 20, 2017.

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