What Merkel Should Tell Obama

President Obama needs some advice from a long-standing ally.

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In recent weeks, the United States has been the subject of op-eds by the leaders of long-time rivals Russia and Iran.  Vladimir Putin used Russia's role in resolving the Syria conflict to criticize America's self-image as the "indispensible" nation. Later, Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, wrote a peace offering in The Washington Post aiming to reboot bilateral relations that resulted in a call with President Obama. After hearing from two of the great U.S. antagonists in the community of nations, it's time the Obama administration heard from a long-standing ally.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on Syria.]

On September 22, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was re-elected to a third term. As head of Europe's leading power and the first among equal nations in the European Union, Chancellor Merkel may use her re-election as an opportunity to reboot U.S.-EU relations in several key areas. Merkel's letter might sound something like this:

Dear Mr. President:

Thank you for your congratulations on my re-election. We both know a bit about the rigors of campaigning. I look forward to moving Germany and Europe forward in my third term. As you continue your second, there are many issues that need our combined attention. Three top the list: trade, security and energy.

First, regarding trade. The launching of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, our U.S.-EU free trade agreement, this past summer is a historic opportunity to set a foundation of growth for both our economies. The EU is entering a period of recovery with the euro intact. Its recovery, like that of the U.S., is tenuous. In addition to bolstering job growth, the TTIP is a chance to move America and Europe closer together in areas that underpin economic growth, particularly financial regulation.

On one topic in particular, however, I need your help. The U.S. and EU have long been poles apart when it comes to the importance of data privacy protections. Given the importance of data protection to the security of many business and financial transactions, the subject plays a sizable role in TTIP negotiations. One consequence of Edward Snowden's actions is a renewed concern about the security of private electronic information and communication. The U.S. stance towards data protection has historically been more lenient than that of Europe. In the wake of the U.S. response to the Snowden affair and the revealed extent of National Security Agency activities, these differences have ossified. No action from your administration would expedite TTIP negotiations more than spearheading a bilateral agreement on common data privacy standards.

Second, regarding security. The situation in Syria may yet be resolved diplomatically. It has, however, exposed weaknesses in the U.S. and Europe's approach to global security. As Germany's leader, I know something about "leading from behind." Given our history, my country is less willing than yours to commit force. Whatever your willingness, however, it is not clear how force would have contributed to resolving the Syrian crisis. The military action you contemplated may have been perceived as punitive, but it was unlikely to be a solution.

We both face a political environment defined by war fatigue and budget constraints. More than that, however, we have seen that the use of force can have limited utility in a security environment where struggling states are driven by civil conflict. While it is crucial that we each maintain military capability that can respond to threats credibly, we need a renewed joint effort to resolve crises like that in Syria diplomatically. As the world's foremost representatives of democracy, we need to lead efforts to defend it, and where possible, aid those seeking to establish it.

Third and finally, regarding energy. In 2011, I made the decision to phase out nuclear power in Germany by 2022. It is an ambitious decision. My country has a political culture that is less tolerant of nuclear power than yours. By announcing the timetable of the phase out, my government incentivized the deployment of alternative energy technologies, a goal your country has aimed at largely through piecemeal actions, like the Renewable Energy Tax Credit. Establishing a clearer mandate for the development of clean energy in the U.S. would help both our countries. Your  2013 Climate Action Plan is a good start. In your final term, it is important that we establish a lasting joint effort on climate change. By speaking with one voice on clean energy, the U.S. and EU will lead the market for its development, and our economies will benefit as a result.

I look forward to working with you over the next three years. Henry Kissinger once complained that he didn't know whom to call when he wanted to talk to Europe. Mr. President, you have my number.

Chancellor Angela Merkel

Federal Republic of Germany

Michael Crowley is a writer for the Foreign Policy Association. He has previously worked at the Center for Strategic International Studies, Akin Gump, and The Pew Charitable Trusts.