‘A statesman cannot create anything himself,” the “Iron Chancellor,” Otto von Bismarck, observed. “He must wait and listen until he hears the steps of God sounding through events; then leap up and grasp the hem of his garment.” A century and a half later, Chancellor Olaf Scholz has apparently heard those steps. By canceling a critical gas deal with Russia and overturning a longstanding policy of not sending lethal weapons into war zones, Mr. Scholz has seized the garment and transformed Germany’s role in the world.
Of even greater importance for the global order, Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine could be providential for President Biden too. Like it or not, the retreat of the U.S. has been the big story in the chancelleries and ministries of Europe, Asia and the Middle East for many years. Even before Barack Obama’s failure to follow through on his Syrian “red line” and Donald Trump’s betrayal of Iraqi and Syrian Kurds, the word on the street has been loud and clear: America is faithless to its friends and at serious risk of being challenged by a new axis of China, Russia and even second-tier adversaries like Iran.