REVISED — Fractured Continent: Former WaPo Foreign Editors talk Merkel vs. Putin and the future of Europe

Hoagland and DrozdiakFrom left to right, Bradley Graham, owner of Politcs and Prose; Jim Hoagland, Foreign Columnist for the Washington Post; and William Drozdiak, author of Fractured Continent: Europe’s Crises and the Fate of the West. (Photo by Matt Holt)

By Matt Holt

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Jim Hoagland recalls the first time he met William Drozdiak. Drozdiak’s European basketball career was coming to a close, and he came to Hoagland looking for a job at the Washington Post.

“He came into my office in Paris in 1977 wanting to try out a career in journalism,” Hoagland said. “I thought he had the stuff to be a good journalist.”

Hoagland, who served as foreign editor for the Post and now serves as a columnist, turned out to be right. Together, the two men have six decades worth of experience reporting from Europe, and on Tuesday night they led a discussion at Politics and Prose, promoting Drozdiak’s new book Fractured Continent: Europe’s Crises and the Fate of the West

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Hoagland said the American policy “was to create a Europe, whole and free.” Drozdiak’s title selection suggests that hasn’t happened.

“My favorite part about this book is that it shows the importance to Americans of what happens in Europe, and the importance to Europeans of what happens in America,” Hoagland said.

One way Drodziak does so is by outlining a common enemy between Europe and America: Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister.

Both Germany and the United States fell victim to Russian Hackers, Drozdiak said. America saw the Russians meddle in the 2016 general election, and Germany’s Bundestag, or parliament, suffered a data breach. Russians also saw an attempt to breach the French election fall short.

Russia’s aggression, according to Drozdiak, stems from their leader, prime minister Vladimir Putin.

“And now we see the resurgence of an aggressive, belligerent Russia, taking revenge and trying to reverse history, as Vladimir Putin said,” Drodziak said.

Russia has developed something Drozdiak calls “hybrid warfare.”

“Their ability to spread misinformation, which we call fake news, through social media, allows them to disrupt societies without firing a single bullet,” he said. “It’s not going to be overwhelming numbers of tanks or nuclear weapons that determine superiority in warfare,. It’s going to be cleverness and nimbleness because in a way, this form of asymmetric warfare has been adopted by Russia in its dealings with the West.”

When the Berlin Wall fell and the USSR dissipated, Drozdiak was the foreign editor for the Washington Post, giving him a front-row seat to German reunification and the rise of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “I think, and I think a lot of people would agree, that Angela Merkel is the now the most prominent and respected democratic leader in the world,” he said.

“I think, and I think a lot of people would agree, that Angela Merkel is the now the most prominent and respected democratic leader in the world,” he said.

Drozdiak built a relationship with Merkel when he worked on the American Council on Germany, and Hoagland said it’s apparent throughout the book.

“When you’re done reading the book, you’ll realize that no journalist knows and understands Merkel like Bill Drozdiak,” Hoagland said.

Merkel has a deep appreciation for the United States, Drozdiak said, and remembers visiting California during her childhood.

“When East Germany was finally liberated and [Merkel] could finally travel, the first place she visited was the cliffs of La Jolla, and she has fond memories of looking out at the Pacific Ocean,” Drozdiak said.

Drozdiak told the crowd that Merkel is deeply committed to a Europe with open borders, but she’s facing an anxious Europe with a growing refugee crisis, all while Russia is menacing from the East.

“Merkel has been put in a very difficult position. Germany is still very uncomfortable about exercising power, and the fact that it is the dominant country in Europe,” he said.

Drozdiak compared both Putin and Merkel, who’ve been instrumental in the revival of their countries. Merkel, Drozdiak says, is methodical in their decision-making, so much so that in Germany, they’ve turned her name into a verb.

“In Germany, to ‘Merkel’ is to procrastinate,” he said.

Merkel has built strong relationships with all nine of Germany’s neighbors, Drozdiak said, and Putin has attempted to destabilize all of Russia’s neighbors. Merkel believes her strengths are in her relationships with Germany’s neighboring countries, while Putin believes that he is strongest when Russia’s neighbors are weak.

When facing Russia, it is critical that France is strong and united with Germany, especially with Great Britain leaving the EU, says Drozdiak.

“Merkel has said to me many times that France’s weakness is Germany’s problem,” he said.

Merkel did not get along with the last two French prime minister, but according to Drozdiak, she is hopeful that Emmanuel Macron, the newly-elected French prime minister, will help her provide a united front against Putin, and help push Europe forward.

The state of Europe is precarious, Drozdiak warns.

“There’s a lot of anxiety and uncertainty of what’s going to happen in Europe,” Drozdiak said. “The arrival of Donald Trump has accelerated Europe’s belief that they have to take destiny into their own hands.”

About Matt Holt

A self proclaimed sports and hip-hop expert with a passion for American politics, Matt Holt really enjoys talking about himself in the third person. Follow me here for my thoughts on everything from the Premier League, why Macklemore sucks, and everything in between.

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