Political philosopher Biden could become German ambassador – POLITICO
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The United States may be on the verge of swapping out its brash and confrontational former German ambassador from the Trump-era for a political philosopher who has published numerous books on democracy – banking on an academic to help stabilize relations American-German.
More than a year after the controversial US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell resigned, German news magazine Der Spiegel announced that US President Joe Biden was planning to appoint Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania, to the post. .
Gutmann, 71, would be the first woman to hold the post. An expert in political philosophy and bioethics who has led Ivy League University in Philadelphia since 2004, Gutmann would bring to Berlin a very different experience and temperament than his predecessor, a conservative political consultant before his tenure as ambassador. The appointment would also come at a crucial time for the transatlantic relationship, which still suffers the lingering damage of Donald Trump’s presidency.
Although Gutmann does not have professional expertise in Germany, she has personal ties to the country: her father, Kurt, grew up in the Franconia region of Bavaria. A student at Nuremberg University when the Nazis took power, he convinced his parents and four siblings to flee Germany to India in 1934, eventually making their way to New York.
The appointment has not yet been officially announced. If chosen, Gutmann would still have to be confirmed by the US Senate and accepted by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Sending him to Berlin would be “a thoughtful and smart choice,” said Sudha David-Wilp, senior transatlantic researcher at the US German Marshall Fund and deputy head of the organization’s Berlin office. “The German-American relationship is so crucial right now in the transatlantic context that it’s certainly important to have the right person here… They need someone with the intellectual clout to work in this position. “
Typically, U.S. ambassadors are awarded either to career diplomats with experience in the region, or to mega-donors who have supported an incoming president’s campaign. As a longtime professor and university president, Gutmann is neither.
Still, she brings some background in politics – she was the head of former President Barack Obama’s Bioethics Commission – and came into frequent contact with Biden through her close ties to Penn. As early as last fall, local media speculated that she might be asked for a role in the administration.
While he was Obama’s vice president, Biden started his “Cancer Moonshot” program in 2016 at Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center and accepted an honorary professorship at the university after leaving the White House in 2017.
Biden also helped found the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington, DC, in 2018. His daughter Ashley and granddaughter Naomi studied at Penn, and he gave the university’s keynote address. in 2013.
In Philadelphia, Gutmann is known for her college education – she studied at the London School of Economics and Harvard, and taught at Princeton before coming to Penn – as well as her fundraising prowess, helping to develop Penn and make it Philadelphia’s largest private employer.
She is also known for her hefty salary, which, at $ 3.6 million in 2017, was the highest in the Ivy League for a college president. Last year, students protested his decision to keep his salary during the coronavirus pandemic as funding for some university programs was cut; Meanwhile, the presidents of several other Ivy League institutions have suffered significant pay cuts.
If confirmed for the job, Gutmann will have her work cut out for her in Berlin.
Trump’s four years in the White House quickly soured US-German relations, and Grenell’s abrasive style in Berlin only made matters worse. (The former Trump envoy resigned his ambassadorial post last June to become acting director of national intelligence; charge d’affaires Robin Quinville has temporarily filled the post.)
Officials on both sides have been eager to restore relations since Biden took power, even though a handful of important political differences remain. On a trip across Europe last month, the first international trip of his presidency, Biden underscored his commitment to U.S. re-engagement on the world stage. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also had a similar message when he visited Berlin last week.
Democratic damage control
Yet Biden’s presidency has not brought things back to their pre-Trump normalcy: Germany remains reluctant to rely on the United States as a long-term strategic partner, arguing for the Union European Union plays a more active role in planning its own future.
The appointment of a well-established scholar like Gutmann – especially one with extensive expertise in democracy issues – sends a signal that Biden is serious about his stated goal of strengthening democracies around the world. While at Penn and Princeton University, Gutmann published several books on democracy, with a particular focus on deliberative democracy, democratic education, and the challenges of political participation in multiethnic societies.
Gutmann “is an intellectual giant – she is arguably one of the two or three most prominent political philosophers on the American side since the Cold War,” said Jonathan Zimmerman, professor of history and education at Penn who expressed his support for Gutmann’s potential. administrative role. “Having someone whose expertise is in democracy makes a lot of sense at the moment if the United States is going to take the lead in this area … And Germany should be the most important ally in this area.”
But without specific experience in transatlantic relations or European affairs, Gutmann will have to walk a fine line at a tenuous time for one of America’s most important diplomatic partners: to simultaneously control the damage of the Trump years, and still push German officials on thorny topics like increased defense spending and Nord Stream 2, a gas pipeline connecting Russia to Germany that the United States and some European countries say will embolden Moscow geopolitically.
German officials “are going to be very happy to have a cooperative partner again and not to walk on eggshells when it comes to Washington,” said David-Wilp of the German Marshall Fund. At the same time, she added, “I think the Biden administration wants to know where Germany is at… This balance, which has been happening for quite a long time now, is not sustainable.”