At the Ranch With German Chancellor Merkel

Posted by Nancy Brinker
November 13, 2007
German Chancellor Merkel With Ambassador Brinker in Crawford, Texas

This is the second in a series of posts byNancy Brinker, Chief of Protocol. Ambassador Brinker provides a behind the scenes look into the U.S. visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Also see:Behind the Scenes With Protocol Chief Nancy Brinker

Today was another amazing day for our office and me. Chancellor Merkel arrived at Ft. Hood to be greeted by two of our protocol officers, Andrew McGarrity and Yale Scott ...and myself.

The Chancellor and her husband, Dr. Joachim Sauer, arrived mid-afternoon. Along with the Protocol chief from Germany, Ambassador Jurgen Mertens, we boarded the plane to greet them and her staff.

We then moved them to the Marine One helicopter. Along the way, we were able to chat for a bit. She was so polite and collegial with her staff and obviously well respected. She and her husband, who is a professor at Humboldt University, had many questions about the topography of the surrounding areas of the ranch. The trees, crops and the lifestyle were all very interesting to both him and her. We talked about many things with her and her Ministers that were on board with us. She has been looking forward to the visit! I asked the delegation what was their favorite American food and they said hamburgers hands down!! We then landed at the Crawford ranch where the Chancellor was met by the President, Mrs. Bush, Secretary Rice, National Security adviser Stephen Hadley, U.S. Ambassador to Germany, William Timken, and his very active wife Sue. They have been posted there for two and a half years. We had a very interesting discussion about Central Europe. I was so interested in the cultural life of Berlin, the evolution of Europe, and the direction dynamic leaders such as President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel take.

My thoughts went back to the history -- as I knew through my parents around the turn of the century -- about Germany’s relationship with the world and Europe, how the country has evolved over time, and how this leader probably would have been unimaginable 50 or 100 years ago. Having met three world leaders this week, all very important in a historical context, I am quite sure my great grandfather, who came here from Tyrannyin in 1914, would have never believed these leaders could be real or exist.

During President Sarkozy's visit, he spoke of the Marshall Plan. I wish the Americans who signed this plan in the setting of the Blair House could have heard this speech. The Blair House is a part of the Protocol Office’s responsibilities and it is fascinating to me that the first drafts of the Marshall Plan were discussed in its Lee Dining room. This room was Truman's cabinet room between 1948 and 1952. This was one of the results from the young, charismatic, proactive and pro-democratic leaders.

I love this job so much because I get to celebrate history, or some part of it, and begin to dream and imagine how my great grandfather would have felt -- or for that matter, how President Truman would have felt and thought. It is for me a dream of history, complete with legend and progress.

One more interesting thing that the German Chief of Protocol, Ambassador Jurgen Mertens, and I talked about was making sure all parties were cared for and seated properly and diplomatically. The meeting of the Franco-German Council of Ministers is coming up this week and my friend is working hard to make sure great thoughtfulness is given to placement. No matter how thoughtful we are and how hard we try, if the leaders are unhappy, we will be held accountable. This is an art, not a science, and every judgment becomes important for the success of successful diplomacy...

Day 2

We are now at the ranch with the meeting occurring between the President and his key staff and the Chancellor and her key staff. The mood is much more relaxed than in the White House but the intensity of the issues are just as focused and it seems to be a better environment, with no distractions. All are respectful of the time they have and are seeking to visit quietly and thoughtfully.

After this session, there will be a press availability and a myriad of subjects will be addressed. There is tremendous goodwill here between the 2 leaders and it is palpable. Also, the chemistry among the staff is excellent!

As for me, I am still nervous about directions. As one who has difficulty reading maps, you can imagine what it’s like to look at them. As usual, I try to rely on reading the flow. This is my first trip here to the ranch and gratefully it is not too difficult to find directions.

We will host an essential staff barbecue lunch and we will try to sum up the needs to complete any items about meetings, make sure all exit plans are in place and as usual, I will imagine what can go wrong and think about backup plans...

In the few moments of downtime, I am using time to construct meetings for our offices’ first diplomatic mission we will offer to the diplomatic community outside of Washington and designing it so that we can offer the subjects and experiences they seek. Nobody, especially a busy Ambassador, wants time wasted so it's important to introduce ideas, people and experiences to the diplomats so they find their time valuable here. I always think of Stephen Covey’s mantra, "Seek to understand before you seek to be understood" and I am dedicated to offer understanding.

The walls of the ranch are covered with the most wonderful private pictures of family and political leaders and the sense of history in a President's private space is profound. I think of the millions of flashbulbs a politician of this caliber must endure. Now I am very conscious every time the cameras go off...

Overall, the ranch is a warm, family environment simple in its quiet space -- not at all off putting to visitors. The fields, land and space are lovely and the tree farm they have planted is admirable. Mrs. Bush's grace and ability to provide a comfortable environment is evident everywhere.

Again, today has been another lesson for me. Diplomacy works when it can and policy is only possible when people agree to uphold the rule of law and work at it all of the time. It all works better in a calm environment when people can feel free to share real feelings. This is not rocket science but not always easy to accomplish.

In my next life, I will be a proven shoe expert. Having undergone long needed foot surgery in August, I still have lots of pain when I stand for a prolonged time, so I have learned which shoes work and I am amused to think that the ones I thought were ugly are now in my mind the most beautiful!

We just bid goodbye to Chancellor Merkel. On the way here I asked she and her husband wanted anything special. They both said that they loved hamburgers. I went out on a limb and promised I would deliver. Actually, this had been planned long before I mentioned it to the meal planner but of course, like anyone starting new in a job and needing affirmation and praise, I took full credit as she told me on the way to board Marine One. How wonderful the hamburgers were....

Until next time...



District Of Columbia, USA
November 13, 2007

Howard in Washington, DC writes:

Love the blog post, but a small correction. Throughout the post, the Marshall Plan, which helped Europe to rebuild after WWII, is spelled incorrectly with only a single "l" at the end. I know it's minor, but if I were George Marshall, I'd want to make sure it was correct.

Dipnote Bloggers write:

Thanks for your comment! We corrected the item mentioned above.

District Of Columbia, USA
November 14, 2007

Dan in Washington, DC writes:

Ambassador Brinker: Thanks for another interesting and informative report. As a long-time Department of State employee, I wanted to follow-up on a few of your perspectives.

Regarding your observations about the importance of U.S. diplomatic history in general and the great legacy of the Marshall Plan specifically, I fully agree that our nationãs diplomatic history is vital, that the Marshall Plan was critical to our nation and indeed the entire world, and that we as a State Department and as a nation must know and understand the past in order to frame the future.

In this regard, here are a few insightful quotes from Dean Acheson and George Kennan, two of the most famous and accomplished State Department diplomats, and from George Marshall himself, concerning the creation of the Marshall Plan:

Dean Acheson wrote the following about the nature of Marshall's leadership as Secretary of State in 1947: "General Marshall was impatient with a type of nonsense particularly prevalent in the State Department known as kicking the problem around. All of us who have work with General Marshall have reported a recurring outburst of his: Don't fight the problem, gentlemen, solve it! With him the time to be devoted to analysis of a problem, to balancing on the one hand against on the other hand, was definitely limited. The discussion he wanted was about plans of action."

Along the same lines, Marshall said the following after a visit to Europe in April of 1947, "The recovery in Europe has been far slower than had been expected. Disintegrating forces are becoming evident. The patient is sinking while the doctors deliberate ã action cannot await compromise through exhaustion."

Likewise, George Kennan recalled that when he was ordered by Marshall to put together a staff that could formulate a plan for the recovery of Europe as well as the "long-term programs for the achievement of U.S. foreign policy," Marshall's only advice to Kennan was two words: "Avoid trivia."

Acheson later described the Marshall Plan its success as, "one of the greatest and most honorable adventures in history."

Regarding Ambassador Brinker's comments on the importance of getting protocol details, including ensuring that all parties are treated well, with respect and with appropriate diplomatic protocol, again Acheson would surely agree for he correctly observed that: "The best environment for diplomacy is found where mutual confidence between governments exists ..."

November 14, 2007

Atoem writes:

Merkel is respected by her staff. The U.S. staff seems to be something to get rid of; they have no respect for Americans or their jobs. They won't do the job they signed on to do; the work anywhere thing is old and taken as part of the job. There are millions who would love the work. We should open the work up to more Americans by putting a five year term limit on the FSO and allow more Americans to serve. America needs that respect from it's employees.

Pennsylvania, USA
November 15, 2007

Thomas in Pennsylvania writes:

@ Atoem -- "We should open the work up to more Americans by putting a five year term limit on the FSO and allow more Americans to serve."

The idea of putting a five year term limit on FSO careers seems to me to demean the professionalism, skill, and experience needed to do the job well. High level diplomacy is not a job for amateurs. It is in the best interests of the nation to have the best diplomats available doing the nation’s work. That is not to say that all diplomats are skilled, despite their years in the job. But I do not know of another position that properly prepares you to do the work of a senior FSO. I am not an FSO. I am an experienced professional who has worked in my field for more than 20 years. I would not have been able to do my current job with only five years experience. I cannot see how a completely inexperienced, or one with only 1-5 years experience, could do the job of a senior POLMIL adviser at NATO or a serious economics adviser in Beijing. Even appointed Ambassadors rely heavily on the experienced FSOs on their staffs.

I would love for it to be easier to get into the Foreign Service. I am in the process of trying to get in. But I think the better way is to expand the number of officers rather than limiting their terms.

Texas, USA
November 18, 2007

Sarah in Texas writes:

Thank you For your Post ,, I hope the best for the U.S.
"We should open the work up to more Americans by putting a five year term limit on the FSO and allow more Americans to serve."
Yeah Agree


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