“If you break it, you own it,” former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell warned President George W. Bush before his invasion of Iraq. Whether it will ever be fair to blame Angela Merkel for “breaking” Greece is debatable.
But if the euro zone’s weakest link does default this week and is eventually forced out of the single currency, it seems inevitable that the German chancellor, Europe’s most powerful leader, will “own” the Greek problem and that a decision to let Athens go would profoundly shape her legacy. For months, the notoriously cautious Merkel has been wrestling with the question of whether to risk a “Grexit” and accept the financial, economic and geopolitical backlash it would surely unleash.
Unlike her finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, who sent abundant signals in recent months that he could accept a euro zone that does not include Greece, Merkel has been determined to avoid such an outcome, according to her closest advisers. If Greece ends up leaving the euro zone anyway, many in Germany and elsewhere will blame the left-wing government of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras that came to power in January. It has infuriated its partners with what they have perceived to be an erratic, confrontational stance in the debt talks.