In late November 2010, leaked U.S. diplomatic cables revealed that American diplomats considered Westerwelle an obstacle to deeper transatlantic relations and were sceptical of his abilities, with one cable comparing him unfavorably to former German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher. On 3 December 2010, Westerwelle dismissed his personal assistant Helmut Metzner following a WikiLeaks diplomatic cables release which led to Metzner admitting that he regularly spied for the U.S. By May 2011, opinion polls ranked Westerwelle as one of the most unpopular and ineffective foreign ministers since the late 1940s.

At the time, his party had collapsed in several states, including Rhineland-Palatinate and Bremen where they failed to secure the 5% threshold necessary for a seat in parliament. Analysts said one of the main reasons Westerwelle had become so unpopular was that he had been unable to fulfill the expectations of his voters, the majority of whom were middle-class professionals or entrepreneurs. Westerwelle subsequently stepped down as party leader. By July the party was only receiving 3% support in opinion polls, a record low, reflecting what political insiders had called his “last stand” in January, comparing Westerwelle and his party to Captain Ahab and the Pequod.

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