Author Claudia Clark has written a heartfelt, well-researched book on the partnership between former US President Barack Obama and former German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Both are well regarded as world leaders and faced tough personal and political challenges in their roles.
Obama faced questions about his race and ethnicity. Merkel faced questions about her decision not to have children. Both were the youngest leaders of their respective countries. Merkel was the first woman to lead Germany, and Obama was the first black President.
Obama and Merkel started on a “bad note.” Obama’s staffers regarded Merkel as rude not for not attending his inauguration. Germany was also resented for checkbook diplomacy and not putting boots on the ground.
Merkel denied Obama the opportunity to speak at the Brandenburg gate as a presidential hopeful in 2008. When he became President, she stated in a New York Times article that she would resist him. Although she stopped short of criticizing his administration, the lack of climate change legislation because of an unsympathetic congress was no excuse for Obama.
Obama took ownership of the world economic crisis starting in the US after an accusation by Berlusconi, even though he was not President then. Merkel still had not let her guard down around him, but his admission and taking responsibility laid the foundation for their relationship to follow.
Obama called her a “friend,” but Merkel was still not open with her feelings about him. Regarding Iran and Russia, both shared views that Iran should not be allowed to gain nuclear weapons. Merkel recognized the need to have friendly relations with Russia because of their support in the crisis with Iran.
Obama discussed his book “dreams from my father” in Germany, and a question was asked of Obama regarding his half-sister living in Germany. Merkel chimed in, demonstrating she had read the book, which indicated her growing friendliness towards Obama after initially perceiving him as arrogant.
Merkel was not known for her forte in public speaking, but people started noticing her speech was more confident, eloquent, reflective, and passionate. She had begun to learn public speaking from Obama, even subconsciously. She was the first German chancellor to address a joint session of Congress in 50 years.
In 2011 Merkel referred to him as dear President, dear Barack. This shows how far their relationship had come. As a general rule, Germans are reserved about giving compliments, so addressing him by his first name spoke volumes. In 2013, Obama finally got the opportunity to speak at the Brandenburg gate.
After Trump won in 2016, Obama went on a farewell trip to Germany to see his most important partner. Rather than passing the baton of the leader of the free world to Hillary, Obama would pass it on to Merkel.
Trump’s awkward first meeting with Merkel on her visit to the US was a far cry from her bonhomie with Obama.
“Their relationship was by no means linear. They had their differences. The important thing is that despite their differences, they came out on top; they came out stronger because they had enough respect for one another,” said political activist and author Claudia Clark.
Claudia Clark is an author, speaker, and activist focused on social justice and democracy. In 2017, Clark and her husband moved from California to Germany, where she served as the national Get Out the Vote (GOTV) coordinator for the Democrats Abroad Germany chapter from January 2019 to May 2020. Clark has several advanced degrees, with a focus on social work, women’s history, and labor relations. She currently lives in Berlin, where she is conducting research for her next book, which will compare the experiences of the Northern Irish during the height of the IRA conflict with the East Germans during the Cold War.