Replete with melodramatic references straight out of a Danielle Steele or a Nicholas Sparks playbook, “Dear Barack” by author Claudia Clark, is a curious book. In attempting to unravel the secrets underpinning a phenomenal rapport enjoyed by two former leaders of their respective nations, President Barack Obama of the United States and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, the book falls an unwitting prey to an unabashed bias nurtured by the author towards both politicians. As a consequence, the work ends up an unashamed paean that waxes lyrical at almost every page.
The book begins on a very enthusiastic note charting the humble beginnings of both Obama and Merkel. While Merkel spent a predominant part of her formative years under the unrelenting scrutiny of the East German Statsi, Obama grew up under the loving care and astute guidance of a mother who, despite facing the travails of life in the form of a single parent, was determined to ensure that her offspring got the best of education. However as Clark illustrates, the initial meeting between the two protagonists, began, putting it mildly, on a testy note. Visiting Germany as a Presidential candidate, Obama was denied an opportunity to address the German crowd at the famed Brandenburg Gate, a venue where former President John F. Kennedy delivered his immortal “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech at the heights of the Cold War. Merkel apparently remarked that the venue was reserved for talks to be delivered by ‘actual Presidents’. A chastised Obama in turn is said to have retorted that he never demanded that he be accorded a prospect to talk at the hallowed venue.
However as future events depicted, Obama not only got to address a teeming, pulsating crowd of Germans egging him on at the Brandenburg Gate, but also succeeded in establishing a friendship with Merkel, which he himself claimed to be the most cherished political relationship throughout his tenure as President of the United States. Setting aside various differences in opinions concerning key political issues such as the potential arming of Ukraine against the impudent annexation of Crimea by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Obama’s unflinching philosophy of bolstering the corrupt banks that caused the Financial Recession of 2007 or the reticence of Germany in supplying troops to Afghanistan, Obama and Merkel agreed to disagree. But still they managed to forge ahead in tandem, resolutely supporting each other in troubling times. The pinnacle of this relationship was attained when the normally reserved Merkel began addressing Obama as “Dear Barack” instead of the more formal “President of the United States”.
The transformation from “President” to “Dear Obama” is the nub of this book. Unfortunately it is its tedium too. Almost every formal visit made by the two leaders between Germany and The United States are referred to, and entire paragraphs from the talks given by the duo, paraphrased. In addition the key highlights of the speeches as captured by publications of note from both nations such as Der Spiegel and the New York Times are reproduced. To cap it all, the author liberally engages in hyperbole. “On more than one occasion when the camera zoomed in on the chancellor for her reaction to something the president had said, her eyes almost looked wet with tears. Similarly, several times she bit her lip and smiled awkwardly as she acknowledged the president’s remarks”.
The book however has its moments too. The remarkably adroit manner in which Merkel, with inputs received from Obama tackled the Crimea invasion by Putin, before the finalization of the Minsk II peace accord, makes for some interesting and introspective reading. Similarly, the elucidation on how the P5+1 Platform (USA, UK, France, China, Russia + Germany) was leveraged to force Iran to sign a landmark nuclear deal to prevent the autocratic regime from building a nuclear bomb is worth every word. Unfortunately, as the author illustrates, all the hard work and dedication expended by the P5+1 was brought to naught when Donald Trump after assuming power not only pulled USA out of the deal but also deemed it appropriate to impose additional sanctions on Iran.
Similarly the conscientious labour undertaken by a plethora of nations to commit themselves to control emissions so that the perils of climate change could be mitigated if not obviated, received a calamitous set back when an idiosyncratic Trump pulled America out of the Paris Climate accord citing climate change as a ‘manufactured hoax’.
“Dear Barack” could have been so much more riveting.
(Dear Barack: The Extraordinary Partnership of Barack Obama and Angela Merkel by Claudia Clark is published by Disruption Books and will be available from the 19th of October 2021).
Thank you, Net Galley for the Advance Reviewer Copy,