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Angela Merkel: gentle persuasion in an age of populism

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“Now she is all alone.” Former president Barack Obama slightly squinted and bit his lip in characteristic fashion as he spoke these words to his adviser. Obama had spent three hours alone with Angela Merkel in Hotel Adelon in Berlin. It was late November 2016. Donald Trump had just been elected the 45th president of the United States and his soon-to-be predecessor was worried as he prepared to leave office. Only one individual, thought Obama, could keep the liberal world order alive while America was taking leave of its geopolitical senses. And that person was the German chancellor.

But – and this worried the 44th president – Merkel had decided not seek another term after the German federal elections in September 2017. Obama was in the German capital to make her change her mind. He succeeded. Merkel was persuaded that it was her duty to carry on the baton of liberal internationalism, free trade and democracy. At least for the next four years.

“I noticed a tear in her eye as we left,” Obama’s speechwriter Ben Rhodes later noted when he recounted the rendezvous between the two leaders. At least, that is the story as told in a fly-on-the-wall account by the editor of the German newspaper Die Welt. In the next four years, it was Merkel who sought to salvage the Paris climate accord, and it was she who maintained the geopolitical........

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