Obama the writer deploys pen on other world leaders in new memoir

Former US president says Netanyahu ‘smart, canny, tough’; describes Putin’s ‘practiced disinterest’ and Merkel’s ‘no-nonsense, analytical sensibility’

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, speaks with then US President Barack Obama in Hangzhou in eastern China's Zhejiang province, Sept. 5, 2016. (Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, speaks with then US President Barack Obama in Hangzhou in eastern China's Zhejiang province, Sept. 5, 2016. (Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

WASHINGTON — Former US president Barack Obama offers poetic and often biting assessments of other world leaders in his new memoir “A Promised Land,” which he says he wrote entirely on his own in longhand.

Here are some of his descriptions of other world leaders from his encounters with them between 2009 and 2011:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

“Built like a linebacker, with a square jaw, broad features, and a gray comb-over, Netanyahu was smart, canny, tough and a gifted communicator in both Hebrew and English.”

“Netanyahu could be charming, even solicitous, when it served his purposes.”

“But his vision of himself as the chief defender of the Jewish people against calamity allowed him to justify almost anything that would keep him in power — and his familiarity with American politics and media gave him confidence that he could resist whatever pressure a Democratic administration like mine might try to apply.”

Russian President (then prime minister) Vladimir Putin

“Physically, he was unremarkable: short and compact — a wrestler’s build – with thin, sandy hair, a prominent nose, and pale, watchful eyes… I noticed a casualness to his movements, a practiced disinterest in his voice that indicated someone accustomed to being surrounded by subordinates and supplicants.”

Then US President Barack Obama and then French President Nicolas Sarkozy attend an event honoring the alliance between the United States and France at Cannes City Hall after the G20 Summit in Cannes, France, Nov. 4, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

France’s former president Nicolas Sarkozy

“With his dark, expressive vaguely Mediterranean features (he was half Hungarian and a quarter Greek Jew) and small stature (he was about five-foot-five but wore lifts in his shoes to make himself taller), he looked like a figure out of a Toulouse-Lautrec painting.

“Conversations with Sarkozy were by turns amusing and exasperating, his hands in perpetual motion, his chest thrust out like a bantam cock’s, his personal translator… always beside him to frantically mirror his every gesture and intonation as the conversation swooped from flattery to bluster to genuine insight, never straying from his primary, barely disguised interest, which was to be at the center of the action and take credit for whatever it was that might be worth taking credit for.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel

“Merkel’s eyes were big and bright blue and could be touched by turns with frustration, amusement or hints of sorrow. Otherwise, her stolid appearance reflected her no-nonsense, analytical sensibility.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, welcomes then US President Barack Obama, at the G-20 summit in Antalya, Turkey, Nov. 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Turkish President (then prime minister) Recep Tayyip Erdogan

“Personally, I found [Erdogan] to be cordial and generally responsive to my requests. But whenever I listened to him speak, his tall frame slightly stooped, his voice a forceful staccato that rose an octave in response to various grievances or perceived slights, I got the strong impression that his commitment to democracy and the rule of law might last only as long as it preserved his own power.”

India’s former prime minister Manmohan Singh

“A gentle, soft-spoken economist in his 70s, with a white beard and a turban that were the marks of his Sikh faith but to the Western eye lent him the air of a holy man…”

“I would find Singh to be wise, thoughtful and scrupulously honest.”

China’s former president Hu Jintao

“Whatever the topic, he liked to read from thick stacks of prepared remarks, pausing every so often for translations to English that seemed to have been prepared in advance and, somehow, always lasted longer than his original statement… I was tempted more than once to suggest that we could save each other time by just exchanging papers and reading them at our leisure.”

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