What Did Obama Say About Other World Leaders?

Russian President Vladimir Putin with former US President Barack Obama in 2015. (AP)

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YWN readers already know what Obama wrote about Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in his new memoir A Promised Land, but what was his impression of other world leaders?

His impressions of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has served as president or prime minister of Russia since 1999, aren’t surprising: “Physically, he was unremarkable: short and compact — a wrestler’s build – with thin, sandy hair, a prominent nose, and pale, watchful eyes,” Obama wrote. “I noticed a casualness to his movements, a practiced disinterest in his voice that indicated someone accustomed to being surrounded by subordinates and supplicants.”

Obama said that Putin reminded him of some of the political figures in Chicago where he started his political careers. “He was like a ward boss, except with nukes and a UN Security Council veto.”

Obama’s impressions of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan seem to be corroborated by recent events. “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.”

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)

Obama’s comments about former French president Nicolas Sarkozy are more personal than political but certainly attest to his strong literary descriptive talent. “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.”

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)

“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.” Obama added that he found Sarkozy amusing and appreciated his “boldness, charm and manic energy.”

And finally, Obama’s comments about China’s former president Hu Jintao attest to the patience that world leaders often require in their meetings with other world leaders of various cultures. “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.”

Obama added that his attempts to lighten the atmosphere during his lengthy meetings with Jintao usually resulted in a “blank stare.”

(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)


  1. The only “Jewish” leader mentioned in the book happens to be a heretical Zionist. Why would anyone care how Obama speaks about that leader?

  2. To huju: I’ve got better things to do with my time, finnishing Shas, chazering Shas, writing/publishing seforim, learning with my kinderlach, raising and distributing zedoko funds etc. etc.
    [I’d read that book at times when I can’t do anything else…..IYKWIM.]