After his presidency ended in January 2009, George W. Bush retired. Angela Merkel will soon follow him there. In an interview, Bush raved about the German Chancellor.
Actually, the former US President George W. Bush hardly gives interviews. He usually stays out of politics. He has written books, gives speeches and otherwise devotes himself to painting. But for ‘his dear Angela’ he made an exception and gave it ‘Deutsche Welle’ an exclusive interview about the German Chancellor with whom he worked for several years. The occasion is Merkel’s announced end as Federal Chancellor.
‘Merkel put class and dignity in a very important position; [she] made very tough decisions and did so with the best for Germany in mind, according to principles, ‘Bush told Deutsche Welle in an interview at his summer residence in the state of Maine. ‘She is a compassionate leader, a woman who is not afraid to lead.’
Bush painted portrait of Angela Merkel
‘Merkel survived in a pretty tough environment for over eight years. That’s pretty amazing when you think about it, ‘said Bush. He is alluding to the impression that after eight years in office, US citizens seemed to have had enough of him. It reflects the confidence of the German voters: inside.
German-US-American relations were frosty when Merkel took office. Merkel’s predecessor Gerhard Schröder (SPD) criticized Bush for starting the Iraq war. But relations between the two countries quickly improved – not least because of Merkel, says Bush. Both would have got along exceptionally well from the start.
They got along so well that Bush painted a portrait of Merkel. ‘I was a beginner and I was worried that I would not meet the person I was painting properly. In Angela’s case, I wanted to paint a loving person with a loving soul. This is the person I met. ‘ Merkel is ‘tough’, but also ‘compassionate and sensible’ and a thoughtful and nice person. He hope she likes the portrait.
‘Above all politics was friendship’
Of course there were also differences from time to time. When asked whether Georgia should join NATO, the tensions were very high, according to Bush. ‘She was very resolute and thought it was wrong,’ said Bush, who disagreed. But the differences were not personal. ‘Above all politics was friendship.’ He is also critical of Merkel’s other decisions, such as the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.
A defining moment in the interpersonal relationship for Bush was the last time he met Merkel in person: at the funeral of his father, George Bush Sr. ‘I was very close to my father and the fact that she took the time to come shaped our relationship a lot.’
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Another defining moment for the ex-president was Merkel’s visit to his ranch with her husband Joachim Sauer in 2007. It was an opportunity to get to know each other better.
For Bush, Merkel is a role model for young girls
Many will probably forget the moment when Bush massaged Merkel’s shoulders at a summit in St. Petersburg. ‘I wouldn’t call that an extended massage,’ laughs Bush. It was a ‘spontaneous reflection of friendship’, not a scripted moment.
When asked what he thought of Angela Merkel’s immigration policy, Bush said he respected her decisions. ‘My first reaction was,’ There’s a woman with a big heart. ‘ And I’m sure she was motivated by human compassion. And it was clearly a difficult political choice for her – but she has taken the lead. ‘ Bush admires her steadfastness: ‘Angela is not afraid to make a decision.’
Personally, Bush – father of two daughters – considers Merkel to be a role model, especially for girls and young women. ‘There are many girls who watch Angela Merkel and say:’ I too can take on responsibility and power. ‘
Did Merkel do a good job? Bush affirms: ‘I think so.’ Merkel has often been re-elected, which ‘speaks volumes about her successes’.
On Thursday, Chancellor Merkel will meet current US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in Washington. The US visit is intended to mark a new beginning in relations between Germany and the US after the low point in the era of Donald Trump.