How Obama Views the Men and Women Who (Also) Rule the World

A rough guide to the president’s relationships with other leaders

German Chancellor Angela Merkel sits with U.S. President Barack Obama on a bench in Germany during a 2015 Group of Seven meeting. (Michael Kappeler / Reuters)

During the course of reporting on the Obama administration’s foreign and defense policies over the past several years, I’ve gained a certain level of insight into its frustrations, proclivities, and predispositions in the international arena. President Obama himself is famously transactional when it comes to relations with other leaders; in my new article on his foreign policy, I make note of his strong belief that countries tend to act in what their leaders perceive to be their core interests, and I’ve come to see that Obama doesn’t place enormous value in the notion that well-developed personal relationships between leaders could ever trump the cold-eyed pursuit of those interests. Nevertheless, he has intense relationships with many world leaders—and he has become, in his last years as president, a mentor to a handful of important new ones.

In speaking over the years with senior officials in his administration and other close observers of the president’s conduct of foreign relations, I’ve gathered impressions of how they parse the president’s view of his counterparts in other countries. Sometimes, in interviews with me, the president has rendered his own judgments. Drawing on these conversations, I’ve attempted to place some of these leaders on a continuum reflecting the state of their relations with Obama—from actually warm to ice-cold.