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Merkel's Misstep

How Pragmatism Backfired

German Chancellor in Hanover, December 5, 2012. Kai Pfaffenbach / Reuters

Rarely does German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s political instinct fail her as badly as it did this month. During a televised youth forum, she told a 13-year-old Palestinian refugee named Reem Sahwil, who had just shared that she and her family faced possible deportation after their permanent residency application had stalled for the last four years, that the young girl was “a nice person” but that “politics is hard” and “some [migrants] will have to go home.” When Reem burst into tears, Merkel looked distraught and gave her a gentle but terse stroke on the back. Soon after, angry comments flooded in on Twitter under the hashtag Merkelstreichelt (Merkel strokes). Posting later about Berlin’s role in the Greek bailout deal, the writer Evgeny Morozov tweeted, “This week has been fantastic for German public diplomacy. All that was missing was Merkel making refugee children cry.”

Merkel’s reputation for pragmatism,

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