Obama on farewell tour to EU fear­ful of ‘Trump ef­fect’

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Barack Obama trav­elled yes­ter­day to Greece and Ger­many in a fi­nal of­fi­cial visit de­signed, in a strange bit of po­lit­i­cal con­tor­tion, at re­as­sur­ing wor­ried Euro­peans about a man he once warned was “un­fit” for the pres­i­dency: Don­ald Trump. The irony is cruel: In the name of a peace­ful tran­si­tion, the Amer­i­can pres­i­dent, hav­ing thor­oughly de­nounced the bil­lion­aire Repub­li­can dur­ing the re­cent cam­paign, must now do his best to re­as­sure his Euro­pean coun­ter­parts about the fu­ture of Amer­i­can democ­racy un­der a Pres­i­dent Trump.

“I think the de­sign of the trip was meant to just give ev­ery­body some re­as­sur­ance that we made it through this cam­paign and we’re go­ing to come out of it all right,” said Heather Con­ley of the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, in Wash­ing­ton. “We just have a dif­fer­ent sce­nario now.” The bom­bas­tic pop­ulist, whose vic­tory over Hil­lary Clin­ton sur­prised vir­tu­ally ev­ery­one, has given Euro­peans am­ple cause for con­cern. He has ques­tioned the rel­e­vance of some of Amer­ica’s paramount al­liances, start­ing with NATO; put the Paris cli­mat­e­change ac­cord in doubt by call­ing global warm­ing “a hoax,” and sharply crit­i­cized the stren­u­ously ne­go­ti­ated pact that Wash­ing­ton and five other coun­tries signed with Iran to curb its nu­clear pro­gram.

Trump’s at­ti­tude to­ward Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin - the New York mogul called him “a leader, far more than our pres­i­dent has been a leader” - is deeply con­cern­ing in Europe, par­tic­u­larly in small coun­tries like the Baltic na­tions liv­ing in Rus­sia’s shadow. Be­yond the many con­cerns over the fu­ture of Amer­i­can for­eign pol­icy, many Euro­pean Union coun­tries are brac­ing for a pos­si­ble rip­ple ef­fect of the out­spo­ken Repub­li­can’s vic­tory.

“They are very wor­ried, be­cause the same pop­ulist, na­tion­al­ist ex­pres­sions” that Trump ex­posed in Amer­ica on im­mi­gra­tion and trade could am­plify the al­ready “very strong po­lit­i­cal cur­rents within Europe,” Con­ley said. She noted that sev­eral Euro­pean coun­tries have im­por­tant elec­tions com­ing up, not least of them the French pres­i­den­tial elec­tion next spring.

In Greece today for his first visit there, Obama is set to meet with Pres­i­dent Prokopis Pavlopou­los and Prime Min­is­ter Alexis Tsipras. Se­cu­rity will be tight in cen­tral Athens, with thou­sands of po­lice of­fi­cers on the streets and traf­fic cut off for sev­eral hours. Civil ser­vants, com­mu­nists, far-left groups and an­ar­chists all plan to hold demon­stra­tions as Obama swings through the Greek cap­i­tal.

The Roots of Pop­ulism

Dur­ing a day heavy with sym­bol­ism, Obama to­mor­row will visit the Parthenon in Athens, then de­liver a speech - sure to have con­sid­er­able res­o­nance, given the re­cent US elec­tions - on the chal­lenges of glob­al­iza­tion. His ad­vis­ers, point­ing to the re­sults of that elec­tion but also to the equally stun­ning Bri­tish vote to leave the Euro­pean Union, said the US pres­i­dent would of­fer his thoughts on the rea­sons so many peo­ple in the world feel “like de­ci­sions are made be­yond their con­trol.”

Speak­ing at the United Na­tions in Septem­ber, at a time when the US pres­i­den­tial cam­paign was in full stride but a Trump vic­tory seemed any­thing but cer­tain, Obama had called on his fel­low lead­ers to come to grips with the ris­ing frus­tra­tions fu­el­ing pop­ulist move­ments. He warned them against suc­cumb­ing to a “soul­less cap­i­tal­ism that ben­e­fits only the few”. “Twenty-five years af­ter the Cold War, the world is less vi­o­lent and more pros­per­ous,” he said, “and yet there is uncer­tainty and strife.”“This is the para­dox that de­fines our world today,” he said, stress­ing that a world in which one per­cent of the peo­ple con­trol as much wealth as the other 99 per­cent can never be sta­ble.

For his sixth visit to Ger­many since com­ing to power in 2009, the Demo­cratic pres­i­dent will again meet with Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, long one of his clos­est for­eign part­ners, ac­cord­ing to Ben Rhodes, the US na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser. The day af­ter his elec­tion, the chan­cel­lor point­edly re­minded Trump of the cri­te­ria that have long bound the two coun­tries in close co­op­er­a­tion: “Democ­racy, free­dom, as well as re­spect for the rule of law and the dignity of each and every per­son, re­gard­less of their ori­gin, skin color, creed, gen­der, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or po­lit­i­cal views.”

Obama will also meet in Ger­many with French Pres­i­dent Francois Hol­lande - who once said Trump’s “ex­cesses” made peo­ple “want to retch” - Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May, and Ital­ian Prime Min­is­ter Mat­teo Renzi. The lead­ers plan to dis­cuss the crises in Syria and Ukraine, as well as the fight against the Is­lamic State group. The Amer­i­can pres­i­dent will con­clude his trip with a stop in Peru for a sum­mit of the Asia-Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion fo­rum (APEC). Among the lead­ers he is ex­pected to meet there is Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping of China. —AFP

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