Obama calls for ‘course cor­rec­tion’ on glob­al­iza­tion

Malta Independent - - WORLD -

Push­ing back against the forces of iso­la­tion­ism, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama stood at the birth­place of democ­racy on Wed­nes­day and de­clared it's time for a "course cor­rec­tion" to en­sure that the ben­e­fits of tech­nol­ogy and glob­al­iza­tion are more broadly shared.

Re­duc­ing in­equal­ity, he said, cre­ates so­ci­eties where peo­ple are "less likely to turn on each other, less likely to ap­peal to some of the darker forces" that tear peo­ple apart.

With the U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion of Repub­li­can Don­ald Trump lay­ing bare frus­tra­tions and dis­sat­is­fac­tion in Amer­ica, Obama said the im­pulse to "pull back from a glob­al­ized world is un­der­stand­able." But he had this mes­sage to lead­ers and peo­ple around the globe: "We can't look back­ward for an­swers, we have to look for­ward."

"We can­not sever the con­nec­tions that have en­abled so much progress," Obama said in a speech to the Greek peo­ple as he wrapped up the first leg of his fi­nal for­eign tour as pres­i­dent. He then headed for Ger­many.

Obama cited both last week's elec­tion of Trump and the June vote by Bri­tain to leave the Euro­pean Union as ev­i­dence of the in­cli­na­tion to pull back.

"The cur­rent path of glob­al­iza­tion de­mands a course cor­rec­tion," he said. "In the years and decades ahead, our coun­tries have to make sure that the ben­e­fits of an in­te­grated global econ­omy are more broadly shared by more peo­ple and that the neg­a­tive im­pacts are squarely ad­dressed."

"That's how democ­ra­cies can de­liver the pros­per­ity and hope that our peo­ple need," Obama said.

Be­fore Trump's vic­tory, Obama's speech to the Greeks had been en­vi­sioned to be a cap­stone mo­ment for his pres­i­dency, hark­ing back to the ori­gins of democ­racy as he ex­pected to hand off to fel­low Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton. In­stead, Obama's legacy is in doubt as Trump pre­pares to take power and prom­ises to undo much of the pres­i­dent's agenda. Obama spoke out in de­fense of his agenda: the Iran­nu­clear deal, a global cli­mate change pact, es­tab­lish­ing re­la­tions with Cuba and more.

"The next Amer­i­can pres­i­dent and I could not be more dif­fer­ent," Obama said. But, he said, "democ­racy is big­ger than any one per­son." He re­newed his pledge to en­sure a peace­ful tran­si­tion de­spite his dif­fer­ences with Trump.

Obama's words are be­ing watched closely by world lead­ers. They see par­al­lels be­tween Trump's as­cen­sion and the rise of far-right and pop­ulist move­ments in their own coun­tries amid con­tin­ued eco­nomic anx­i­ety.

Greek Prime Min­is­ter Alexis Tsipras won elec­tions last year on what crit­ics say was a pop­ulist plat­form, though one on the left of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum. He pushed his for­merly

small rad­i­cal left party onto the fore­front by telling Greeks weary from six years of fi­nan­cial cri­sis and fall­ing liv­ing stan­dards that he would re­ject aus­ter­ity mea­sures im­posed in re­turn for the coun­try's bailouts.

But af­ter the near col­lapse of ne­go­ti­a­tions with Greece's cred­i­tors — other Euro­pean coun­tries us­ing the euro cur­rency, and the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund — Tsipras per­formed a po­lit­i­cal about-face: He signed up to a new bailout and more aus­ter­ity to pre­vent his coun­try be­ing forced out of the euro.

Be­fore Obama's speech, he toured Greece's most fa­mous an­cient mon­u­ment, the Acrop­o­lis citadel. Obama passed through the Propy­laea, the mon­u­men­tal gate­way that serves as an en­trance to the site, and walked along the Parthenon tem­ple, which is ded­i­cated to the goddess Athena, con­sid­ered the pa­tron of Athens.

The U.S. pres­i­dent lin­gered at the base of the Parthenon, gaz­ing at the col­umns and glanc­ing around at the panoramic view of Athens as he chat­ted with his guide, Eleni Banou of the Cul­ture Min­istry's an­tiq­ui­ties di­vi­sion.

The 5th cen­tury B.C. tem­ple is sur­rounded these days by scaf­fold­ing as part of a main­te­nance project. The en­tire site was closed to the pub­lic for the day for Obama's visit, which has taken place amid strin­gent se­cu­rity mea­sures. Demon­stra­tions were banned in parts of Athens, and road and sub­way sta­tions were shut down for the first of­fi­cial visit of a sit­ting U.S. pres­i­dent since Bill Clin­ton came in 1999.

Greece's govern­ment hoped Obama would help per­suade some of Greece's more re­luc­tant in­ter­na­tional cred­i­tors to grant debt re­lief, and pres­sure other Euro­pean coun­tries to share more of the bur­den of the con­ti­nent's refugee cri­sis.

Obama was re­cep­tive to Greece's woes and re­peated his be­lief that debt re­lief is nec­es­sary. He said Greece must con­tinue putting in place painful re­forms it signed up to in re­turn for suc­ces­sive in­ter­na­tional bailouts. It is ques­tion­able how much of this stance will also be adopted by Trump.

Greece is strug­gling to deal with hun­dreds of thou­sands of refugees who have crossed Greece's bor­ders on their way to more pros­per­ous Euro­pean coun­tries. A re­luc­tance by many other EU coun­tries to host refugees has left more than 60,000 peo­ple stranded in Greece. Many are liv­ing in poor con­di­tions in mas­sively over­crowded camps.

Obama said the Greeks can­not be ex­pected to bear the bulk of the bur­den on their own. It de­mands "a truly col­lec­tive re­sponse by Europe and the world," he said.

Obama's next stop on his fi­nal for­eign tour is Ger­many, fol­lowed by Peru.

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