Glob­al­iza­tion’s not in ru­ins but needs tweak­ing

So says Obama in Athens as he trum­pets democ­racy, free trade and de­fends record

Baltimore Sun - - TRUMP TRANSITION - By Christi Par­sons

ATHENS — In the birth­place of democ­racy Wed­nes­day, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama praised the con­cept as a great Greek in­ven­tion and re­minded lis­ten­ers of its bur­den — liv­ing with the out­come of an elec­tion, even when you don’t agree with it.

“The next Amer­i­can pres­i­dent and I could not be more dif­fer­ent,” Obama told an au­di­ence in Athens. “But Amer­i­can democ­racy is big­ger than any one per­son.”

Democ­racy con­tains a mech­a­nism to cor­rect mis­takes, he said, but he ar­gued that cit­i­zens must par­tic­i­pate.

When Obama orig­i­nally con­ceived of this democ­racy speech in Athens, he imag­ined it would come on the heels of Hillary Clin­ton’s elec­tion as pres­i­dent — a con­fir­ma­tion of his vi­sion for global democ­racy. In­stead, he is mak­ing way for Pres­i­dent- elect Don­ald Trump, a new leader of the free world who won elec­tion by ex­co­ri­at­ing Obama’s demo­cratic world­view.

As a re­sult, Obama in­stead de­fended his view — that open mar­kets and demo­cratic so­ci­eties of­fer the best hope for hu­man progress and that an in­te­grated global econ­omy should be em­braced even if its cur­rent it­er­a­tion needs a course cor­rec­tion to share its ben­e­fits with more peo­ple.

As il­lus­tra­tions, Obama ticked off some of his great­est global hits, achieve­ments that will sur­vive only at the will of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Dur­ing his stew­ard­ship, Obama said, he and other world lead­ers shut down the Ira­nian nu­clear weapons pro­gram “with­out ever fir­ing a shot.”

He opened the doors to Cuba, end­ing years of a Cold War-era diplo­matic freeze. His ad­min­is­tra­tion sup- The U.S. pres­i­dent walks from the Propy­laea on Wed­nes­day af­ter a tour of the Acrop­o­lis. ported Myan­mar’s path to democ­racy. And un­der his guid­ance, Obama noted, the U.S. joined nearly 200 other na­tions in an am­bi­tious in­ter­na­tional agree­ment to save the planet from cli­mate change.

Obama’s new world order has been on the ropes in re­cent months, es­pe­cially in Europe. The last Bri­tish prime min­is­ter left of­fice af­ter his coun­try voted against his coun­sel to pull out of the Euro­pean Union, the sort of in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tu­tion Obama has pro­moted. The Ital­ian prime min­is­ter, an Obama ally, faces a test to his lead­er­ship ahead of a na­tional ref­er­en­dum he called next month to im­ple­ment con­sti­tu­tional re­forms.

“There’s a se­ri­ous chal­lenge to Euro­pean in­sti­tu­tions right now,” said Jef­frey Rathke, deputy di­rec­tor of the Europe Pro­gram at the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies. “The lead­ers of the EU all rec­og­nize that Europe needs re­form, needs to re­con­nect with its cit­i­zens. But I don’t think a ter­ri­bly com­pelling set of so­lu­tions has emerged yet.”

That has re­sulted in a par­tic­u­lar re­sent­ment of gov­ern­ing elites, open­ing the way for pop­ulists and na­tion­al­ists across Europe.

But Obama urged against the im­pulse to pull back from the glob­al­ized world. Un­der­stand­able though the in­stinct may be, he said, it won’t work.

“Given the na­ture of tech­nol­ogy, it is my as­ser­tion that it’s not pos­si­ble to cut our­selves off from each other,” he said.

He urged against sev­er­ing the con­nec­tions “that have en­abled so much progress and so much wealth” and for find­ing ways to spread pros­per­ity more equally.

In an ever-more-inte- grated global econ­omy, and with rapid ad­vances in tech­nol­ogy and au­to­ma­tion, there have been “enor­mous dis­rup­tions” in many com­mu­ni­ties, tak­ing away jobs, de­press­ing wages and weak­en­ing the lever­age of or­ga­nized la­bor, Obama said.

At the same time, the rich and pow­er­ful can ap­pear to be “gam­ing the sys­tem,” feed­ing “a pro­found sense of in­jus­tice” and in­equal­ity that “con­sti­tutes one of the great­est chal­lenges to our economies and our democ­ra­cies,” Obama said.

“The best hope for hu­man progress re­mains open mar­kets, com­bined with democ­racy and hu­man rights. But I ar­gued that the cur­rent path of glob­al­iza­tion de­mands a course cor­rec­tion. 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.”

In the end, what might have been Obama’s tri­umphant tour for his so­phis­ti­cated idea of democ­racy be­came a re­minder of the ba­sics of the an­cient Greeks.

When your side loses, you ac­cept the de­ci­sion of the peo­ple, he said, vow­ing to do all he could to en­able a smooth tran­si­tion to the Trump era. “Be­cause,” he said, “that’s how democ­racy has to work.”


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