On last for­eign tour, Obama must find way to ex­plain Trump

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - WEATHER - By Josh Le­d­er­man

It was sup­posed to be his grand vale­dic­tory tour. Now Pres­i­dent Barack Obama must use his last ma­jor trip abroad to try to calm shocked world lead­ers about the out­come of the U.S. elec­tion, and what comes next when Don­ald Trump is pres­i­dent.

Trump’s un­fore­seen vic­tory has trig­gered pangs of un­cer­tainty at home and grave con­cerns around the world. Though Obama has urged unity and said the U.S. must root for Trump’s suc­cess, his trip to Greece, Ger­many and Peru forces him to con­front global con­cerns about the fu­ture of Amer­ica’s lead­er­ship.

“In some ways, there’s noth­ing to say,” said Heather Con­ley, a Europe scholar at the Wash­ing­ton-based Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies.

Con­ley said Obama’s trip, planned when it seemed cer­tain Hil­lary Clin­ton would win, had been de­signed to re­as­sure the world that the U.S. had re­gained its foot­ing af­ter a toxic cam­paign that un­nerved for­eign cap­i­tals. “Now the pres­i­dent has the un­en­vi­able task of telling his coun­ter­parts and ex­plain­ing what Euro­peans are now coin­ing ‘the Trump ef­fect,’” Con­ley said. For months, Obama lent cre­dence to those con­cerns as he urged Amer­i­cans to re­ject Trump. Stand­ing along­side Sin­ga­pore’s prime min­is­ter in Au­gust, Obama said Trump was “woe­fully un­pre­pared” be­cause he lacked “ba­sic knowl­edge” about crit­i­cal is­sues in Europe, Asia and the Mideast. And dur­ing a visit to Ja­pan, Obama said he wasn’t the only world leader wor­ried about Trump. “They’re rat­tled by him, and for good rea­son,” Obama said in May. “Be­cause a lot of the pro­pos­als that he’s made dis­play ei­ther ig­no­rance of world af­fairs, or a cav­a­lier at­ti­tude, or an in­ter­est in get­ting tweets and head­lines in­stead of ac­tu­ally think­ing through what it is that is re­quired to keep Amer­ica safe and se­cure and pros­per­ous, and what’s re­quired to keep the world on an even keel.”

Now, Obama must pivot and re­as­sure the U.S. and other coun­tries that some­how, it will all be OK.

Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, said the pres­i­dent fully ex­pects Trump’s elec­tion to be a dom­i­nant theme of the trip, but would em­pha­size his plans to keep car­ry­ing out his ap­proach un­til Trump takes over. He said Obama would ar­gue that ba­sic U.S. prin­ci­ples like hon­or­ing treaty com­mit­ments have his­tor­i­cally sur­vived even the most dra­matic changes of ad­min­is­tra­tions. “He’ll want to use these con­ver­sa­tions with lead­ers to ex­press that view that given all the im­por­tant is­sues that we face, no mat­ter what our pre­ferred choice may have been in the elec­tion, right now we as Amer­i­cans have a stake in see­ing this next ad­min­is­tra­tion suc­ceed,” Rhodes said.

Obama de­parts Mon­day on the six-day trip, stop­ping first in Athens, where he’ll tour the Parthenon, meet with the prime min­is­ter, and give a speech about democracy and glob­al­iza­tion that will take on new rel­e­vance in light of Trump’s elec­tion. He’ll use his visit to Ber­lin to show grat­i­tude to Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, his clos­est for­eign part­ner, and to meet with key Eu­ro­pean lead­ers.

In Peru, he’ll at­tend a ma­jor Asian eco­nomic sum­mit in Lima, and also meet with Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping and Aus­tralian Prime Min­ster Mal­colm Turn­bull.

For the most part, for­eign lead­ers have po­litely if cau­tiously con­grat­u­lated Trump on his vic­tory, in pub­lic state­ments and phone calls. A few have been more ef­fu­sive, in­clud­ing Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, whose per­ceived sym­pa­thies for Trump be­came an elec­tion is­sue and who now says he wants to fully re­store U.S. re­la­tions un­der Pres­i­dent Trump.

In Europe, where Obama has sought unity with al­lies to counter Russia’s grow­ing in­flu­ence, NATO members are alarmed by Trump’s sug­ges­tions that the U.S. might pull out of the al­liance if other coun­tries don’t pay more. Many of the same na­tions are wrestling with whether last year’s his­toric cli­mate change deal can be sal­vaged af­ter Trump’s threats to pull the U.S. out.

Con­versely, Trump’s “Amer­ica first” motto has res­onated deeply with na­tion­al­ists and skep­tics of glob­al­iza­tion who see Trump as a kin­dred spirit. Af­ter all, it was Trump who dubbed him­self “Mr. Brexit” af­ter the U.K.’s vote to leave the Eu­ro­pean Union.

Amer­ica’s Mideast al­lies are un­sure what Trump’s vic­tory means for the nu­clear deal with Iran, a foe of U.S. part­ners Saudi Ara­bia and Is­rael, con­sid­er­ing Trump’s re­peated but vague pledges to rene­go­ti­ate that deal. And mis­giv­ings about Trump will cer­tainly fol­low Obama to Latin Amer­ica, where Trump has turned off many with his hard-line im­mi­gra­tion stance and de­scrip­tion of Mex­i­can im­mi­grants as crim­i­nals and rapists.

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