The bur­dens of the pres­i­dency will soon pass from Obama to Trump.

The Denver Post - - DENVER & THE WEST -

Upon his inau­gu­ra­tion on Jan. 20, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump will in­herit com­plex is­sues that will re­quire tremen­dous in­tel­lect, sub­tlety and heart. Seem­ingly in­tractable prob­lems of mount­ing refugee crises and on­go­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian dis­as­ters in places like Syria and the Su­dan per­sist. We hope Trump stud­ies and em­u­lates the ap­proach of his pre­de­ces­sor in deal­ing with them.

In his fi­nal press con­fer­ence of the year, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama was asked what per­sonal moral re­spon­si­bil­ity he felt, as pres­i­dent and leader of the free world, watch­ing the car­nage in Aleppo, Syria. His re­sponse por­trayed the weight that will soon rest on Trump’s shoul­ders:

“I al­ways feel re­spon­si­ble. I felt re­spon­si­ble when kids were be­ing shot by snipers,” Obama said. “I felt re­spon­si­ble when mil­lions of peo­ple had been dis­placed. I feel re­spon­si­ble for mur­der and slaugh­ter that’s taken place in South Su­dan that’s not be­ing re­ported on, partly be­cause there’s not as much so­cial me­dia be­ing gen­er­ated from there. … I ask my­self ev­ery sin­gle day, is there some­thing I could do that would save lives and make a dif­fer­ence and spare some child who doesn’t de­serve to suf­fer?”

The pres­i­dent must bal­ance the de­sire to help with a full un­der­stand­ing of the lim­its of U.S. power. Stop­ping the slaugh­ter in Syria, Obama noted, would have in­volved putting “large num­bers of U.S. troops on the ground un­in­vited, with­out any in­ter­na­tional law man­date, with­out suf­fi­cient sup­port from Congress, at a time when we still had troops in Afghanistan and we still had troops in Iraq.”

If he had done those things, Amer­ica might have stopped the slaugh­ter, or it might have provoked di­rect armed con­flict with Rus­sia and Iran. The in­ter­na­tional ram­i­fi­ca­tions of ac­tion re­quire care­ful anal­y­sis, not brash ac­tion.

Obama’s mea­sured ap­proach has left him open for crit­i­cism from hawks who want to con­front en­e­mies force­fully or to those who ag­o­nize over re­ports of the slaugh­ter of civil­ians. But the push for diplo­matic so­lu­tions, bring­ing to bear in­ter­na­tional pres­sure on Rus­sia and Syria to get civil­ians to safety, is the most re­al­is­tic strat­egy — and the ap­proach most likely to bear fruit with­out un­in­tended con­se­quences that could lead to even greater hu­man­i­tar­ian dis­as­ters.

Even if the new pres­i­dent takes these lessons to heart and pur­sues a sim­i­larly mea­sured ap­proach to di­plo­macy and mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion, the global refugee cri­sis will con­tinue and likely worsen. As Den­ver Post staff writer Bruce Fin­ley out­lined in a re­cent Per­spec­tive piece, the num­ber of refugees is grow­ing, but safe havens for tak­ing them in are shut­ting their doors — in­clud­ing the United States.

Trump’s cam­paign rhetoric re­gard­ing refugees was harsh, iso­la­tion­ist fear-mon­ger­ing. When he sits in the Oval Of­fice, re­al­ity and the United States’ long, com­pas­sion­ate his­tory of wel­com­ing refugees, es­pe­cially those fac­ing per­se­cu­tion or threat of death in their home coun­tries, should tem­per his rhetoric and his de­ci­sions.

The world seems in­creas­ingly un­sta­ble, with geopo­lit­i­cal tensions mount­ing in more and more places. Trump im­me­di­ately will face hu­man­i­tar­ian crises in Syria, Su­dan and be­yond. Obama’s re­sponses to them have not been per­fect, but they have not been reck­less. We hope Trump has Obama’s heart as he shoul­ders re­spon­si­bil­ity for Amer­ica’s re­sponse.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama pauses dur­ing a news con­fer­ence last Fri­day at the White House.

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