Trump’s first ambassador: Barack Obama – Politico
ATHENS — There was a time, a week ago, when the Obama White House was focused on questions like who would take over tending to the first lady’s vegetable garden.
Now President Barack Obama is setting out on what was supposed to be a fun post-election farewell trip to Greece and Germany with not just his entire domestic record at risk of being gutted by President-elect Donald Trump, but transatlantic new order he cultivated is in the midst of being rejected. His failure to convince people against Brexit no longer looks like a fluke: British voters recoiled at his campaigning for Remain in the spring, and last week, many from his own coalition of voters weren’t compelled by his warnings that Trump would be a threat to all the progress his administration had made and to the safety of the world.
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And he’s going to explain to all the world leaders he meets — he’ll gather with his European counterparts in Berlin on Friday and then with the Chinese and other Asia-Pacific leaders in his stop in Peru over the weekend — why he got the election so wrong, after assuring them all year that they need not be too worried about Trump winning, or even his brand of politics much influencing the future of American foreign policy. Then he’s going to tell them to trust him this time on his promises and assessments of where things will go now that Trump did what he assured them couldn’t happen.
Only minutes after Trump finished a friendly phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, it fell to Obama to reassure the world that America’s foreign policy actually wouldn’t change much — and it wouldn’t even be made solely by the man who has questioned nearly everything about how the U.S. does business abroad, from support for free trade to opposition to nuclear proliferation to treaty-level commitments to allies.
“One of the great things about the United States is that when it comes to world affairs, the president obviously is the leader of the executive branch, the commander-in-chief, the spokesperson for the nation, but the influence and the work that we have is the result not just of the president, it is the result of countless interactions and arrangements and relationships between our military and other militaries, and our diplomats and other diplomats, the intelligence officers and development workers,” Obama said at his pre-trip press conference at the White House on Monday.
He added: “And there is enormous continuity beneath the day-to-day news that makes us that indispensable nation when it comes to maintaining order and promoting prosperity around the world. That will continue.”
Ahead of the election, White House aides struggled to give good reasons for why Obama was headed to Greece. Now going looks more quaint, a bit of closing presidential tourism meant to congratulate the Greek people on coming through the turmoil of their economic collapse and ongoing refugee crisis — a planned message that perhaps didn’t fully account for how this small Mediterranean country’s collapse seems to have shaken the very idea of globalism.
Obama was going to Berlin to buck up his friend and spirit sister Angela Merkel against the domestic political backlash she’s facing. He’s arriving with Merkel looking like the last bulwark of Western liberal values, a leader who could be headed for an unexpected fall of her own without anything he or anyone else can do about it.
Alternatively, some believe, Germany and Europe overall is where Obamaism will hibernate to wait out 2020, much like they felt happened during George W. Bush’s presidency — when Obama looked like such a welcome restoration to their sense of America that he won the Nobel Peace Prize just for getting elected.
Obama remains hugely popular on the continent, and the fears sparked by Trump’s election, intense in Germany, seem to be reminding Europeans of that. Trump has emboldened the European nationalist right, but his victory has also woken up the left and center to how real, and how existential a moment the world is in.
“This is a time of great change in the world, but America’s always been a pillar of strength and a beacon of hope to peoples around the globe and that’s what it must continue to be,” Obama added at the press conference.
Obama said he was impressed by how much Trump seemed to agree with him on foreign policy during their 90-minute meeting in the Oval Office last week.
Trump has not signaled any of that supposed alignment himself.
During the campaign, Hillary Clinton accused Trump of being a puppet of Moscow and Obama made a similar case. Trump repeatedly said that Putin was a stronger leader than Obama who needs to be treated with more respect. On that point, the president-elect appears to be sticking to what he said — at least according to the Kremlin.
Putin’s government put out a statement on his call with Trump, during which according to the they “not only agreed on the absolutely unsatisfactory state of bilateral relations but also expressed support for active joint efforts to normalize relations and pursue constructive cooperation on the broadest possible range of issues”—words likely to set off a panic in many Eastern European capitals.
And, in a signal that the Kremlin expects the sanctions enacted after Russia’s seizure of Crimea to disappear, the statement added: “They emphasized the importance of establishing a reliable foundation for bilateral ties by developing the trade and economic component.”
The president-elect’s transition team gave only a cursory account of this call, and made no apparent effort to correct or amend Russia’s version of the conversation.
A revamped relationship with Russia could lead to inviting Putin to rejoin the group of leading nations to make the G7 into the G8 again, reversing the decision that booted Russia following the invasion of Ukraine.
At the very least, the next G7 meeting scheduled for May in Sicily is going to look very different from the one Obama attended in Japan this past spring. Other than Merkel, who’s up next October, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose election last October represented to many of the president’s supporters the ascent of an Obama-generation progressive, could be the only familiar face left. Obama’s compatriot David Cameron has already been replaced by Theresa May in the U.K. Italian Prime Minister Mateo Renzi, the protégé the president hosted for his final state dinner last month, faces an anti-European Union referendum next month that may force him to resign. Marine Le Pen feels empowered ahead of France’s presidential election next April. And Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — who is rushing to New York this week to meet Trump — faces his own internal turmoil from some of his turns to the west, including sticking his neck out for the now-dead Trans Pacific Partnership, on top of Japan’s always volatile domestic politics.
On Wednesday, Obama will give a big speech here in the Greek capital that was always meant to be about the future of globalism, said deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes last week. That speech hadn’t been written before the election results, he noted, so the text hasn’t had to be torn up — but obviously, it’s needing to be rethought.
“Look, there are certain things that have endured for decades under administrations of different parties,” Rhodes said, holding to assumptions that Trump insisted throughout the campaign he would challenge if elected.
“The transatlantic alliance is certainly one of those. The NATO alliance is certainly one of those. We have taken steps during our time in office to reinforce the NATO alliance, to reassure Eastern European allies, to move significant military personnel and equipment to our eastern flank to ensure that those nations are reassured, and also to work with NATO on counterterrorism and deal with refugee flows.”