Obama - the Shadow President of the Free World?
Adelina Marini , 29 May 2017
American President Donald Trump's first international tour made a lot of headlines. His visit to Europe was anticipated with special interest and attention. His illiberal domestic approach from his very first day in office bred some serious concerns in the EU. The brightest examples of it were the dismissal of his national security adviser Michael Flynn over unsanctioned connections to Russia, his war against media who criticise him, the dismissal of the alias attorney general, and last but not least, the dismissal of the boss of the FBI because of an investigation of alleged ties between the White House administration and the Kremlin.
One could not help being left with the impression that Mr Trump obviously feels better in the company of dictators than among the democratic and liberal elite. It is therefore a remarkable coincidence that his visit to Europe comes at the exact time of his predecessor, Barack Obama's return to public life. In the beginning, after leaving the White House, Barack Obama and his wife Michelle disappeared from sight, but not very long after that they announced the establishment of a foundation, whose main task is to promote citizen participation in building of democracy.
They were greeted like rock stars in Italy, where the family went for a vacation at the same time when Donald Trump arrived to Rome for an official visit. Italian and international media brimmed with images of the smiling and charming Obama along with the angry-looking Donald Trump and embarrassing footage showing how his wife, Melania, refused to take his hand several times. While European media were feverishly preparing for the summit of NATO in Brussels on 25 May, the mini EU-US summit the same day, and the G7 summit in Italy on May 26, Barack Obama somehow unnoticed is positioning himself as the alternative president the USA.
He appeared in Berlin as a special guest of the church congress of Protestants (Kirchentag), of which this year's leading theme is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. In front of thousands gathered in the square in front of the symbol of freedom - the Brandenburg Gate - Barack Obama chose to announce his intention to work for a new generation of leaders who oppose those who divide. He reminded that despite the daily tragedies the world has never been richer, healthier, better educated.
"When I think of my role as president, but as a citizen of the United States and part of the international community, I think the most important thing is to unite around those values and ideals that are the best and you have to repel those trends that violate human rights or that suppress democracy, or that restrict individual freedoms of conscience and religion and that this would be a serious battle that we must fight all of us", said Barack Obama, adding that "we can not hide behind a wall". Very clear messages to his successor Trump, whom he did not mention even once by name, nor commented on his actions. (You can watch a recording of the dialogue of Barack Obama and Angela Merkel in Berlin here)
Just a few hours later, Angela Merkel flew out to Brussels, which brought together the leaders of the free world, but also of the illiberal one. In the Belgian capital was Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who fully abandoned the democratic and EU integration path, and recently scandalised the liberal world during his visit to the United States when his guards attacked peaceful Kurd protesters in front of the Turkish Embassy in Washington. A display, which he attended personally. It is curious whether this would have happened if the president was still Barack Obama, not Donald Trump, who also has a problem with protesters against him..
In Brussels, Donald Trump was not warmly welcomed. After a brief and not very specific mini EU-US summit European Council President Donald Tusk addressed media and said that there was no agreement on some key EU issues. "And I am not 100 per cent sure that we can say today - we meaning Mr President Trump and myself - that we have a common opinion about Russia, although when it comes to the conflict in Ukraine, it seems that we were on the same line. However, my main message to President Trump was that what gives our cooperation and friendship its deepest meaning are fundamental Western values, like freedom, human rights and respect for human dignity", were the words of the European Donald.
Later, before the NATO summit, leaders of member states opened two memorials in the new building of the pact - one is a piece of the north tower of the World Trade Centre in New York attacked during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the other one is a piece of the Berlin wall. Donald Trump used this moment to remind member states that they owe money to the pact and that they are responsible for the fact that it is not as strong today as it could have been. Moreover, he stressed that even 2% of GDP that leaders agreed on is already a sanitary minimum, in order to meet the ever-increasing threats.
In this speech he did describe Russia as one of the threats to the pact and said the United States will never forget the fallen victims or friends who stood to them. He did, however, refuse to reaffirm the US commitment to the most important article of the North Atlantic Treaty - Article 5 - which states that an attack against one member country is an attack against all.
While Donald Trump was participating in the summit of leaders of the seven most powerful countries in the world in Taormina, Italy, Barack Obama arrived to Scotland for the first time on a private visit, which included golf. This was a stark contrast to the visit of Donald Trump in Scotland during his election campaign last year, which was accompanied by mass protests and calls that Trump should not be allowed to set foot in the United Kingdom because of his xenophobic statements. The clear support that Barack Obama gave Emmanuel Macron before the elections in France, while Donald Trump supported Marine Le Pen is also a clear sign.
Is it an intended effect or a coincidence, but the concurrent presence of Barack Obama in Europe clearly shows that there is an alternative to the Trump government and also serious intentions are present to marginalise the Trumpiatte.