US President Barack Obama on Tuesday issued a warning against “crude” nationalism following Donald Trump’s
shock election win as he visited Europe on a mission to reassure jittery
Obama, making his last foreign trip as president, said the NATO alliance was
“absolutely vital” to US interests and stressed a strong, unified
Europe was good for America, after Trump, on the campaign trail, appeared to
play down the importance of transatlantic ties.
After a year of populist shocks, from Britain’s vote to leave the EU to Trump’s
surprise victory last week and the rise of anti-migrant movements in Europe,
Obama cautioned against succumbing to divisive instincts.
“We are going to have to guard against a rise in a crude sort of
nationalism or ethnic identity or tribalism that is built around an ‘us’ and a
‘them’,” Obama said in Athens.
“We know what happens when Europeans start dividing themselves up… the
20th century was a bloodbath,” he said, adding that the United States was
also painfully aware of the dangers of “(dividing) ourselves along lines
of race or religion or ethnicity.”
Europeans, especially those in eastern countries close to Russia’s orbit, have
been shaken after Trump appeared to call into question Washington’s near
70-year security guarantee by saying he would only help NATO allies if they
paid their way.
Obama stressed that the transatlantic relationship was the “cornerstone of
our mutual security as well as prosperity” and that was the case
regardless of who was sitting in the Oval Office.
“Across Democratic and Republican administrations there is a recognition
that the NATO alliance is absolutely vital,” he said.
As Obama touched down in Athens, NATO head Jens Stoltenberg said he was
confident Trump would live up to US commitments to the alliance.
“I am certain that he will be a president… who will live up to all the
commitments of the United States in the alliance, because a strong NATO is
important for Europe but it’s also important for the United States,”
Obama met Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras for talks and praised Greece for
showing “extraordinary compassion” to hundreds of thousands of people
arriving in Europe’s migrant crisis.
More than 800,000 migrants passed through Greece last year, and the crisis-hit
country has struggled to accommodate some 60,000 left stranded on its territory
when Balkan states further north closed their borders earlier this year.
Greek leaders are anxious for a new US pledge to help alleviate the country’s
enormous public debt, a measure actively sought by the International Monetary
Fund but opposed by leading European lender Germany.
Obama, who travels to Germany on Wednesday for talks with
Chancellor Angela Merkel and French and British leaders, said he would push for
help for Greece.
“In my message to the rest of Europe I will continue to emphasise our view
that austerity alone cannot deliver prosperity,” Obama told Tsipras.
Even with structural reforms, he argued, “it is very difficult to imagine
the kind of growth strategy that is needed, without some debt relief
mechanism…(although) the politics of (doing) this are difficult.”
Security was tight in central Athens, with thousands of police officers on the
streets and an official ban on demonstrations in areas of the capital where
Obama will hold his meetings.
Many Greeks are suspicious of the United States after it helped install a
repressive dictatorship in the country in the 1960s.
Greek trade unions, leftist and anarchist parties have called for protests to
denounce “imperialist” US involvement in wars in the Middle East.
The increased security also comes after assailants threw a grenade at the
French embassy in Athens last week, slightly wounding an officer.
Several Athenians questioned the possible benefits of a visit by an outgoing
“He’s just here for a stroll. Somebody else is taking over, and from a
different political party at that, so there are no commitments binding (on his
successor),” said pensioner Costas Bousgos.
After Germany, Obama concludes his trip with a stop in Peru for a summit of the
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC) where he is expected to meet
Chinese President Xi Jinping.