Barack Obama received a rock star welcome in a speech in Berlin on Thursday upon reuniting with Angela Merkel, for the first time since leaving office. Obama called upon the audience to engage in democracy telling them that prosperous nations do not “hide behind a wall” to shield themselves from the poverty or turmoil afflicting other countries.
Speaking in front of the Brandenburg Gate, once cut off by the Berlin Wall, the former US president was greeted with cheers and cries of “Barack, Barack.” He urged the 70,000-strong crowd to “push back against those trends that would violate human rights or suppress democracy or restrict individual freedoms” and to “fight against those who divide us.”
Obama spoke about the suicide bombing in Manchester, which killed 22 on Monday and said he was heartbroken. Calling the world a “very complicated place,” he said: “We can see the terrible violence that took place just recently in Manchester. It is a reminder that there is a great danger of terrorism and people who would do great harm to others just because they’re different. How heartbroken we are by the loss of life, and we grieve with the families.”
Crowds gather in front of Brandenburg Gate as former U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel enter the stage for a discussion. Photo credit: Markus Schreiber/AP
Obama said that Merkel was one of his favorite partners throughout his presidency. He spoke about her tremendous work and how he staunchly defended her refugee policy, in which she has received much criticism.
Obama discussed U.S. and international challenges and issues of concern for approximately 90 minutes without mentioning his successor Donald Trump. The elephant in the room would make its presence known, concerning Trump’s campaign rhetoric and pledge to build a wall along the Mexican border to keep out the ‘bad guys,’ e.g., illegal immigrants and drugs.
Speaking about globalization and technology, Obama used the analogy that the world was shrinking. He said that it was not possible to stay isolated from troubles abroad as a result.
“If there are disruptions in these countries, if there is bad governance, if there is war or if there is poverty, in this new world that we live in we can’t isolate ourselves,” Obama said. “We can’t hide behind a wall.”
Making his first speech in Europe since leaving office, Obama warned against taking peace and prosperity for granted. Speaking in front of the Brandenburg Gate, Obama said, “The world is at a crossroads.”
He did not mince words and discussed the widening inequality gap inside nations and between nations as a primary concern. Keeping the discussion on a level playing field, he said, “The world has never been wealthier, healthier and never been better educated.”
Obama spoke about sustainability and progress and told the audience that if the world could sustain the progress that he was very optimistic about its future.
“My job now is to help them take it to the next step,” he said.
Reflecting upon what has transpired in his life since leaving office, he spoke about spending the last four months trying to catch up with his sleep and enjoying the luxury of spending more time with his family.”
“I’m very proud of the work I did as president,” he said, as the audience applauded and cheered, adding he was especially proud of health care reform.
Obama told the audience that his hope was to get 100 percent of people health care. He said that the Obama administration didn’t achieve that goal but was able to get 20 million people health care who didn’t have it before. He spoke about having some regrets because his administration wasn’t able to get everyone health care.
“Now some of the progress we made is imperiled because a significant debate is taking place in the United States,” he added, again avoiding direct mention of Trump, who is attempting to dismantle the Affordable Care Act—Obamacare.
Obama was quick to point out that he hopes to use the “little influence” he has as a former president to help young people be better prepared for the looming challenges.
He urged his critics to weigh up the use of drones with the huge threat posed by terrorists. “These are groups that would be willing to explode a bomb in this audience right now, and we shouldn’t be too complacent in recognizing the need to fight against them,” he said.
“Hopefully over time, it’s a battle of ideas and not just a battle of weapons so that we can convince fewer and fewer young people to get involved with Isis. But as long as they’re functioning out there, we are going to have to protect our people.”
Merkel added: “We are dealing with opponents who want to destroy our entire way of life. And what worked during the cold war—deterrence, prevented war, because both sides wanted to stay alive. That doesn’t exist with the terrorist groups. They are ready to give up their own lives to destroy the lives of others, as we have just seen in Manchester, of young people, families, ordinary people.”
The forum was the highlight of a nationwide series of events to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation when the theologian Martin Luther gave birth to the Protestant church.
While Obama was visibly relaxed, Chancellor Merkel had to fly straight from the event to a Nato summit in Brussels where she met President Trump, together with Theresa May and other leaders.
Video Source: Association V.A.A. YouTube Channel