Nations can't hide behind walls: Obama

Former US president Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel arriving on stage for a forum on democracy held at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin yesterday. Mr Obama later spent 90 minutes talking about international and US issues without once m
Former US president Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel arriving on stage for a forum on democracy held at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin yesterday. Mr Obama later spent 90 minutes talking about international and US issues without once mentioning his successor Donald Trump.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Localisation, technology make it impossible to be isolated from troubles abroad, he says at forum

BERLIN • Former United States president Barack Obama has told an audience in Berlin that prosperous nations cannot "hide behind a wall" to shield themselves from the turmoil and poverty afflicting other countries.

Speaking at a forum on democracy with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in front of 70,000 people, at the spot where the Berlin wall once stood, Mr Obama spent 90 minutes talking about international and US issues without once mentioning his successor, Mr Donald Trump.

But in what appeared to be a reference to Mr Trump's vow to build a wall along the border with Mexico to keep out illegal immigrants and drugs, he said the world was shrinking due to localisation and technology, and that it was not possible to stay isolated from troubles abroad.

"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," Mr Obama said. "We can't hide behind a wall."

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Mr Obama, who was making his first speech in Europe since leaving the White House, also warned against taking peace and prosperity for granted. "The world is at a crossroads," he said, speaking in front of the Brandenburg Gate.

The widening inequality gaps inside nations as well as between nations were a major concern, he said.

DEMOCRATIC FUNDAMENTALS

Democracies do not work if we are not operating on some level based on reason and fact and logic - and not just passion. We are going to have to find ways to push back on propaganda and listen to those we don't agree with.

'' MR BARACK OBAMA

But he added: " (At the same time), the world has never been wealthier, more healthy and never been better educated. If we can sustain that progress, then I am very optimistic about our future. My job now is to help them take it to the next step."

In another speech later in the south-western German town of Baden-Baden, Mr Obama said he was concerned about how technology advances had made it ironically easier for people to retreat into their own bubbles. "We can find people on the Internet who agree with our ideas, no matter how crazy. Democracies do not work if we are not operating on some level based on reason and fact and logic - and not just passion. We are going to have to find ways to push back on propaganda and listen to those we don't agree with," he said.

Mr Obama said he had spent the last four months "trying to catch up" with his sleep and spending more time with his family.

"I am very proud of the work I did as president," he said to cheers, adding he was especially proud of healthcare reform.

"My hope was to get 100 per cent of the people healthcare. We didn't quite achieve that but we were able to get 20 million people healthcare who didn't have it before...

"Now, some of the progress we made is imperilled because a significant debate is taking place in the United States," he added, again avoiding direct mention of Mr Trump, who is attempting to dismantle the so-called Obamacare.

Just four months before Germany's election, Mr Obama's mere appearance with Dr Merkel, broadcast live on four networks, raised concerns that he was helping her re-election campaign. But both Dr Merkel and Mr Obama stayed away from campaign issues, with their discussion focused on faith and politics in general.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 27, 2017, with the headline 'Nations can't hide behind walls: Obama'. Print Edition | Subscribe