ATHENS • US President Barack Obama summoned the imagery of ancient Greece to call for the world's democracies to pull together and confront the "enormous disruptions" of globalisation, in the face of a backlash that has ushered in Brexit and the election of Mr Donald Trump.
In what is likely to stand as his final major address overseas, Mr Obama in Athens invoked the roots of Western civilisation forged 25 centuries ago by philosophers such as Socrates and Aristotle, giving rise to concepts of individual freedom, equality and the rule of the people.
Yet in today's world, looking to the recent past for answers to economic challenges probably will not work, he said.
"This impulse to pull back from a globalised world is understandable," Mr Obama said in a speech yesterday. "If people feel they're losing control of their future, they'll push back. But given the nature of technology, it is my assertion that it's not possible to cut ourselves off."
Eight days after Mr Trump defeated Mrs Hillary Clinton, Mr Obama's former secretary of state, the outgoing President expressed confidence that his successor will not pull back from Nato's defence commitment to Europe. He also defended the nuclear accord with Iran.
ISOLATION NOT THE WAY
This impulse to pull back from a globalised world is understandable. If people feel they're losing control of their future, they'll push back. But given the nature of technology, it is my assertion that it's not possible to cut ourselves off.
US PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, on the globalisation backlash.
"The next American president and I could not be more different," Mr Obama said. "We have very different points of view, but American democracy is bigger than any one person. My administration will do everything we can to support the smoothest transition possible."
Hours earlier, Mr Obama toured the Acropolis and saw the ruins of the Parthenon, getting a walking history lesson through the rubble and reconstruction of the birthplace of democracy.
While he has generally been welcomed in Greece, some demonstrators hit the streets on Tuesday to protest against his visit.
Some 2,500 people brandishing banners denouncing US "imperialism" and calling Mr Obama "non grata", or "not welcome", were turned away by police firing tear gas and stun grenades as they tried to breach barriers and head towards the city centre.
Many Greeks are suspicious of the US after it helped install a repressive seven-year dictatorship in the country in the 1960s, and trade unions as well as leftist and anarchist parties denounce US involvement in wars in the Middle East.
In his speech, Mr Obama delivered a staunch defence of his record as President, including healthcare and the easing of relations with Cuba.
He said Greece should not have to bear the brunt of Europe's refugee crisis, and expressed support for the International Monetary Fund's demand for European creditors to give Greece debt relief.
The speech, which anchors Mr Obama's multi-nation farewell tour to meet more than two dozen foreign leaders, including top US allies in Europe and Asia-Pacific nations, comes against a very different backdrop from the one he and his aides had envisioned.
Had Mrs Clinton won the presidency, Mr Obama could have evoked a transfer of US power to a known quantity who has largely shared his approach to Europe, global cooperation and governance.
Instead, he must make the case that while Mr Trump's surprise victory in last week's election reflects the global wave of frustration with the political establishment, enduring principles of democracy and international cooperation are bigger than any single political leader.
Before heading to Berlin to spend two days with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and meet four other European leaders, Mr Obama warned the European Union that its institutions need to ensure citizens feel their concerns are being heard.
"Today, more than ever, the world needs a Europe that is strong and prosperous and democratic," he said.
BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE