In his first trip to Europe since leaving office, former president Barack Obama spoke frankly about the dangers of isolationist politics and cutting foreign aid just two days after President Donald Trump released a proposed budget pushing for both.
Obama met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the spot where Ronald Reagan famously told Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down that wall!” during the Cold War.
While Obama didn’t mention his successor specifically, his speech championed openness and compassion in foreign affairs as well as the importance of reaching out to those in need. Trump’s budget proposed slashing foreign aid by 30%, redirecting the remaining money toward national security aims, and putting “America First.”
“In the eyes of God, a child on the other side of the ocean is no less worthy of compassion than my own child,” Obama said. “We can’t distinguish between them in terms of their worth and their inherent dignity and that they’re deserving of shelter and love and education and opportunity.”
He also spoke of the importance of expressing “humanity and compassion and solidarity with those need,” not necessarily only out of a sense of charity, but also for the purposes of national security.
“When we provide development aid to Africa, or we are involved in conflict resolution, those things we do not just for charity, not just because they’re the right thing to do, or out of kindness, but also because if there are disruptions in these countries, if there’s conflict, if there’s bad governance, if there’s war, if there’s poverty, in this new world that we live in, we can’t isolate ourselves, we can’t hide behind a wall,” he said.
Trump famously campaigned on a platform of closing the border between the United States and Mexico by building a wall, and curtailing immigration through “extreme vetting” of refugees and asylum seekers.
Obama’s speech in Berlin was a repudiation of that worldview. It also put into words the incredible need for foreign assistance in developing countries around the world, and reminded listeners of the importance of strong, global leadership to combat the world’s most pressing challenges.