He may be at the end of his second term and his party may have experienced a crushing defeat at the polls just a week ago – a defeat that he has been blamed for to a great extent – but he is still the president of the United States. More importantly, he is still Barack Obama: a well-cultivated politician with incredible insight and tact, whose name will forever remain a tremendously important symbol in the history both of the US and of humanity in general.
Obama is the symbol of a radical shift, foremost cultural and intellectual, and then political, even though the accomplishments of his eight-year administration are far greater than he claims. Some of these, such as Obamacare, his stance as regards the immigration issue and his assumption of responsibility for America’s part in climate change, are now at risk of being dismantled by the unrestrained populist Donald Trump, whose election to the White House risks turning it into a Bleak House, to draw on Charles Dickens.
Only a whining opposition pandering to populist sentiment, therefore, would try to play down the importance of Obama’s visit to Athens. After all, he is not coming to meet with just any old official; he will be visiting with the Greek president and the prime minister. His visit also comes at a time of great instability in the broader region around Greece, where war is raging on different fronts and being stoked by many different conflicting interests that are capable of creating a rift between old allies, such as the USA and Turkey, for example.
Of course Obama is not coming with a bagful of gifts for the Greeks like an early Santa Claus. His first concern, naturally, is safeguarding the interests of his own country. Nevertheless, his word remains the word of the US president and his support for Greece on the issues of debt and the migrant crisis carries a lot of weight. This support was expressed in his interview with Kathimerini’s Sunday edition [read the full interview here]. His praise for the “compassion and generosity that the Greek people have displayed in the face” of the migrant crisis reads like so much more than typical diplomatic flattery. It sounds heartfelt and comes from a man who knows his stuff.
Obama was also sincere in his comments about Greek-NATO relations, saying that “Greece is one of five NATO Allies that spend 2 percent of GDP on defense.” He stresses that among 28 NATO member-states, only five have such high defense spending, and Greece is among them, with successive (unnecessary, openly exaggerated and even scandalous) purchases.