BERLIN — Former president Barack Obama on Thursday took his successor to task for wanting to build a wall along the Mexican border, delivering a sharp attack while President Trump was a mere 500 miles away in Brussels.
“In this new world we live in, we can’t isolate ourselves — we can’t hide behind a wall,” Obama said before 70,000 cheering spectators at the iconic Brandenburg Gate, where he joined German Chancellor Angela Merkel to mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
Because of a scheduling coincidence, both Obama and Trump were in Europe at the same time.
Trump, who is as unpopular in Europe as Obama is beloved, was meeting with European leaders, whom he criticized for not paying their fair share of military spending called for by NATO.
Merkel, who later joined Trump in Brussels, appeared to criticize the current president’s efforts to limit refugees from entering the United States. By contrast, Merkel welcomed 1 million migrants to Germany in the last two years and praised Germans for embracing that policy.
“When we look at the topic of the refugees, hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, of people in Germany showed compassion, receptiveness and solidarity,” Merkel said. The chancellor has stood by her policy on migrants despite a backlash in parts of Germany.
Obama has only occasionally condemned Trump’s policies, even though Trump has repeatedly assailed his predecessor’s legacy, from Obamacare to his diplomatic initiatives. On Thursday, Obama did not directly attack Trump, although the target of his remarks was clear.
“Under these extraordinary circumstances, it’s extraordinary that Obama hasn’t been more critical of Trump and the threat that he represents to American democracy,” said Hans Kundnani, a senior transatlantic fellow with the German Marshall Fund of the United States. “So I think what he’s doing with Merkel is a fairly subtle way of engaging with these questions.”
That left some in the crowd hoping for more.
“I found it a bit disappointing that so little about the threats to democracy in the United States and Europe from within those democracies themselves were directly addressed,” said Wolfgang Teiler, a pastor leading a church group from a small village near the western German city of Aachen.
Kundnani said Merkel will gain politically from her close relationship with Obama, as she seeks re-election in September. “It’s smart for her … no doubt just by associating herself with Obama,” he said.
Source: USA Today