′History has not delivered its verdict′: Ben Rhodes on Obama′s legacy | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 27.02.2019
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'History has not delivered its verdict': Ben Rhodes on Obama's legacy

Donald Trump's election was a rebuke of the policies for which his predecessor stood. What is left of Barack Obama's legacy? DW's Conflict Zone speaks to Ben Rhodes, one of his closest advisers.

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Ben Rhodes on Conflict Zone

When Donald Trump won the US presidency in 2016, he set out to revert some of his predecessor's signature policies.

Soon after he entered the White House, President Trump withdrew from long-negotiated international agreements like the Iran nuclear deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Paris climate accord

But although some may argue that the legacy of former President Barack Obama is looking shaky, one of his key advisers preferred to take the long view and told DW's Conflict Zone that "history has not delivered its verdict."

"The future of American politics is going to look a lot more like Barack Obama than Donald Trump," said Ben Rhodes, who was Obama's Deputy National Security Adviser.

Conflict Zone host Tim Sebastian spoke to Rhodes in the southern German city of Munich, where he was presenting his memoir of the Obama White House.

Read more: Conflict Zone interview with US Senator Jim Risch: 'I really give President Trump a lot of credit'

Reactionary politics

Washington White House Trump bei Barack Obama (picture-alliance/abaca/O. Douliery)

Donald Trump has targeted some of Barack Obama's landmark decisions.

Rhodes was so interested in emphasizing the importance of Obama's work that he stressed Obama would have won a third term in office had he been allowed to run. 

And Rhodes rejected Sebastian's question on whether Obama might be remembered as the president who held the door open for Donald Trump.

"Donald Trump will look like the last expression of a kind of reactionary politics that ultimately is on the wrong side of history," he stressed.

But when Sebastian asked him whether Obama had set back the Democratic party, especially in Congress where Republicans took control of both houses, Rhodes did admit mistakes.

"What is absolutely the case is that Obama's personal popularity was not transferable to the Democratic Party," he said.

"We did make a mistake in not doing enough to build the institutions of the party during those eight years."

Obama's foreign policy

Afghanistan Anschlag 18. Dezember 2010 (AP)

According to Ben Rhodes, Obama's government made progress in extricating the US from the war in Afghanistan.

Rhodes, however, rejected criticism cited by Sebastian which stated that the consequences of Obama's presidency had been stark, with "a Middle East awash in blood and bombs, US troops re-embroiled in Iraq and Afghanistan, aggressive dictators ascendant, human rights and democracy in retreat."

Rhodes pointed to the fact that the Obama government had reduced the number of troops in those countries and argued the government had begun to "make significant progress in the work of extricating the US from those wars."

He then went on to say that "the vast majority (of countries) believe that Barack Obama's brand of leadership was far better than either George Bush's or Donald Trump's."

And he added that "the orientation of Barack Obama's politics, the vision that he has for the United States and the world, I believe is fundamentally right."

"That doesn't mean that every single decision that you make in the course of eight years is right."

The 2018 midterms and the next presidential election

USA, Washington: U.S. Capitol zwischen Herbstblättern (Reuters/K. Lamarque)

The next US presidential elections will be held in 2020.

Rhodes argued that Obama's legacy was defended during the recent midterm elections in 2018, which saw the Democrats gain a majority in the House of Representatives.

Obama's adviser described that victory as "resounding" and said Democrats had won because of their commitment to protect Obama's legacy, in particular the health care law known as "Obamacare" or the Affordable Care Act.

This was Obama's signature domestic achievement, a major overhaul of the US health care system and a policy Republicans adamantly opposed. Trump has tried to dismantle it, but, as Rhodes pointed out, the basic law remains in place.

Conflict Zone Interview with Ben Rhodes (DW/M. Martin)

DW's Conflict Zone met Ben Rhodes in Munich, where he was presenting his book, a memoir of the Obama White House.

Rhodes agreed that Trump's own election was a "seismic, historic event," but he said the "pendulum swung back very quickly to the Democrats."

And he predicted that, in the long run, Barack Obama is going to be seen as "the one who is moving in the direction the country was going, and Donald Trump was moving out of step."

When Sebastian asked him to look ahead and discuss what kind of Democratic party is going to be capable of beating Trump in the next presidential elections, in 2020, Rhodes said the party is "in good shape" and it needs the "right candidate and the right message."

"I believe we clearly have the better chance of winning this election," he added.

But Rhodes finished with a caveat: "That does not make it a guarantee. We had the better chance in 2016 and we lost."

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