Obama hails democracy -- even when it's 'especially complicated' -- in Athens

Obama, Trump: The view from Greece
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Story highlights

  • President Barack Obama climbed the Acropolis in central Athens and toured the Parthenon
  • The US President's speech Wednesday praised the importance of democracy

Athens, Greece (CNN)President Barack Obama issued a paean to democracy Wednesday following his tour of the Acropolis in Greece, a symbolic nod to the ancient birthplace of the system, which he insists will prevail amid challenges around the globe.

But even as he hailed democratic systems, Obama demanded that leaders become newly attuned to their citizens grievances, calling for a "course correction" on globalization that's left populations afraid for an uncertain future.
    It was those forces that propelled Donald Trump to electoral victory in the United States last week, a fact Obama tacitly acknowledged even as he promoted a forward looking agenda.
    "We can't look backward for answers, we have to look forward," Obama said, adding that progress must be mitigated by citizens' well being.
    "If people feel like they're loosing control of their future, they'll push back," Obama said.
    On his final overseas swing as President, Obama faced urgent questions from his counterparts about Trump's victory and his plans for the US going forward. Obama has attempted to strike a conciliatory tone, insisting Trump remains committed to transatlantic ties and NATO, despite the Republican businessman's statements during the campaign.
    Obama repeated his assertion Wednesday that the US commitment to NATO and Europe would continue under Trump's presidency, saying the treaty to protect allies was ironclad.
    "I am confident that just as America's commitment to the transatlantic alliance has endured, whether under a Democratic or a Republican administration, that commitment will continue. Including our pledge and our treaty obligation to defend every ally," Obama said.
    Obama insisted that people deserve the right to choose their governments and leaders.
    "Democracy can be especially complicated. Believe me. I know," Obama said. "But it is better than the alternatives because it allows us to peacefully work through our differences and move closer to our ideals."
    He said a system where people choose their leaders is naturally self-correcting, allowing citizens opportunities to change course if a party or system isn't working.
    "It allows us to correct for mistakes," he said. "Any action by a president or any result of an election or any legislation that has proven flawed can be corrected through the process of democracy."
    He lent symbolism to his commitment to democratic ideals Wednesday when he climbed the Acropolis in central Athens and toured the Parthenon, the 2,500-year-old temple built by ancient Greeks dedicated to the goddess Athena. He also toured the museum constructed near to site that houses antiquities from the era.
    It's the final stage for Obama's two-day stop in Athens, where he was the first US president to visit in 17 years. He came to discuss the nation's persistent debt issues and its program for admitting refugees, though at a news conference Tuesday he also addressed Trump's election to succeed him in January.
    The previous day, Obama advocated for debt relief from Europe and an end to austerity-only measures to help the economy recover, though it's not clear where Trump will stand on those issues when he assumes office next year.
    "I've been clear from the beginning of this crisis that in order to make reforms sustainable, the Greek economy needs the space to return to growth and start creating jobs again," Obama said. "We cannot simply look to austerity as a strategy and it is incredibly important that the Greek people see improvements in their daily lives so that they can carry with them the hope that their lives will get better."
    Speaking alongside Obama, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras linked austerity practices to a wave of isolationism that has swept Europe in the past several years, suggesting restrictive spending policies could lead to an "increasing trend in skepticism and inward-looking, which is a threat to modern democracies."
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    "The insistence of European leaders to austerity policies keeps the European economy strapped in stagnation. And it therefore brings about huge political and social problems," he said.
    In his speech Tuesday, Obama also lauded Greece for its role in housing tens of thousands of Syrian refugees who are fleeing the civil war. Many have passed through Greece on their way to Europe, and Obama has called for countries to accept more refugees in an attempt to alleviate the crisis.
    Trump, meanwhile, has been sharply critical of Obama's plans for refugees, insisting he'll stop Syrian migration into the United States until stricter background checks can be put in place to prevent terrorists from entering the country.