The Final Year
An insider’s look at the key members
of President Obama’s foreign-policy team
by Pete Borreggine — Posted in Articles on May 13, 2018
The Final Year
Featuring: John Kerry, Ben Rhodes, Samantha Power and Barack Obama
An insider’s look at the key members of President Obama’s foreign-policy team including Secretary of State John Kerry, UN Ambassador Samantha Power, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes and National Security Advisor Susan Rice during an era of immense challenges in the final year as they worked to solidify the administration’s policies, promote diplomacy and redefine how the U.S. confronts questions of war and peace, all while preparing to hand over the machinery of American power to a new administration.
**Official Selection of the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival**
President Obama gives a speech for 2004 Presidential Candidate, John Kerry. The statement Change the World was born and then, first-term Senator Obama’s rise to power begins. The team for President Obama started out long before he became president.
THE WEST WING
JANUARY 2016/1 Year left
It’s really a small building and only about 30 people work there who set the direction for the entire world. It’s January 2016 and President Obama has only 1 year left to make changes before the next president takes office. The race is on! The Republicans have vowed to undo much of his foreign policy and that will not stop President Obama from being successful. January 16, 2016, is the day that the Iran deal begins to move from paper to policy. They have a full agenda about as many as an administration has had.
We see the personal lives of people within the administration, taking their kids to school, leaving their homes and going to work. We watch ambassador Samantha Power. It’s great to see her try on a virtual reality headset and experience what it’s like to see first-hand, A Portal Between the United Nations General Assembly and the Za’atari Camp for Syrian Refugees and then speak to people in the war zone. On her way out, she met Abdallah Al-Mouallimi, the Saudi Arabian Ambassador coming in and insisted that he try the VR experience for himself to see how powerful it is to support the people in the camps.
What I see in this film is that they speak about not what makes American great again, but rather, what makes America great is who we are as a country and what we do around the world. That, for me, resonates throughout this film, as stated by Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes. Ben’s been a close friend of President Obama for years and works to advise not only the president but Secretary of State John Kerry, and most of the staff of the White House.
When President Obama was in Vietnam he spoke to a group of students and one question asked him how they could emulate him as a “great leader.” In his ever-humble way, President Obama said,
People are motivated by money, by power but mostly, people are motivated by stories. If you think about the United States of America, we have a really good story called: The Declaration of Independence. We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal. It's was just a good story of what 'could be.'
We continue to focus on Ben Rhodes, the aspiring novelist who became the Deputy National Security Advisor to the President. He was lambasted in the press the week leading up to the speech to be given in Hiroshima, Japan. They are at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. Prime minister Shinzo Abe stands to the right of President Obama as he speaks. The world does not want more war, change conflict through diplomacy and then he greets a man who survived the bomb. Watching President Obama shaking his hand, hugging him, and watching that man cry touched me. That is not seen today, and we need that compassion and love.
MAY 2016/8 Months left
In Cuba, Ben Rhodes was the chief negotiator and was moved seeing the Cuban and American flags flying together. The end of the primary season is looming, and Ben is watching the news while having coffee. The cost of the rhetoric and divisiveness is already having an effect on the country and across the world as a person in Cuban coffee shop asks, "So, will Hillary win?"
An interesting note, when Ben Rhodes was speaking after the bilateral meeting in China, he noted that the global issues were being discussed at that table but none of them, were being discussed in the United States. The topic de jour was Donald Trump's twitter feed and that bothered him greatly. We see ambassador Power speaking about the girls taken by Boka Haram with the local women and how the United States nor the world has been able to make a dent in getting them back.
John Kerry spoke of something eloquently and that throughout history, we can not only avoid war, but we can make peace by diverting from the norm. He spoke of Nixon meeting with Mao Tse Tong and Reagan meeting with Gorbachev. Perhaps here what Obama did by visiting Laos, he revealed the horrors of hiding a war. He said,
there was a secret war over 9 years from 1964 – 1973. The United States dropped more than 2 MILLION tons of bombs in Laos more than we dropped on Germany and Japan combined throughout all of World War II.
Nixon stated that there was simply reconnaissance aircraft over Laos and simply other things that he couldn’t discuss, at that time.
This war made Laos, per person, the most heavily bombed country in history,
Obama stated during his speech there. The problem was that many of the bombs dropped were never exploded thus killing many Laotians over the years. Farmers, women, and children, killed. The one thing that President Obama had to think about was before we get involved militarily, anywhere around the world was that we need to think through everything and who or what will be affected.
Ambassador Power visits a Boka Haram refugee camp. Her dedication to this crisis is moving. Her compassion and personal involvement make her who she is. This is yet another example of how much this administration tried to accomplish over its last year in office.
But the hardest thing that faced this administration is the crisis in Syria. There was dissension within the White House about this conflict. Those who wanted to intervene militarily and those that didn’t. But the President offered his statesmanlike solution about why ‘not’ to use the military.
In the absence of our ability to solve the problem, our intervention would not fix it but rather make it worse.
No one could argue with that.
SEPTEMBER 2016/4 months left
There’s preparation for the United Nations General Assembly speech and with two months away from the 2016 Presidential Election, a terror attack in New York and New Jersey, there’s a lot weighing on the president. This is seen as his farewell address at the UN. With all the leaders in one place, the President, Ambassador Power, and Secretary of State Kerry all got in a lot of meetings dealing with the Syrian Cease-Fire, Global Climate Change, and the Irian Nuclear Deal. Then, a mistake: the US and Russian blame each other for killing 70+ innocents. John Kerry admitted the coalition did this but then took Russia and Syria to task for firing on an authorized UN aid convoy for over 2 hours. The tensions mounted but the powers the be wanted to continue the cease-fire. Hope remains.
NOVEMBER 8th, 2016
The night of the 2016 presidential election is here. All sit and watch and see what is now, history.
As I watched this film, I was taken by how much this administration wanted to do the best they could before leaving office on January 20th, 2017 and to try and prepare the Trump Administration for what they “NEED” to know. President Obama’s view of the world is within the generation that’s coming up but there’s another ugly reality coming that is rearing up its ugliness but eventually, the pendulum will swing back, Ben Rhodes recounts.
To President Obama, the ancient sites of this great planet grounded him and helped him to understand that who he is and was, is just another in a continuing line of successions of our powerful democracy.
We are a country of immigrants and everyone in this great nation, save for the Native Americans, are the sons and daughters of immigrants. What President Obama did over the 8 years he was in office was try and make the most impact in the world and for our country.
We are all custodians of this country and every single citizen (politician or not) has a responsibility to continue the legacy of our ancestors. We can only do that by following in the footsteps of great people like President Barack Hussein Obama, the 44th President of the United States of America.