Although his name wasn't mentioned, Donald Trump was clearly on everyone's mind when his predecessor took the stage at an event in Berlin, Germany on Thursday. Alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former President Obama cautioned against hiding "behind a wall" in a rare public rebuke of the 45th president.
"In this new world we live in, we can't isolate ourselves — we can't hide behind a wall," Obama said in remarks delivered Thursday at Berlin's iconic Brandenburg Gate during an event marking the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Although Obama did not directly call out Trump, his comments appear to be a clear criticism of Trump's proposal to build a wall along the United States-Mexico border.
Once a mark of the division the Berlin Wall brought to Germany, Brandenburg Gate has since become an iconic symbol of peace and unity. Obama isn't the only American president to speak against walls at Brandenburg Gate. In 1987, former President Ronald Reagan stood in front of the Berlin Wall at Brandenburg Gate and urged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall."
While Obama has largely avoided openly criticizing about his successor, the former president appeared unable to keep himself from sharing more than a few thinly veiled criticisms of Trump on Thursday. Obama cautioned against countries centering their spending on military, arguing that diplomacy and foreign aid also serve as important means of enhancing national security. "The national security budget shouldn't just be seen as military hardware," Obama said. Earlier this week, President Trump released a $4.1 trillion budget proposal that called for deep cuts to the State Department and various domestic programs while boosting defense spending.
Obama also appeared to issue an additional rebuke of Trump's immigration policies when discussing the importance of striking a balance between governing with compassion and fulfilling obligations to constituents. "In the eyes of God, a child on the other side of the border is no less worthy of love and compassion than my own child," Obama said. "We can't distinguish between them in terms of their worth and their inherent dignity and that they're deserving of shelter and love and education and opportunity."
However, Obama noted that as the heads of nation states, world leaders often grapple with extending such compassion and aid while dealing with limited resources and upholding their responsibilities to the citizens and residence of the country they govern.
"Part of the job, I think, of governments is to express humanity and compassion and solidarity with those in need, but also recognize that we have to operate within legal constraints and institutional constraints and the obligations that we have to the citizens of the countries that we serve," he said. "That's not always easy."