During the Obama administration’s final year in office, the president and his top foreign policy officials were working feverishly on a number of fronts. There was the civil war in Syria and the resulting refugee crisis, restoring relations with Cuba, upholding the Iran nuclear deal, striking an accord on climate change, and much more.
The administration’s approach to foreign policy is at the heart of a new documentary film out Friday called The Final Year. It’s a behind-the-scenes look into how a presidency functions day-to-day when it’s facing down some of the world’s biggest challenges.
Morning Shift host Jenn White sat down with filmmaker Greg Barker and Samantha Power, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who is in the film, to discuss the project and Power’s last year as a diplomat in the Obama administration.
On President Obama’s foreign policy philosophy
Samantha Power: The president articulates this in the film beautifully. The essence of it, I think, can be summed up as common security, common humanity. President Obama didn’t believe in helping other countries merely for the sake of helping people abroad, although he was a very compassionate leader, I think, in many respects. He believes we’re connected and that fundamentally we need to make investments in the international system to accrue benefits for our people, and that sense of connectedness and inclusivity and a kind of pluralism, I think, defined his decision-making across the board.
On capturing the ‘humanity behind our government’ in The Final Year
Greg Barker: I was just trying to capture the humanity behind our government. Foreign policy in particular is normally this opaque process, when in fact, it’s filled with ordinary people doing pretty extraordinary jobs. I thought if I could capture that during the final year of a presidency, which has its own sort of built in ticking clock, I had a gut feeling that there would be a film there.
On how citizens are combating Russia and President Trump
Power: Russia was in many ways the proxy for, for lack of a better word, the darker forces that were out there: the xenophobic, non-inclusive, anti-Obama worldview forces. What Russia is doing, what Trump is saying, there’s a retreat in the democracy proliferation that was going on in the 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Obama quotes Justice Brandeis in the film toward the end saying, you know, “The most important office in any land is not that of president, but that of citizen.” And I think what we’ve seen in the Trump era is, whether it’s the courts, or the unprecedented number of women running for office, or even our Congress, which occasionally at least, checks the power of the president, it’s citizens who are comprising those checks and balances that are checking the worst excesses of this administration, and that’s going to be ever more the case here in 2018 as we head into the elections.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire segment.