Outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama has given himself a pass mark, telling Americans that he has done well in office as president in the last eight years.
Obama, who made the remarks in his final press conference of the year, on Friday justified his actions on issues ranging from the economy to Syria, and from the Russia hacking scandal to the passage of Obamacare.
“I am very proud of the work I’ve done. I think I’m a better president now than when I started,” Obama said.
The president said his administration was a historic success, in spite of a rough beginning.
“When I came into office 44 million people were uninsured. Today, we have covered more than 20 million of them. For the first time in our history, more than 90 per cent of Americans are insured.”
The President recalled the economic turmoil that was raging when he took office in the teeth of the worst recession in decades in 2009.
“As I was preparing to take office, the unemployment rate was on its way to 10 per cent. Today it is at 4.6 per cent. What I can say with confidence is that what we’ve done works. That I can prove. I can show you where we were in 2008 and I can show you where we are now. And you can’t argue that we are not better off. We are,” the two-term U.S. president said.
Obama explained that he had always had the best of motives and that where he had failed, it was often owing to a lack of better choices.
He noted the helpless horror at the human carnage in Aleppo, and admitted that he agonised over Syria more than any other issue.
“I always feel responsible. There are places around the world where horrible things are happening and because of my office, because I’m President of the United States, I feel responsible. I ask myself every single day, ‘Is there something I could do that would save lives and make a difference and spare some child who doesn’t deserve to suffer?’”
Obama, however, believed only a massive deployment by an already exhausted American military could have turned the tide.
According to him, the only choice, therefore, was to use diplomacy to stem the bloodletting.
“I cannot claim that we have been successful. That’s something that, as is true with a lot of issues and problems around the world, I have to go to bed with every night. But I continue to believe that it was the right approach given what realistically we could get done,” he said.
Obama also rebuffed criticism that he had been slow to respond to allegations of Russian cyber-meddling in the presidential election.
“My primary concern was making sure that the integrity of the election process was not in any way damaged, at a time when anything that was said by me or anybody in the White House would immediately be seen through a partisan lens,” Obama explained.
The outgoing U.S. President also made reference to Russia meddling in the U.S. election.
He said when he met Vladimir Putin in China in September, he told him to “cut it out” and pledged to hit Russia in public and covert ways before he leaves office on January 20, 2017.
He expressed dissatisfaction with the Republicans who opposed him, the press who he said overly dwelt in trivialities and the coarsening of political culture.
He expressed contempt for the Republicans who are now ready to accept Trump’s admiration of Putin.
“Ronald Reagan would roll over in his grave,” he said.
He lashed out at Putin and Assad for “savage” assaults on Aleppo and was particularly disdainful of Russia itself.
“The Russians can’t change us or significantly weaken us. They are a smaller country, they are a weaker country, their economy doesn’t produce anything that anybody wants to buy except oil and gas and arms. They don’t innovate.”
Obama said that the coverage of Hillary Clinton during the campaign was troubling, noting, however, that Democrats need to show up where people are hurting.
“Democrats are characterised as coastal, liberal, latte-sipping, you know, politically correct, out-of-touch folks. We have to be in those communities.”
The President also denied tensions between him and Donald Trump, as his own aides and those of the President-elect spar over the Russian hacking of emails belonging to the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
He said China would not stand for the President-elect’s warning that the status of Taiwan could be on the table in his “increasingly acrimonious relationship” with Beijing.
Obama warned Trump that there was a difference between campaigning and being President, adding it was a reality that Trump has yet to embrace.
He said: “I think there is a sobering process when you walk into the Oval Office. What the President-elect is going to be doing is going to be very different than what I was doing and I think people will be able to compare and contrast and make judgments about what worked for the American people.”