The Final Year (2017) ☆☆☆(3/4): The final year of the Obama administration

It is hard for me not to become nostalgic while watching Greg Barker’s documentary film “The Final Year”, which closely looks into the inner workings of the Obama administration during its final year. At that time, many of us were optimistic despite many problems around the world, but then we got a sort of cold shower as watching that unbelievable political ascent of Donald J. Trump, and the documentary feels all the more bittersweet considering how things have become much worse during last four years.

Around that time Barker and his crew began their shooting around President Barack Obama and his close advisers and cabinet members, everyone in the White House was quite determined to make their final year as fruitful as possible. Taking care of numerous international issues ranging from the Syrian Civil War to global climate change within only one year looks daunting to say the least, but President Obama sincerely hoped to make any lasting legacy and achievement during this short period, and so did others around him including Secretary of State John Kerry, whose US Presidential campaign in 2004 incidentally opened the door to more prominence in public for Obama.

While he was already over 70 at that time, Kerry was an energetic and passionate government official always ready to serve his government and country, and the documentary shows him frequently going here and there around the world for his myriad diplomatic tasks. Besides handling the increasingly complex situation surrounding the Syrian Civil War, he also had to deal with the Iranian government, and he actually pulled off some significant diplomatic progress which seemed to lead to less hostility between US and Iran at that time.

Meanwhile, we are also introduced to several other key figures in the foreign policies of the Obama administration. While National Security Advisor Susan Rice and Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes were constantly ready to provide President Obama information and advises amidst heaps of other tasks to be handled day by day, UN Ambassador Samantha Power, a former Harvard professor who has shown lots of interest in human rights, often functions as the strong and passionate voice of morals and conscience, and Rhodes later admits in front of the camera that he sometimes clashes with Power due to their different viewpoints during their discussions with President Obama.

Anyway, despite a number of setbacks here and there around the world, it looked like they and other government officials in the White House were heading for some good changes during early 2016. While the Syrian Civil War remained to be a sore thumb as before, they succeeded in setting a solid diplomatic ground for dealing with Iran, and they also started to open the door for the direct diplomatic connection with the Cuban government at last.

And President Obama elevated his people’s diligent efforts with his natural grace and dignity. Constantly balancing himself and his administration between idealism and pragmaticism, he really tried hard to restore the international image of his country which was seriously tarnished by two unnecessary international wars, and his sincere efforts in public are clearly shown from when he visited Laos, a South Asian country which was heavily damaged by the US military during the Vietnam War.

When he was often asked about Trump during President Obama’s visit to Laos, Rhodes was not particularly serious about Trump because, just like many people including me, he thought Hilary Clinton would eventually win. Even during September 2016, he and others around him were occupied with preparing for the next administration without much worry, and it goes without saying that they were all shocked when Trump was elected as the next president of US on that terrible day of November 2016.

As still trying to process this shocking incident which surely showed the very ugly sides of their country to not only its people but also the whole world, Kerry and others in the White House kept working as usual nonetheless. They were not pleased at all to see Trump replacing Obama after a few months, but they tried as much as possible for preserving their progresses and achievements before handling over them all to the Trump administration, which, as many of you know, thoroughly ruined their efforts in the end.

Although it does not go that much beyond the admiration toward Obama and the members of his administration, I must say that the documentary feels like a bout of fresh air from the past at present. Regardless of how much they actually achieved during those four years, Kerry and other government officials in the documentary are smart, decent, and dedicated people as far as I can observe from the documentary, and that certainly makes a big contrast with what has been going on in the Trump administration, which is inarguably packed with nothing but corrupt or incompetent cronies/enablers.

Now it looks like the end of the Trump era is approaching after Joe Biden’s long-awaited victory in the recent US Presidential Election, but I do not think we can ever regain the hopeful optimism of the Obama era, and the final moments of “The Final Year” painfully remind me of that again. Like many of you, I certainly miss those sunnier days when Obama was in the White House, but, sadly, our life is inherently a one-way road, and we still should brace ourselves for whatever will happen next on our road to the upcoming future.

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