Leader comment: Obama legacy faces immediate threat

A small boat rescues a USS West Virginia crew member from the water after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. Picture: AP

A small boat rescues a USS West Virginia crew member from the water after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. Picture: AP

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It has taken a very long time and a lot of delicate negotiations, but it looks like Barack Obama has managed to orchestrate a monumental burying of the hatchet with Japan.

More than seven decades have passed since the devastating aerial attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces that killed more than 2,000 Americans and drew the United States into the Second World War.

Now Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has become the first Japanese leader to make a public visit to the memorial for those killed in the bombing, and the first to visit the Hawaiian naval base since 1951.

The visit comes seven months after Obama’s historic trip to Hiroshima, when he became the first sitting US president to visit the site where his predecessors dropped a nuclear bomb in 1945. It’s true the world has changed dramatically in the intervening years since the Pearl Harbor invasion and it may seem unthinkable that we could ever again be at war with Japan. But the significance of these gestures cannot be underestimated.

Obama’s presidency will be remembered for his impressive skills in international diplomacy. However, it has taken his full eight years in office to cement this new understanding and heal wounds that have been festering for the best part of a century.

The big worry for everyone now is what may happen when he packs up and leaves the White House next month and Donald Trump moves in. Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the US on 20 January. Let’s hope it doesn’t take him a matter of minutes to undermine an important relationship that has taken 75 years of careful work to piece together.

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