Friday, April 03, 2009

Reviewing Obama's Star Turn

The reviews will be mixed, but the President, to use his own phrase, "did OK"--and probably a little better than that--in his first star turn on the international stage.

In a heavy global melodrama not best-suited to his light touch, Barack Obama comes out of the G20 show with renewed respect for his leadership and about as much substantive accomplishment as possible from a large cast with conflicting motives.

“If there’s just Roosevelt and Churchill sitting in a room with a brandy, that’s an easier negotiation,” Obama said at his international news conference afterward. “But that’s not the world we live in, and it shouldn’t be the world that we live in.”

The President got only a fraction of what he wanted in stimulus--a pledge of $1.1 trillion to the International Monetary Fund and other institutions to help revive the global economy--but what he gave Europe in return was not at odds with his own goals.

"In the end," Steven Pearlstein notes in the Washington Post, "yesterday's communique, with its promise of a global regulatory crackdown, was an easy win for all concerned. Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel could declare victory over unfettered Anglo-American capitalism, while Obama now has added political ammunition for taking on the banks, hedge funds, rating agencies and private-equity firms that will try to water down his proposals."

Impressively, Obama spent an hour yesterday successfully brokering a deal between President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and President Hu Jintao of China on the language for cracking down on tax havens, which ended with the French president calling our own "very helpful."

Making friends and impressing world leaders won't do much to solve the economic crisis, but it's a start.

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