How'd Obama Do at the G-20?
By the end of their London summit, G-20 leaders had settled on a $1 trillion global stimulus, and influential people around the world couldn’t be happier—and sadder, and angrier, and every emotion in between. Our guide to who came out on top at the G-20 and the good, bad, and ugly details everyone’s obsessing over.
THE GOOD Financial Times: Summit Success Reflects a Different Global LandscapeThey gave it to us straight.
“The London summit was not, after all, a flop,” begins the wrap-up from Financial Times editor Philip Stephens. He goes on to offer a cautious thumbs up, arguing that the G-20 represents a “substantial success,” largely due to “its unspoken recognition of the remaking of the geopolitical landscape.” America’s down, China’s up, and each nation brings idiosyncratic baggage to the table. “Germany recalls the ruinous consequences of the inflation of the Weimar Republic,” he writes. “The U.S. looks back to the same era, but uppermost in President Barack Obama’s mind is the human misery of the Great Depression.”
The Washington Post: A Rare Triumph of Substance at the Summit Old Europe, meet new Europe.
Steven Pearlstein notes “a distinctly French accent” to the G-20, with a spoonful of Gordon Brown mixed in. Of calls for simultaneous rebellion and civility, Pearlstein writes: “To the American ear, much of this sounded overdone and overly ambitious.” He lauds the push for stricter regulations on interstate commerce and a range of effective compromises. Pearlstein foresees a growing shift of power away from “old Europe” and Anglo-American models. The most delicate and ultimately influential economies, Pearlstein argues, lie in the developing world. Obama knows this, which puts him ahead of the game; but “while European leaders were crowing that they had successfully beat back calls to step up efforts to stimulate their economies, that’s not exactly true”—boosted IMF funds will be a jolt for Eastern Europe, which “leaders of Western Europe have been unwilling to offer directly.”
The New York Times: On the World Stage, Obama Issues an Overture Portrait of the president as a young statesman.
Referencing Roosevelt, Churchill, and a “global new deal” in the first three paragraphs, The New York Times’ Helene Cooper focuses on what the young president’s debut means for his budding legacy. Though Obama’s first day of meetings produced only “a handful of modest concrete commitments,” the president—and other leaders—arrived at “a more forceful and detailed blueprint” than Depression-era leaders did. Cooper also notes Obama’s alleged aloofness, Sarkozy’s mercurial temperament, and hints of anger from Chinese President Hu Jintao.
CNN: James Carville: Obama Has Best Day as President Best. G-20. Ever.
Talking head and sometime political strategist James Carville argues that yesterday was “President Obama’s best single day since inauguration.” Internationally, Obama’s press- and negotiating-savvy helped to secure the “unprecedented global economic recovery package”; domestically, his budget passed and his approval rating is comfortably high. Meanwhile, the markets are up, and Newt Gingrich is loudly considering busting a third-party move. Carville wraps his rave up: “Clearly a day does not make a presidency. But if President Obama has more like April 2, 2009, he’ll be able to govern much more like a statesman than a politician.”
Slate: Obama Proves His Mettle The real show was behind the scenes.
The media’s focus has so far been on the broad outlines for an international rescue reached at the G-20 summit, but Slate’s Fred Kaplan argues that Obama really proved his mettle not in the conference hall but in his one-on-one side meetings with international leaders. Witness the unusually substantive 19-paragraph joint statement Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev issued after their meeting. Kaplan writes Obama’s success signals that “the United States seems to be returning to diplomatic basics—a development that in the wake of the last eight years is practically revolutionary.”
THE BAD The Daily Beast: The Day Obama Fell to Earth And if you thought the G-20 was lame, just wait for NATO.
President Obama may be lighting up the world stage, but The Daily Beast’s Andrew Neil notes that “the president did not get what, for him, was the original purpose of this G-20 summit: a coordinated global fiscal stimulus.” Neil goes on to offer this prediction: “For the president, his first foray into international summitry has brought him down to earth with a bump. He will hit the ground again today at the NATO meeting in Strasbourg, France, where the rhetoric of solidarity will be strong but the president will fail to get any major commitments of new troop deployments to back his planned ‘surge’ in Afghanistan.”
The Times (UK): Actually, Those G-20 Protesters Do Have a Point Tea with the Queen? Try a Molotov cocktail.
Times columnist Camilla Cavendish explores the complicated universe of G-20 protests, starting with a flashback to Seattle ’99. She finds herself surprisingly sympathetic to the protesters’ complaints. “In the jumble of rage outside, there are valid concerns that need to be addressed,” among them a need to interrogate the negative effects of globalization, free trade, and growth. In a world where the biggest villains are Wall Street CEOs, Cavendish writes, “The protesters’ main achievement this week is to have shifted loathing from bankers to themselves.” Her complaint boils down a concern not unfamiliar to those who lament the “dumbing down” of culture and democracy at large: “It is a shame that they could not articulate their concerns with something more than senseless slogans.”
THE UGLY Der Spiegel: The West’s Fatal Overdose Debt-spiral of death.
Most commentators consider Germany among the G-20’s biggest winners, so it’s a bit surprising that Der Spiegel is playing party pooper. Nevertheless, the German paper lambastes the conference, saying “the summit participants took the easy way out.” Writer Gabor Steingart lays the blame at the feet of former President Bush and notes distressingly that by allowing the IMF and World Bank to borrow more money, Obama and other leader seem only to be extending the fiscal policies that led to the current mess. “In combating this crisis, the international community is in fact laying the foundation for the next crisis, which will be larger. It would probably have been more honest if the summit participants had written 'debt, unemployment, inflation' on the wall.”
World leaders may pretend otherwise, but Peter Osborne writes for The Daily Mail that the G-20’s achievements are “unlikely to register as more than a blip on the radar of the map which is leading us, hopefully, out of economic recession.” President Obama and Gordon Brown failed in their push for a global stimulus. “Rather than admit defeat, however, they pretended they had won. So they invented the $5 trillion figure. They arrived at the number by adding up the extra government borrowing expected to take place in G-20 economies between 2008 (when the recession began) and 2010 (when world leaders hope it will end). It is a completely arbitrary figure.” Osborne continues, “I also suspect that President Obama will also come to bitterly regret his involvement in this cynical event whose main function has been to pull the wool over the eyes of the public. Indeed, it is interesting to speculate how much Obama, who displayed his inexperience this week, was duped by Gordon Brown.”