Obama’s scorecard: Some setbacks but a good summit

The president called the meeting a “turning point in our pursuit of global economic recovery.”

LONDON (AP) âÄî At his summit debut, President Barack Obama failed to persuade foreign counterparts to commit to fresh and lavish spending to boost economic revival. And the success he did achieve in finding common ground was as much the result of modified goals as swaying other countries to bend to U.S. priorities. Still, he emerged with much of what he wanted from allies on the flailing global economy. And he helped thwart a French-backed attempt to set up an international financial regulator. Closing out the 20-nation gathering here, Obama âÄî aware of the risks of over-promising to a hurting public back home âÄî hailed the agreement hammered out among wealthy and developing countries while stopping well short of claiming it would reverse dismal conditions or even prevent a deeper recession. “This is not a panacea,” Obama said at a news conference where he straddled nearly every issue. The president called the meeting a “turning point in our pursuit of global economic recovery” and heralded steps agreed to by the Group of 20 leaders as both “critical” and “necessary.” But, he cautioned: “Whether they’re sufficient, we’ve got to wait and see.” The new U.S. president also has met privately with other heads of state, from Russia, China, Great Britain and India on the sidelines of the summit. How has he done? “I think we did OK,” he said, summing up his performance so far. Thursday’s daylong gathering of the G-20 nations pledged $1.1 trillion in loans and guarantees to struggling countries, agreed to crack down on tax havens, large hedge funds and other risky financial products, rejected protectionism that hampers foreign trade and committed to upgrading an existing financial forum to flag problems early in the global financial system. Those were all elements Obama was seeking. And, as he hoped, the leaders also rejected a push by French and German politicians for a global financial super-regulator, a proposal that had been expected to go down in defeat. The emphasis, instead, was on cooperation among nations to each choose it own way to enact “a stronger, more globally consistent, supervisory and regulatory framework.” Overall, the outcome seemed more robust than the one global leaders were able to muster at a first summit held last fall in response to the financial meltdown and hosted by Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush. Since that November meeting, the global crisis has worsened, making the need for urgent action more plain to formerly reluctant nations. Still, the leaders, many wary of piling up debt, did not sign off on large new stimulus packages for their own countries. Obama’s administration had initially pushed for such a commitment, but backed off in recent days as European opposition solidified. Obama claimed Thursday’s collective action was a giant victory, calling the meeting historic “by any measure.” The president said he was sure the steps would have “a concrete effect” in each nation of creating jobs, saving jobs, expanding economies, loosening credit and restoring confidence in financial markets. To Americans hurting at home, he argued that working to boost the economy worldwide âÄî in particular by helping poorer nations âÄî creates export markets for U.S. goods and the restoration and creation of crucial jobs. “The steps that have been taken are critical to preventing us sliding into a depression,” he said. “They are bolder and more rapid than any international response that we’ve seen to a financial crisis in memory.” He acknowledged the U.S. had to make concessions. But he begged off detailing them, saying the final communique reflected a collective voice of world leaders. In a jam-packed news conference that drew hundreds of journalists from around the world, Obama was both playful and wonkish, coughing and sniffling at times with a cold he said he’d been fighting all week. Obama moved closer to his goal of decisively putting a new, listening-not-lecturing stamp on U.S. foreign policy, not only as it is conducted but as it is perceived around the globe. Citing international polling showing his popularity, Obama said: “I would like to think that, with my election and the early decisions that we’ve made, that you’re starting to see some restoration of America’s standing in the world.” Yet, Obama also found himself defending American prominence for the second time in as many days. Just before he spoke, the summit host, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, declared “the old Washington consensus is over,” a reference to decades of U.S.-led dominance of the global economic order. “I do not buy into the notion that America can’t lead in the world,” Obama said. “America is a critical actor and leader on the world stage and that we shouldn’t be embarrassed about that. But … we exercise our leadership best when we are listening.” Obama acknowledged that some participants during the summit made comments that seemed to blame America and Wall Street for triggering the crisis that has spread around the world. “It’s hard to deny that some of the contagion did start on Wall Street,” Obama said, asserting that some firms took “wild and unjustified risks” and some government regulators were “asleep at the switch.” But he said there were problems in other parts of the world as well. While Obama argued that the document the G-20 produced included both “a strong, coordinated response to growth” and “a strong, coordinated regulatory response,” he said it also reflected the range of the nations’ individual priorities, and he added: “It is hard for 20 heads of state to bridge our differences.”