I must admit it. Although I am a huge Barack Obama fan, I have been disappointed in his administration's first steps in the foreign policy realm.
I was very excited that Hillary Clinton was named Secretary of State, but she and her staff made an embarrassing translation error before the Russian foreign minister. Clinton was quick to show her embarrassment and laughed it off, and it may have been a small detail, but it showed momentary incompetence at a high diplomatic level.
I was pleased that Obama announced our withdrawal from Iraq. Yet many of the troops will simply be shifted to Afghanistan, which is where I have my greatest trouble. I have posted on this concern more than once. My greatest fear is that Afghanistan will simply become a quagmire, and that thousands more soldiers and civilians will die in the process. In addition, I am not convinced that an endgame has been developed, which means we could be there a long, long time.
Obama's experience at the G-20 summit gave me mixed hopes for our foreign policy future. First, it was announced that Obama would visit President Medvedev and discuss the joint reduction of both countries' nuclear arsenal. Nice step!
Then, word came out that late this summer, Obama will visit China, where I am sure the economic relationship will be discussed in depth. In a shifting economic world, this is a crucial direction to move in, particularly since China is the number one banker for the U.S.
French President Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized Obama for seeking too much economic stimulus. I rolled my eyes when Sarkozy threatened to walk out if world banking regulations were not changed to his liking - his manipulation quickly got under my skin.
I was more understanding of Chancellor Merkel's fears of excessive stimulus leading to high inflation, since German society has historically been ravaged by inflationary practices. Indeed, many would say that Hitler was a result of such policy.
Obama understood that European economic systems differ from America's. They have greater entitlements, which have protected their citizens from the effects of the crisis to a greater degree than ours has.
Therefore, Sarkozy and Merkel's calls for greater banking regulation made sense. In addition, Europeans felt that the U.S. should be more contrite, since this crisis began in America, they say. Plus, they didn't want the United States to dominate the conversation or the economy, as it has since World War II.
Obama pushed for more economic stimulus infusion on international fronts, yet he also agreed to greater regulatory oversight and controls. Somehow, the world's leaders reached the middle ground Obama desired with a multi-pronged agreement, and Sarkozy kept his little feet from walking out.
They agreed to $750 dollars from the International Monetary Fund to support seriously troubled economies and $250 billion to boost foreign trade. In addition they decided:
- Bankers' pay and bonuses will be subject to stricter controls
- A new Financial Stability Board will be set up to work with the IMF to ensure co-operation across borders and provide an early warning mechanism for the financial system
- There will be greater regulation of hedge funds and credit ratings agencies
- A common approach to cleaning up banks' toxic assets has been agreed
- The world's poorest countries will receive extra aid.
Unfortunately, American pundits treated this entire process as a football season, focusing on who was "winning or losing." "Will Obama be pushed around?" they asked.
Give it a rest, folks! This process was not zero-sum, as Dubya always approached it. He swaggered around the world stage and refused to cooperate with other leaders. Obama, though, moved in another direction by modeling cooperation and positive engagement. He said he was there to listen - he couldn't force others to do something they didn't want to do.
Nonetheless, he stood firm in his directing America's leadership, and both our international reputation and influence improved. For the moment, though, we must work to find ways to solve this international crisis. And it didn't come from either the Europeans pointing fingers at the U.S. or from the U.S. throwing its weight around.
The irony is that, once he moves on to NATO discussions, Obama may be able to convinced more countries to join us in Afghanistan. That move would put more people in danger, increase civilian death and destruction, and potentially place everyone in the throes of another interminable Asian war. The positive reputation that Obama so carefully nourished at the G-20 would then find itself flushed down the toilet, of not only international opinion, but of history itself.
Cross posted from Reflecting Obama