The Current Discussion: Rate Obama's first performance on the international stage on a scale of 1-10, and tell us why you think so.
Barack Obama did pretty well in many ways in his first appearance on global stage. He showed leadership and the ability to reconcile opposed positions. He helped solve a conflict between China and France on tax havens. The way he did it says a lot about his style. He pulled the two leaders aside together with the host of the summit, Gordon Brown, for a quick conversation, so that they could find a way to reconcile their interests. Now America has an answer to the frequently asked question during the primaries and the presidential campaign: in what way could the experience of a community organizer be important in performing the tasks of the presidency? He knows, for instance, how to harmonize different interests and frames of mind.
Supporters of the Brazilian president, and common Brazilian citizens, were delighted to watch Barack Obama calling President Lula "my man", and "the most popular politician on earth". It was a kind comment, almost a joke, but diplomacy requires this spontaneous icebreaking attitude. It creates an empathy that could be useful for a country which has been facing huge animosity, mainly over the last eight years. Later, in an interview to the Brazilian press, Lula reacted to Obama's kindness by saying that: "If he goes to Bahia, he could be seen as a baiano; if he goes to Rio, he could be seen as a carioca. I pray for his success everyday. He is the first American president who looks like one of us." The value of that kind of reaction is intangible, but very high in presidential diplomacy.
Obama shows a discrete and efficient persuasion skill and has the exact notion of what is important that was forsaken in previous summits. The mention of a green recovery has his undeniable fingerprint. In doing that, Obama is showing consistency and coherence with what he said during his campaign. A new American attitude on climate policy might well be one of Obama's trademarks in international negotiations during his tenure.
But the importance of this week's summit goes beyond Obama's test. As Prime Minister Gordon Brown said, the world is facing the worst crisis in modern times. In the communiqué, leaders showed a clear sense of urgency. It was encouraging. They took decisions to reform world institutions, including the IMF, to fight for job creation and economic growth, to help the poorest countries and to change the framework for financial regulation and surveillance. President Nicolas Sarkozy said that the meeting has gone beyond expectations. He was right.
Everybody knows that this crisis will be a long and devastating one, and nobody believes in panaceas or the miraculous power of one meeting. Barack Obama, however, showed that he could be the right leader for the moment. This is an asset in this economic crisis of mass destruction that has been frightening the whole world. All that said, I'd give him a 10.
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