Obama Leaves Stage to Bogeyman Bush
Obama Leaves Stage to Bogeyman Bush
By Gregor Peter Schmitz in Washington, D.C.
Barack Obama has no plans to participate in this weekend's G-20 crisis summit in Washington -- for good reasons, too. By skipping out, he is pointing out the man he feels is responsible for the US financial misery: George W. Bush.
It was a harmonious scene at the White House earlier this week: George W. Bush and Barack Obama, smiling together in the Oval Office. One man came for his inaugural visit to his soon-to-be workplace, while the other appeared open to his successor, saying it would be a "stirring sight" when the Obama family arrives at the White House.
AFP/ White House
Bush, Obama: Those close to the president-elect say he isn't ready to accept responsibility for the US financial debacle.
Contact won't be so close later this week, though, when Obama leaves the stage to Bush at the G-20 financial summit on Friday and Saturday. The meeting has been called in order to create the framework for a new global financial order.
Bush was determined to hold the summit in the capital and not in New York, as the United Nations had suggested. On Friday, the outgoing president will invite the other participants to a grand dinner at the White House. This will be followed on Saturday by intensive work in the stately National Building Museum. And at the end of the summit, Bush will address the media. Up to 30 minutes are scheduled for this appearance, unusually long for a closing statement -- this one could also be something of a farewell message.
Foreign heads of state had hoped at first for an informal meeting with Obama this week, but that wish won't be fulfilled just yet. At first, rumors circulated that the president-elect would meet privately with German Chancellor Angela Merkel or Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Now it appears Obama will instead send others on his behalf, to be available for conversations with foreign leaders during the summit. The mini delegation will consist of Madeleine Albright, former secretary of state under Bill Clinton, and Jim Leach, a Republican congressman of many years.
Obama wants to avoid all delicate foreign affairs matters at the moment. His team was shocked, according to the New York Times, when a polite five-minute telephone conversation with the Polish president provoked wild speculation of statements about the United States' planned missile defense system in the region. The leaders of Obama's transition team quickly sent around an e-mail asking all members to avoid similar conversations with foreign media or organizations. The danger is too great, they argued, that an aide's opinion could be misinterpreted as a commitment on Obama's part.
'Obama Is Working Feverishly'
The word from those around him is that Obama doesn't yet want to assume responsibility for the financial debacle in the United States -- and least of all within the framework of Bush's conference. During his campaign Obama charged the outgoing president with almost single-handed responsibility for the crisis. He said again and again that the country needed a clean break from eight years of Bush's failed economic policy.
The fact that Obama won't participate makes concrete success at the summit unlikely. "Very little can be achieved without explicit support from President-elect Obama," Benn Steil of the Council on Foreign Relations said in a teleconference with journalists. "If Bush expresses support for an initiative that an incoming Obama administration will not support, he can rest assured that he will not get any traction whatsoever." Aside from agreeing on further meetings, the only other potential outcome at the summit would be an deal on an economic stimulus plan, since Obama has shown support for such an agreement.
The president-elect is currently concentrating on an economic stimulus plan. "Obama's team is working feverishly on plans to solve the United States' economic crisis," says William Drozdiak, president of the American Council on Germany. The first details are already trickling out: One idea under consideration is a stimulus package of up to $500 billion, which would include massive investment in the United States' dilapidated infrastructure and development of alternative energy sources. Obama's cabinet will also see the creation of a White House Office of Urban Policy, which could well be provided with considerable resources.
But it is unlikely Obama will lay out any concrete agenda during the days surrounding Bush's financial summit. The nomination of his secretary of the treasury, which many expected to come this week, looks like it will be delayed. Many expect this position to go to Larry Summers, a brilliant economist who already held the post under Bill Clinton's administration. However, Summers' critics warn that this could look too much like a return to the Clinton era. They tend to favor Timothy Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank in New York, for the post.
Regardless who gets picked, the new treasury secretary will face daunting tasks. One will be managing the next G-20 financial crisis summit, which is already slated to take place in February or March. Brad Setser of the Council on Foreign Relations says, "An Obama administration would be more inclined to let the International Monetary Fund play a larger role in managing the crisis. (Obama's team) supports the G-20's approval process and is open to new regulations for the financial market."
Nonetheless, Obama's administration isn't going to change everything. Audacious suggestions from other parts of the world are likely to remain unwelcome. "Under a President Obama as well," says Setser, "the United States isn't going to accept any kind of global oversight of its financial markets."