Global Recession, Security Challenges Test Obama's Popularity Among World Leaders


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Only nine months ago, when he addressed an estimated 200,000 people in Germany, Barack Obama was heralded as "president of the world."

But now that he's president of the United States, the world doesn't appear to be following up on its endorsement.

From France to Poland, from the Czech Republic to China, many nations are rebuffing the president and offering little wiggle room for him to negotiate economic and security policies.

Obama faces his first major international test next week when the world's largest economies meet at the G20 summit in London.

"I think as the president heads to Europe, he faces a huge public relations disaster," said Nile Gardiner, director of the conservative Heritage Foundation's Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom.

"Europe is increasingly turning against his massive spending plans, which most European leaders see as a destructive way to move forward for the global economy and will only add to a massive American debt burden," Gardiner told

"At the same time, there is a growing impression across Europe that the Obama administration is inept and inefficient and increasingly poorly managed."

A top European Union politician on Wednesday slammed Obama's plans for the U.S. to spend its way out of recession as "a way to hell."

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, who lost a confidence vote in his own parliament this week and whose country currently holds the EU presidency, told the European Parliament that Obama's massive stimulus package and banking bailout "will undermine the stability of the global financial market."

That followed concerns by Poland that the U.S., as a way to appease Russia, plans to bail out of a missile defense shield the Bush administration negotiated with Poland and the Czech Republic.

"Russian generals, and even the Russian president, still continues to threaten us with the deployment of medium-range missiles in our immediate vicinity," Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski told Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., in Brussels on Sunday. "So we signed with the previous administration. We patiently wait for the decision of the new administration and we hope we don't regret our trust in the United States."

Most European leaders favor tighter financial regulation, while the U.S. has been pushing for larger economic stimulus plans.

"We consider that in Europe we have already invested a lot for the recovery, and that the problem is not about spending more, but putting in place a system of regulation so that the economic and financial catastrophe that the world is seeing does not reproduce itself," French President Nicolas Sarkozy told a news conference in Berlin last week with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, rebuffing U.S. calls to spend more.

"I think it's fair to say on these economic issues, there seems to be a critical divide between the U.S. and some of our friends in Europe that is going to make it more difficult for the G20 to be successful," said Isabel Sawhill, a senior fellow in economic studies at Brookings Institution.

But Sawhill and other economists downplay the growing friction between Obama and Europe.

"I don't think it has much of anything to do with him," Sawhill told "I think it has to do with a disagreement about what's the best response to the global recession. And many of the European countries are uncomfortable about the pressure they [see] us bringing to bear on them to stimulate the economy as much as we have ours."

Brad Setser, a fellow in geo-economics at the Council on Foreign Relations, added that disagreements like these are inevitable.

"I would say as any government or administration starts putting concrete proposals on the table, there are bound to be differences of opinion," he said. "And the Obama administration sought correctly to encourage Europe to respond as aggressively to the downturn in Europe as the U.S. has here."

Setser added, "A little bit of disagreement is healthy because it signals that countries are seriously debating and discussing the policy measures that are needed to get out of the current downturn."

But Europe isn't the only international ally that could turn on Obama. Australia's leadership, whose longtime enthusiastic support for America had buttressed the Bush administration, is reluctant to send more troops to Afghanistan.

Australia is a crucial U.S. ally in the Afghan war, and the largest contributor of forces outside NATO. In a meeting Tuesday with Obama, Australian President Kevin Rudd sidestepped talk about Australia's plans for Afghanistan and instead concentrated on agreements over global climate change.

"But we look forward very much to partnering with the United States in dealing with this big one for the future," Rudd said. "It's going to be tough, it's going to be hard, it's going to require a lot of political leadership. But with our partners around the world, I think our governments are determined to make a difference, and not just to push this one away permanently in the 'too hard' basket. I think that's good.

"And I'd just say it's great to have America on board. It's great to have America on board on this one. And, Mr. President, to see the return of U.S. global economic leadership. We appreciate that very much, and it's going to be necessary in the difficult times which lie ahead for certain," he said.

China, meanwhile, is expressing serious reservations about owning U.S. debt. And in the latest sign of Beijing's growing assertiveness on the international stage, China's central bank has called for the creation of a new global currency as an alternative to the dollar, .

China has more than $1 trillion in U.S. Treasuries and other government securities. As the U.S. government ramps up spending to stimulate the economy and assist the battered financial sector, Chinese officials have said they are worried that inflation will result, which would erode the value of their dollar holdings.

In his press conference Tuesday night, Obama said the dollar is "extraordinarily strong right now" and attributed that to investors who "consider the United States the strongest economy in the world with the most stable political system in the world."

He added that while he hasn't looked at polling from around the world, U.S. efforts are paying off globally.

"I think it's fair to say that the response that people have had to our administration and the steps that we've taken are ones that are restoring a sense of confidence and the ability of the United States to assert global leadership," the president said.

Gardiner said Obama has an opportunity to put lingering concerns about his leadership to rest at next week's summit.

"I think Obama's trip to Europe next week is going to be critically important in terms of how he is perceived as a statesman on the world stage," Gardiner said, "and this is a make-or-break trip for the new president at time when many are questioning American global leadership."

He added that Obama has to present himself as a statesman with authority and a clear sense of direction.

"At present, the White House looks rudderless and confused," Gardiner said. "He must, above all, reassure the world that the United States rejects protectionism and that the United States also is not going to be overwhelmed by a mountain of debt that is going to tie the world's only superpower down for decades.


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