After 10 weeks in office trying to save the U.S. economy, President Obama is ready to take on the world economy. Whether the world is ready for his remedy remains in doubt.
Obama arrived in London on Tuesday, then on to four other nations, for his first overseas trip since assuming office and with the global economy in shambles. It's one of the most anticipated presidential trips since John Kennedy went to Berlin in 1963.
Although much of the attention will focus on Obama, the world economy hangs in the balance. Obama will try to persuade leaders of the Group of 20 that they should act boldly to stimulate spending, stabilize financial systems and sidestep increased trade protectionism. He also has a reinvigorated war plan for Afghanistan to promote.
Still new on the world stage at 47, Obama will meet privately with at least six presidents, prime ministers and a king in London, then five more as he travels on to France, Germany, the Czech Republic and Turkey. He'll attend three summits, deliver two major addresses and hold a roundtable with students in Istanbul. He'll take time out to see Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace and sightsee from Strasbourg to Istanbul.
The goal of the trip, says Denis McDonough, deputy national security adviser, is nothing less than "restoring America's standing in the world." It will produce at least two story lines: one symbolic, one substantive.
In the first, Obama will likely be greeted warmly by Western European leaders, thanks to his popularity among their constituents.
"Barack Obama, for most Europeans, embodies the American dream," says Karen Donfried, executive vice president of the German Marshall Fund, which promotes trans-Atlantic cooperation. "It's what Europeans love about this country."
The second and more important theme is about dollars, pounds and euros. Although the president is popular, the U.S. financial collapse precipitated much of the world's problems. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., says foreigners "blame the model that we exported."
Europeans who for years fretted over military preparedness and the threat of terrorism now are consumed with a financial meltdown that has cost millions of jobs — even those of government leaders from Iceland to Latvia. Obama's task is to lead by example and persuade colleagues to take many of the steps the United States has taken to fix their economies.
"Obama is adored by the general public but still has to prove himself to the governments," says Reginald Dale, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "There's a real opportunity for the president to show global leadership."
A 'make-or-break event'
His first chance will come Thursday at the G-20 summit, a follow-up to one held by President Bush in Washington in November. Then, world financial markets were in crisis. Now it's the entire global economy, which could threaten global security.
Some Eastern European nations are on the brink of default, so the summit "is a make-or-break event," says international financier and philanthropist George Soros. Desmond Lachman of the American Enterprise Institute, a former International Monetary Fund official, says the task is huge: "how to prevent the global economy from imploding."
The major push-pull is between the U.S. emphasis on government spending and European nations' preference for more regulation.