President Obama began his trip to Asia with hopes of increasing exports and boosting American jobs, but he ends it with modesty being forced upon him, having failed to deliver in several key areas.
The president concluded the summit of the G-20 economic superpowers with an acknowledgement of the limits of American influence.
"Part of the reason that sometimes it seems that the United States is attracting some dissent is because we're initiating ideas. We're putting them forward," Obama said.
It's a remarkable admission for a president who won the office by running against leaders who set their sights only on what he called "incremental change."
"Instead of hitting home runs, sometimes we're going to hit singles," Obama said. "But they're really important singles."
Obama Fails to Achieve Key Trade Goals
But on this trip, the White House has made plenty of strikes.
Strike one: Obama failed to convince the South Koreans to open their market to American beef and cars, which could have amounted to $10 billion in exports and 70,000 American jobs.
Strike two: The president failed to successfully push Chinese President Hu Jintao to change policies that make it cheaper to manufacture in China by artificially building up the dollar and holding down Chinese currency.
"[Chinese currency] is undervalued, and China spends an enormous amount of money intervening in the market to keep it undervalued," Obama said in his sharpest and most accusatory language about the controversy to date.
The president's case could not have been helped by the Federal Reserve announcement of plans to inject $600 billion into the U.S. economy, prompting some G-20 nations to accuse the U.S. itself of currency manipulation.
Trade Decisions Could Hurt American Growth
With a $227 billion trade deficit with China, Obama was unable to convince the other G-20 leaders to agree to use stronger language on currency manipulation in the joint declaration, or take any firm actions on trade imbalances.
Obama argues that these failures are not a sign of political weakness, and he defended his economic record when asked if he could promise the American people that they would see noticeable job growth before he runs for re-election.
"We've grown the economy by a million jobs over the last year, so that's pretty noticeable," Obama said. "I think those million people who've been hired noticed those paychecks."
Lost Trade Opportunities Could Hurt U.S. Economy
Economic experts say that the failures at the G-20 summit could hamper the U.S. economy in the future.
"For Americans, failure to be back in the game on trade in Asia means that we'll miss out on the next lap of significant growth," said Ernest Bower, a senior adviser and director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies Southeast Asia Program. "We'll be ceding jobs and opportunities that could be here in the United States to other places like China, India, and Southeast Asia."
Presidents rarely get everything they want at international summits, but coming off a midterm election he described as a "shellacking," which was rooted in economic anxiety, President Obama and the American people desperately needed a win.