"I’m committed to respecting different points of view, and forging a consensus instead of dictating our terms. That’s how we made progress in the last few days and that is how we will make progress in the months and years to come."
Barack Obama addressed the international press in the final briefing of the London Summit, indicating his perspective on and the likely impact of the agreed G20 communique. In clear terms he set out what the mindblowing figures and empowering of international organisations will mean in the short term. His statement was concise and measured, but ushered a new tone in US foreign policy (rhetoric) that implied his administration’s keenness for ‘listening’ before acting. His statement overall was nothing remarkable as the groundwork for much of it had already been laid by Gordon Brown earlier in the day; yet the Q&A session that followed was much more revealing. Obama took over an hour to answer journalists questions (compared to Gordon Brown’s hasty 25 minutes) during which he proved to be charismatic and academically savvy. What struck home was his focus on actually giving answers to questions without encoding or straying from the original point. When convention or outside pressure required him to refrain from answering specificities, he admitted as much in a way that gave the impression ‘he would answer, if only he could…’
Highlights of the Q&A included:
Moving away from isolationism:
“I said before, we’ve got a global economy, and if we’re taking actions in isolation in the United States, but those actions are contradicted overseas, then we’re only going to be halfway effective — maybe not even half.”
local vs. global:
“In terms of local politics, look, I’m the President of the United States. I’m not the President of China, I’m not the President of Japan, I’m not the President of the other participants here. And so I have a direct responsibility to my constituents to make their lives better. That’s why they put me in there. That accounts for some of the questions here, about how concretely does me being here help them find a job, pay for their home, send their kids to college, live what we call the American Dream. And I will be judged by my effectiveness in meeting their needs and concerns.”
America working with the world:
“I just think in a world that is as complex as it is, that it is very important for us to be able to forge partnerships as opposed to simply dictating solutions. Just a – just to try to crystallize the example, there’s been a lot of comparison here about Bretton Woods. “Oh, well, last time you saw the entire international architecture being remade.” Well, if there’s just Roosevelt and Churchill sitting in a room with a brandy, that’s a – that’s an easier negotiation. But that’s not the world we live in, and it shouldn’t be the world that we live in.”
where the Washington Consensus went wrong:
“The Washington consensus is sort of a term of art about a certain set of policies surrounding globalization and the application of a cookie-cutter model to economic growth, trade liberalization, deregulation that was popular and did help globalize and grow the economy, and was led by some of our leading economists and policymakers in Washington. What we have learned is that the market is the most effective mechanism for creating wealth and distributing resources to produce goods and services that history has ever known, but that it goes off the rail sometimes; that if it’s completely unregulated, that if there are no thoughtful frameworks to channel the creative energy of the market, that it can end up in a very bad place.”
…and being too-cool-for-school:
Q ” Hi, Mr. President.
How are you?
Q Thank you for choosing me. I’m very well. I’m from the Times of India.
Q You met with our Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh. What did you – what is America doing to help India tackle terrorism emanating from Pakistan?
Well, first of all, your Prime Minister is a wonderful man.
Q Thank you. I agree.
Q I agree.
Did you have something to do with that? Or – you seem to kind of take credit for it a little bit there!
Q I am really proud of him, sir!
Of course. You should be proud of him. I’m teasing you…”