By Dan Froomkin
1:00 PM ET, 04/ 1/2009
President Obama this morning denied the widespread reports of major rifts between him and some key European allies about the best way to approach the global financial crisis.
At a joint press availability with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, he accused the press corps of hyperbole.
"I know that when you've got a bunch of heads of state talking, it's not visually that interesting -- (laughter) -- and it -- you know, the communiqués are written in sort of dry language, and so there's a great desire to inject some conflict and some drama into the occasion. But the truth of the matter is, is that I think there has been an extraordinary convergence and I'm absolutely confident that the United States, as -- as a peer of these other countries, will help to lead us through this very difficult time....
"I am absolutely confident that this meeting will reflect enormous consensus about the need to work in concert to deal with these problems. I think that the separation between the various parties involved has been vastly overstated," he said.
"If you look at where there has been the biggest debate, and I think that the press has fastened on this as a ongoing narrative -- this whole issue of fiscal stimulus. And the fact of the matter is, is that almost every country that's participating in this summit has engaged in fiscal stimulus. The ones that are perceived as being resistant to fiscal stimulus have done significant fiscal stimulus. There has not been a dispute about the need for government to act in the face of a rapidly contracting set of markets and very high unemployment.
"Now, there have been differences in terms of how should that stimulus be shaped. There have been arguments, for example, among some European countries that because they have more of a social safety net, that some of the countercyclical measures that we took -- for example, unemployment insurance -- were less necessary for them to take. But the truth is, is that that's -- that's just arguing at the margins. The core notion that government has to take some steps to deal with a contracting global marketplace and that we should be promoting growth, that's not in dispute.
"On the regulatory side, this notion that somehow there are those who are pushing for regulation and those who are resisting regulation is belied by the facts. Tim Geithner, who's sitting here today, went before Congress and proposed as aggressive a set of regulatory measures as any that have emerged among G20 members. That was before we showed up."
Obama described his personal approach this way: "I came here to put forward our ideas, but I also came here to listen, and not to lecture...
"Having said that, we must not miss an opportunity to lead. To confront a crisis that knows no borders, we have a responsibility to coordinate our actions and to focus on common ground, not on our occasional differences. If we do, I believe we can make enormous progress."
Meanwhile, reporters continue to note a variety of signs of potential conflict at tomorrow's meeting.
And Katherine Baldwin writes for the Guardian that "later today Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, will throw down the gauntlet by staging their own joint press conference in London demanding the G20 summit usher in a new era of global regulation of banks, executive bonuses, hedge funds and offshore tax havens.
"In what will be seen as a challenge to Obama, they will also insist nobody at the summit should discuss a fresh stimulus package, despite a report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development that 'world trade is now in freefall'."
David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times: "For all of Mr. Obama's early optimism that the rest of the world would follow his lead on big stimulus packages, there is no clear move in that direction.....
"All of this suggests a rebuke of American economic leadership. Yet Mr. Obama is still likely to dominate the discussions here. And there is no clear alternative to his strategy for reviving the world economy....
"A draft of the communiqué that circulated Tuesday and that will be in front of the leaders at the summit meeting commits every nation to make efforts to refloat their economies, but it sets no targets."
Edward Luce and Krishna Guha write in the Financial Times: "Barack Obama enters his first real moment of global diplomacy in London on Wednesday with a paradox: he is the most popular US president in a generation, but you would have to go back more than two generations to find one with fewer cards to play.
"Many outside the US accept that the country is not solely to blame for the global meltdown. None would point the finger at Mr Obama personally. But it is he who will be the target of long pent-up resentment at the US's evangelical approach now that its belief in self-regulating markets has been discredited."
This morning, Obama seemed ready to take a few lumps. Asked whether the U.S. caused the crisis, he replied; "I would say that if you look at the sources of this crisis, the United States certainly has some accounting to do with respect to a regulatory system that was inadequate to the massive changes that had taken place in the global financial system."
But, he said, "at this point, I'm less interested in identifying blame than fixing the problem. And I think we've taken some very aggressive steps in the United States to do so...
"I had a professor when I was in law school who said some are to blame but all are responsible. And I think that's the best way for us to approach the problem that we have right now."
Kevin Sullivan writes in the Washington Post about the chummy press conference: "Intent on dismissing talk of cool interpersonal relations, they offered each other big verbal bear hugs. Obama called Brown 'Gordon' so many times that a beaming and normally hyper-formal Brown finally took the plunge and tossed out a few genial 'Baracks.'
"Being a 'Buddy of Barack' in Europe these days is pure political gold dust, and Brown was visibly tickled when Obama said that not only was he enjoying his hang-time with Gordon, but he had also gotten a kick out of Brown's young sons."
Asked to make a prediction about World Cup soccer, Obama declined: "I have had enough trouble back home picking my brackets for the college basketball tournament," he said. "The last thing I'm going to do is wade into European football. (Laughter.) That would be a mistake. I didn't get a briefing on that, but I sense that would be a mistake. (Laughter.)"
Meanwhile, Jon Cohen blogs that The Washington Post poll finds that 67 percent of Americans support the way Obama is handling international affairs.