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World Community Organizer

Obama arrives for his G-20 press conference yesterday. (Kirsty Wigglesworth - AP)

Barack Obama showed the world a profoundly new style of American leadership yesterday.

Obama emerged from the G-20 summit in London, where the leaders of the world's largest economies agreed to what he called "an unprecedented set of comprehensive and coordinated actions," talking about his commitment "to respecting different points of view and to forging a consensus instead of dictating our terms."

His approach struck a very different note from his predecessor, the would-be Texas cowboy whose "with us or against us" attitude led to unilateral foreign adventurism and a diminishing of America's standing in the world.

But what kind of leadership is it when you don't dictate terms? How do you get things done?

Obama's style is very much a reflection of his background in community organizing, a process that starts with listening before moving on to forging consensus and taking collective action.

Apparently it works on the international stage, too -- though I expect it doesn't hurt if you're the charismatic and hugely popular new leader of the world's only superpower and (despite everything) largest economy.

Resolving disputes is another part of Obama's style, and it turns out he did that in London as well. Jake Tapper reported for ABC News that Obama "played peacemaker in a spat between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Hu Jintao, President of the People's Republic of China.

"In the final plenary session among the G-20 leaders, Sarkozy and Hu were having a heated disagreement about tax havens.

"France and other European nations have been pushing for rules and regulations to apply to various tax havens.... But Chinese leaders fear a crackdown would hurt banking centers in Macao, Shanghai and Hong Kong....

"The exchange between Sarkozy and Hu got so heated, said a source -- who is not a member of the Obama administration -- it was threatening the unity of the G-20 leaders' meeting....

"Mr. Obama, according to this account, stepped between the two men, urging them to try to find consensus, and giving them a 'pep talk' about the importance of working together."

A senior Obama administration official "said that Mr. Obama pulled Mr. Sarkozy aside, took him to a corner, 'and discussed possible alternatives,'... Once they arrived at one, President Obama 'sent a message to the Chinese' that a counter-offer was on the table."

Then "Obama, with the assistance of translators, suggested that he and Mr. Hu have a conversation as well. They, too went to the corner to talk. After a few minutes, Mr. Obama called upon Mr. Sarkozy to join them.

"'Translators and sherpas in tow, they reached an agreement,' the official said. 'There was a multiple shaking of hands.'"

Writing in the Guardian, Patrick Wintour, Nicholas Watt and Julian Borger, quote Obama as saying at one point: "Let's get this all in some kind of perspective guys."

Steven Thomma writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "It was a remarkable stroke of personal diplomacy by a new president who's making his debut this week on the world stage."

The wide-ranging deal struck by the G-20 didn't represent any sudden turnarounds by any of the world leaders, but there was an unexpectedly large -- $1.1 trillion -- commitment to the International Monetary Fund, to provide financial aid to the global economy. And there was the birth of what British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called a "new consensus" that envisions not just greater cooperation between nations, but greater government oversight over the financial institutions that, left to their own devices, trashed the world economy.

Steven Pearlstein writes in his Washington Post business column: "While President Obama may have overstated things a bit when he declared it a 'turning point' for the now-shrinking global economy, the meeting did manage to boost the confidence of financial markets, inject another trillion dollars into the financial system and provide needed political cover for world leaders to take unpopular actions back home....

"All in all, a pretty successful opening-night performance for President Obama on the international economic stage. He achieved most of what he wanted while allowing others to claim victory and allowing the United States to shed its Bush-era reputation for inflexibility and heavy-handedness. And by the standards of past summits, this one was full of accomplishment."

And Anthony Faiola and Mary Jordan write in The Washington Post: "The $1.1 trillion pledged by world leaders to combat the worst economic crisis since World War II effectively amounts to a rescue package for both poor and rich countries, potentially including the United States."

Some observers, however, are expressing disappointment that Obama wasn't more assertive. The Washington Post editorial board writes that "the summit would have benefited from a greater focus on the U.S. priority of fixing the crisis we are in before moving on to protecting against the next one."

Similarly, the New York Times editorial board thinks Obama should have pushed harder to get European leaders "to commit to spend the hundreds of billions of dollars in additional fiscal stimulus that the world economy needs to pull out of its frighteningly steep dive...

"After years of watching former President George W. Bush hector and alienate this country’s closest friends, we were relieved to see Mr. Obama in full diplomatic mode. We fear, however, that this is not the time or the issue on which to hold back. If world growth continues to decline — and all signs suggest that it will — the president will have to take on this fight soon."

In previous posts, I've discussed the media's intense focus on winners and losers, and noted that Obama on Wednesday scolded the press corps for trying to "inject some conflict and some drama into the occasion."

That tension continued to be apparent at yesterday's press conference. Obama repeatedly talked about the long haul, the big picture and the value of collaboration, to the evident frustration of a press corps that wanted to see immediate results, to know how yesterday's actions would help American families, and to hear who won and who lost.

"Our problems are not going to be solved in one meeting. They're not going to be solved in two meetings," Obama said.

Asked to rate his own performance, Obama replied: "Well, I think we did okay... Overall, I'm pleased with the product. And I'll leave it to others to determine whether me and my team had anything to do with that. All right?"

Yeah but: "What concrete items that you got out of this G-20 can you tell the American people back home who are hurting?"

Obama replied: "Well, as 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."

OK but: "In the spirit of openness with which you say you're going to run your administration, could you give us an insight into an area or areas where you came to London wanting something and didn't get it, where you compromised, where you gave something away to achieve the wider breakthrough agreement?"

Obama declined. "I'd rather not specify what those precise items would be, because this is a collective document."

Well, can you talk about how different you are from your predecessor?

Obama wouldn't entirely bite, although he noted "that we exercise our leadership best when we are listening, when we recognize that the world is a complicated place, and that we are going to have to act in partnership with other countries, when we lead by example, when we show some element of humility and recognize that we may not always have the best answer but we can always encourage the best answer and support the best answer."

Can you say for sure you've averted an economic depression?

"In life, there are no guarantees. And in economics, there are no guarantees…. I think the steps in the communique were necessary. Whether they're sufficient, we've got to -- we've got to wait and see…

"[Y]ou've got a sick patient. I think we applied the right medicine. I think the patient is stabilized. There's still wounds that have to heal. And, you know, there's still -- you know, there's still emergencies that could arise. But I think that you've got some pretty good care being applied."

Has America's power diminished on the world stage?

"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. (Laughter.) But that's not the world we live in, and it shouldn't be the world that we live in."

By Dan Froomkin  |  April 3, 2009; 11:49 AM ET
Categories:  Financial Crisis  
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Barack Obama showed the world a profoundly new style of American leadership yesterday.


And this means what? More NATO troops for Afghanistan? A buyoff from Merkel and Sarkozy on a bigger global stimulus? Is Eastern Europe more or less likely to cooperate with the US after Obama was so willing to abandon them to an aggressively resurgent Russia and prostrate himself in front of the Russians?

But never fear ..... Froomkin is here to slather this pig up with lipstick.

Posted by: SharpshootingPugilist | April 3, 2009 11:58 AM | Report abuse

"SharpshootingPugilist?" Pugilistic, yes. Sharpshooting? Hardly.

Posted by: thrh | April 3, 2009 12:17 PM | Report abuse

All I can think is thank goodness John McCain isn't over there representing us. The voters have every reason to be proud this time.

Posted by: bgormley1 | April 3, 2009 12:38 PM | Report abuse

The new style they're referring to is "competent", Pugi. The judges would have also accepted "adult" and "significantly less chimp-like".

Posted by: BigTunaTim | April 3, 2009 12:41 PM | Report abuse

Congratulations President Obama on your successful G20 meeting. The leaders from other nations agree that you are a leader that may speak another language however we understand you. The former President (Bush) may have been President but just didn’t have the skills to communicate with the world. By the way folks has anybody heard the name Bush lately, gone forever more.

Posted by: REDSOX08 | April 3, 2009 12:47 PM | Report abuse

Competent would seem to be more than just the ability to get a standing ovation from the British press corps ... competent would seem to mean the ability to gain concessions and favorable agreements out of the individuals you are negotiating with. And on the “significantly less chimp-like” that’s debatable, wouldn’t you say?

Posted by: SharpshootingPugilist | April 3, 2009 1:01 PM | Report abuse

The incident Froomkin leads with was interesting, and important enough to call for follow up.

It is not undesirable for the American President to be closer to the heads of government of important countries like China and France than either are to one another. President Obama's reported performance in London is noteworthy in that respect; seizing the moment to mediate this kind of dispute is something only a President can do, and he deserves credit for doing it.

Parenthetically, this is the kind of thing that, say, Nixon or Clinton would also have done. The idea that when Obama does it his background as a community organizer is coming to the fore is the Obama organization's spin left over from the campaign.

The substance as well as the atmospherics of this incident will deserve coverage later. The American position on money laundering and tax havens is closer to that of the French than of the Chinese. On the other hand, this may be less true than it was a few years ago, the issues being French confidence (and that of others) that China will follow through on limiting both practices without an official statement that it is doing so, on the one hand, and the Chinese government's reluctance to make any such statement even if it intended (for its own reasons) to do everything the French wanted. The resolution reported by Tapper looks encouraging, though I'm sure opinions will vary about that. Follow-up reporting will be needed to find out whether Obama negotiated an amicable resolution to a diplomatic dispute or a postponement of action on an issue with real consequences.

Posted by: jbritt3 | April 3, 2009 1:11 PM | Report abuse

"competent would seem to mean the ability to gain concessions and favorable agreements out of the individuals you are negotiating with."

You should really start reading the news instead of letting Fox and Friends spoonfeed it to you. You might learn a few things and have more to discuss than your Froomkin obsession.

"And on the “significantly less chimp-like” that’s debatable, wouldn’t you say?"

Nope. That's why I didn't say it.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | April 3, 2009 1:12 PM | Report abuse

Last summer, in the midst of the campaign, then Mr. Obama was photographed carrying Fareed Zakaria's "Post American World". Much of President Obama's approach to the G-20 summit can be viewed through the lens of the concepts and observations of this book. It has become apparent that Mr. Obama's approach is the approach many issues from deconstructing its component parts and tackling them through a side door. In this way one doesn't appear confrontational and is able to maintain a level of flexibility that allows room for negotiation and mediation.

Posted by: trag110 | April 3, 2009 2:07 PM | Report abuse

I am so proud of our President and First Lady – intelligent; gracious; humble; and caring. The President’s news conference was amazing. He was insightful, thoughtful and yet he let everyone know – we can’t have everything we want and that’s okay; we can’t bully; and sometimes you have to wait and see what the outcome is going to be but everything is in place to make things better. He also has a great sense of humor. I loved the interaction with the reporters. The fact that he is new on the stage yet took the time to negotiate says so much about him.

Two friends who are foreign (French & Canadian) said, “WOW – he’s brilliant and they’re such a good looking loving couple.” That makes me so proud.

To those who call him a teleprompter President I don’t know what they’re watching and listening to.

Posted by: rlj1 | April 3, 2009 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Saw his speech this morning. Not as much woo hooing crowd as has been in the past. It would be more impressive if the guy wrote his own stuff and didn't read what is written for him on a teleprompter. I have tired of his long winded, not making eye contact speeches he gives. Let's hold off on the continued goo goo gaa gaa for about a year. Then we will see if he has any touches of greatness.

Posted by: mmourges | April 3, 2009 2:30 PM | Report abuse

What some supporters of the previous President fail to understand is that it is only leadership if you can actually get people to follow you. How many governments, which weren't paid off, supported Bush in Iraq? You can count them on one hand and their elected leaders have mostly been replaced in recent elections.

Posted by: troyd2009 | April 3, 2009 2:51 PM | Report abuse

President Obama is like a breath of fresh air after the stench of George W.Bush and his Republican cronies for the last eight years.

Posted by: wcoffey20 | April 3, 2009 3:00 PM | Report abuse

SharpshootingPugilist, are you implying what I think you're implying when you write “significantly less chimp-like” that’s debatable"? Remember what happened to those racist cowards at NY Post after that tasteless cartoon... MAYBE you didn't mean it that way, but it sure sounds like you might. But the fact is that it is not at all debatable: W was an embarrassing disgrace; O is the face of a new USA.

Posted by: stephenlouis | April 3, 2009 3:22 PM | Report abuse

Some people seem to be utterly ignorant of how the presidency operates in a televised world. Nobody writes their own speeches and nobody goes without a teleprompter. Simply because the last president couldn't read and relied on an earpiece so that he could dribble out word salad doesn't mean the current president isn't capable of delivering a speech well in spite of the teleprompter.

Posted by: sparkplug1 | April 3, 2009 3:30 PM | Report abuse

right ON. Stop obsessing about preserving the the lives of me, and, my family. Focus on the BIG picture: steal our hard earned dollars to give to ACORN & LA RASA, let your terrorist Islamo buds out of Gitmo, plus, send tax rebate checks to welfare sucking coke heads. Kenya rules. Obama, Osama.

Posted by: craigslsst | April 3, 2009 3:31 PM | Report abuse

I am overcome with pride when I watch and listen to Obama.

For the past 25 years I have been a fan of politics and am always ready to debate any point. I have been known to say that I would like to be president some day and that I may run for office fairly soon. But for the first time in my political life we have a president that does not make me think that I could be president. I could not do what Pres. Obama does. He is a person of humble beginnings who has made himself a tremendous success. Truly inspiring and truly a man for the history books.

After 8 years of intense cringing towards our leadership I am incredibly enthused and proud to be here, right now!

Posted by: farkdawg | April 3, 2009 3:35 PM | Report abuse

To all those who want to tear down Obama, for whatever reason, please just consider, for a moment, that some of his actions might be beneficial...
Remember, the stimulus funds that have gone to banks and to local governments for projects like infrastructure renovation and energy reduction are going to have results.

Are you positive that the results will be negative? If you get a job due to stimulus funds will you let us know?

Posted by: farkdawg | April 3, 2009 3:44 PM | Report abuse

Oh, just love us and the US, you Europeans. I have chased the big bad Bushy wolf away and I am your side. We US liberals love your welfare state despite your inability to pay for it with all the time off you people demand- you are not Americans; why should you work hard? And please, couldn't you help us fight those terr- er, those people with guns who keep shooting at US troops in Afghanistan. I won't mention who they are so as not to offend anybody. Oh yes, I know you Europeans love peace and don't believe in the military. So if you have any problems, just call me and I'll see what I can do. That is, before I cut the budgets of our military establishment. I am such a friendly guy that I am certain no one will want to hurt me or my people.

Posted by: mhr614 | April 3, 2009 3:51 PM | Report abuse

Everyday Obama does or says something that confirms my belief that he is going to be one of the greatest leaders this world has ever seen.

Posted by: OleLadySquawking | April 3, 2009 4:05 PM | Report abuse

"Obama's style is very much a reflection of his background in community organizing, a process that starts with listening before moving on to forging consensus and taking collective action."

Dan, I love this sentence. I read it and I hear that horrible Palin person's whiney voice going on about how Obama doesn't have any experience and how he was just a community organizer. Well it looks like that experience pays off not just for Obama but for the United States. Watching our President yesterday with the other lleaders of the world I was so proud of his performance and I was proud that he was representing our nation. Let that crazy Palin stay in Alaska looking at Russia from her back yard. Thank God after so long in the wilderness we have a true leader.

Posted by: dre7861 | April 3, 2009 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Froomkin Rocks the Free World! Now, if Obama can bring the magic into the Middle East, the world all might sleep better. "He's got the whole world in this hands"//Peace is at hand.

Posted by: rmorris391 | April 3, 2009 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Obama deserves credit for forging hopeful commitments at the G20 summit. The proof in this pudding will be his ability as a former community organizer to enable the transformation of the
promised consensus of twenty nations into concrete and effective action. It's a promising beginning, and I hope he succeeds.

It is NOT patriotic to hope he fails, no matter how one might qualify such an attitude.

Posted by: MillPond2 | April 3, 2009 6:08 PM | Report abuse

Sharpshooting Pugilist?

How about pluperfect horse's butt?

What an ignorant cretin! Someone should take his gun away and introduce him to a real pugil.

Posted by: sundog2 | April 3, 2009 6:26 PM | Report abuse

I am so proud this man is my president. I shudder to think of McCain's performance during the same event.

Posted by: truthman3 | April 3, 2009 6:52 PM | Report abuse

All one has to do, in order to understand socialism, Marxism and European ingratitude and cowardice is to read Froomkin and his bloggers. To do so also provikes a study of the the arrogant and pushy Obamas.

Posted by: david-mckenzie | April 3, 2009 7:20 PM | Report abuse

You can just sense the frustration and ire from the neocon editorial writers at the Post as President Obama throws away the failed policies of bluster and backwardness that Comrade Bush was famous for, and shows himself to be a very effective negotiator who can reach effective accords with all sides.

It's like he's pouring salt in their wounds, and firmly gripping their hands while they try to get it out.

Posted by: WillSeattle | April 3, 2009 7:38 PM | Report abuse

It's going to be a long haul to get out of this ditch Mr. Bush got us into. But, I feel much more confident with President Obama at the helm. I'm proud to have him representing the BEST in America (for a change!)

Posted by: joy2 | April 3, 2009 8:21 PM | Report abuse

Enough with the Europe bashing. The schoolyard bullies are no longer in charge.

Posted by: joy2 | April 3, 2009 8:29 PM | Report abuse

It is funny that the president is being criticized by the press for not over-reaching. If he had done that and failed, he would have been critized for that, too. You can not please everyone no matter what.

You have to be aware of your limitations and then deal with the situation facing you. The president of France is an egomaniac and has lost his popularity at home and around the world.

The Chinese are the toughest negogiators in the world. The fact that Obama was able to get them to reach a consensus was amazing.

Posted by: alance | April 3, 2009 8:30 PM | Report abuse

VERY DISAPPOINTED in the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES GOING TO EUROPE AND ANNOUNCING THAT "THE USA IS ARROGANT"! For an individual who has never made a payroll; for an individual who has never worn the Nation's uniform; and for an individual who has extremely limited experience in government, thought that his comments out side his country were Carteresque at best. Have lost total respect for him; his agenda; and no longer trust him. I would not have believed the media had I not heard him with my own ears. (Bet he would not have tried that on the campaign trail in the USA!!)

Posted by: wheeljc | April 3, 2009 9:20 PM | Report abuse

Yes, President Obama is on his first leg of being the "World Community Organizer" and a FINE job he did!!!
Can you imagine, in your wildest dreams, George Bush being able to comprehend what to do in the situation that might have brought down the whole meeting with the President of France and China?
Perhaps he might have gone over and rubbed their shoulders? Perhaps he might have called them "nick-names" and joked?
Instead, we (Americans) have a President who comprehends the issue at hand, thinks up a solution, presents it, HIMSELF, to each of the leaders and brings them to an agreement they each can live with.
Now, if THAT isn't leadership, what IS?

Posted by: cms1 | April 3, 2009 9:39 PM | Report abuse

"Have lost total respect for him; his agenda; and no longer trust him."

Why the masquerade? Why the big rigmarole about "no longer?" Do you think it makes your little piece somehow more trenchant? You never liked Obama to begin with. After all, it's not just this week you find out he never wore a uniform nor met a payroll. Neither Lincoln nor FDR ever wore a uniform or met a payroll. Reagan wore a uniform, but you can hardly call what he was doing military service. Besides, your use of the caps lock key is a dead giveaway.

As for our arrogance, Obama wasn't announcing it, he was apologizing for it. What's your notion? Pretending to be perfect beats facing the established facts on the ground and going from there?

What few in the press have understood is just how many and severe were the obstacles Bush's arrogance piled in our way, just how truly counterproductive Bush's approach to foreign relations was. Obama doesn't even have to be brilliant to make enormous progress. Merely returning to some vestige of common sense will wreak huge improvements in our situation.

So why is American "arrogance" such a tender subject in some quarters? Empires never want to talk about imperialism. The British Empire was famously amassed during "a fit of absence of mind." The Roman Empire, it seems, grew purely as a result of defensive measures - rather like our own. It's time to face the fact of our imperialism, give it up, and embrace the fact of interdependence.

But some would rather hold on for a while longer to some dysfunctional fantasy of empire.

Posted by: fzdybel | April 3, 2009 10:50 PM | Report abuse

A lot was said about the community organizer during the campaign, most of it derogatory. President Obama has shown us that he possesses management and administrative skills that have not been seen in many a generation. Just when I was about to believe that the presidency could not be handled by one man, along comes President Obama. He has restored my faith in a governance system that had gone way off base for eight years. I am very proud of his performance to date. His trip to Europe is proving that community organizing skills work on the international stage as well.

To see people cheering our Preident is encouraging. The party of "no" will go down in history as the small minority that killed a major political party in the United States.

Posted by: EarlC | April 3, 2009 11:00 PM | Report abuse

what the Russians said was its nice to have a comrade in the presidents seat i guess what they say is true who knows a communist better then another communist

Posted by: getsix1 | April 4, 2009 3:19 AM | Report abuse

i here after all the dear leader spoke they all made a statement saying everything they agreed on was non binding so what does it all mean

Posted by: getsix1 | April 4, 2009 3:23 AM | Report abuse

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