Obama Plays Up Role as Consensus Builder at G20

Where President George W. Bush was known for his “cowboy diplomacy,” his successor, President Barack Obama wants to be known as a listener and a builder of bridges.

Taking his first major foreign trip since becoming president in January, Obama arrived in London two days ago for crisis talks on the global economy where he hoped to persuade other countries to spend more to revive global growth.

Obama won no new promises of spending when the summit of the Group of 20 major economic powers wrapped up Thursday, but put a positive spin on the outcome, calling it a “turning point” as he welcomed agreements on financial regulation and new cash for the International Monetary Fund.

As financial markets rose on relief that the G20 summit had not ended in argument, Obama played up his role as a consensus-builder — an image he emphasized during his political rise in the United States.

“Each country has its own quirks and own particular issues that a leader may decide is really, really important, something that is non-negotiable for them,” Obama told a news conference.

“And what we tried to do as much as possible was to accommodate those issues in a way that did not hamper the effectiveness of the overall document,” he told the packed room of foreign and American journalists.

Describing his approach to world affairs, Obama said America was a “critical actor and leader on the world stage,” but that it exercised its clout best when it listened to other countries’ concerns.

Obama declined to make explicit comparisons between himself and Bush, but the comments were intended to mark a contrast from what critics of Obama’s predecessor said was a tendency toward a “go-it-alone” approach.

Obama’s style also contrasted with some other G20 leaders, such as the outspoken French president, Nicolas Sarkozy.

While Obama was emphasizing the need for unity in the run-up to the summit, Sarkozy declared he would not associate himself with “false compromises” and raised the specter of a walkout if a split over regulation could not be resolved.

At the news conference, Obama’s global popularity was on display as he alternated between calling on American and foreign journalists. The foreign journalists shouted and waved to be called upon.

When Obama picked out a female journalist from India, she gushed “Thank you for choosing me,” as if she had been tapped from the audience by a game-show host. When he sneezed and said he was fighting a cold, there was a chorus of “God bless you” from the assembled reporters.

Neither Obama’s popularity nor his image as the “anti-Bush” quelled questions about whether America’s clout in the world was on the decline in the wake of a financial crisis that many abroad blame on lax regulation of U.S. markets.

Obama said that at the summit “there were occasional comments, usually wedged into some other topic, that indicated from their perspective that this (financial crisis) started in America, or this started on Wall Street.” He said there also was a recognition that European and Asian financial institutions “had their own issues.”

Even as Obama insisted he did not “buy into the notion that America can’t lead in the world,” he acknowledged that a great deal had changed since the last major reshaping of the world’s financial architecture took place at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, as World War Two came to a close.

Obama said he recognized there was no return to the days of President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill deciding the world’s fate while “sitting in a room with a brandy.”

“That’s not the world we live in and it shouldn’t be the world that we live in,” he said. But he added: “That’s not a loss for America. It’s an appreciation that Europe is now rebuilt and a powerhouse, Japan is now rebuilt and a powerhouse, China, India — these are all countries on the move.”

(Editing by Kevin Liffey and Peter Cooney)