- The Washington Times - Friday, April 3, 2009


Barack Obama’s late education continues. He discovered in London that the world, like life, is “complicated.” France and Germany threatened to gang up on “le Anglo-Saxons.” The last president who marveled at how suddenly the world gets “complicated” after the election was Jimmy Carter.

The leaders of the globe’s 20 top countries - who knew we even had that many top countries? - collected their souvenirs, scooped up their little bars of soap and tiny bottles of shampoo and packed for home, leaving behind a lot of hot air and cracked begging bowls.

Negotiating at the highest level is easy, the president said as the session broke up, if it’s just Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill in a room, talking over brandy, “but that’s not the world we live in today.” Indeed it is not, beginning with the obvious that expecting a lot from two snifters of Remy Martin is courting disappointment. Besides, some of us remember FDR and Sir Winston, and neither the president nor the prime minister looks like either one.

But to be fair, neither does anybody else now apparent on the scene. Gordon Brown fawned over the president with such slavish attention that even his friends turned away, cringing. “The whole of the United Kingdom welcomes you and the first lady,” he told the president on his arrival in London. “You have given renewed hope not only to the citizens of the United States of America, but to all citizens in all parts of the world. I want to thank you for your leadership, your vision and your courage, which you’ve already shown in your presidency, and congratulate you on the dynamism, energy and indeed the achievements that you have been responsible for. Your first 70 days in office have changed America, and you’ve changed America’s relationship with the world.”

This was effusion that seemed to startle even Mr. Obama, he of the giant ego sometimes mistaken for giant intellect, but he took it like a man. At the end of the week, he seemed of two minds about what he and his colleagues had accomplished. He offered the usual self-congratulatory boilerplate expected of politicians, proclaiming that the 20 leaders had agreed on “unprecedented steps to restore growth and prevent a crisis like this from happening again.” He obviously recognized that this was a millimeter over the top, even for a master rhetorician who has mastered the teleprompter. “Ever” is a long time, stretching all the way to 2012. He lapsed again into cautionary boilerplate: Protectionism bad, global unity good. “It’s hard for 20 heads of state to bridge our differences. But I think we did OK.”

This was putting the best face on what the Top Twenty didn’t do - agree on the necessity of a worldwide “stimulus” that would pump trillions of dollars into the global economy. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank got a slot of swag, but Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy successfully thwarted the attempt to bring in a gusher of trillions for the rest of the world. Throwing trillions of dollars around is addictive, particularly if it’s only money that other people don’t have. (The next big number, for anyone keeping score, is “quadrillion,” and after that, if there is an after that, a “quintillion.” These numbers are almost beyond comprehension, but there’s already a gleam in Barney Frank’s eye. Nancy Pelosi’s, too.)

This was Europe’s first look at the president, and the swooning and palpitations of the Europeans continued intense and unabating. Gordon Brown flirted and fished for the sweet somethings he yearned for and didn’t get on his trip to Washington in late winter. This time he was not “Mr. Brown,” but “Gordon,” eight times by one London newspaper’s count. “I absolutely agree with you,” he told the prime minister at one small point at their joint press conference. Nodding like a bobble-head doll, the PM rewarded him thrice with puppylike adoration: “Barack is absolutely right. Barack is absolutely right.”

Not even the ritual exchange of gifts with Queen Elizabeth II spoiled the president’s tourist moment. He gave her an Apple iPod loaded with video of her visit to Jamestown in 2007 (she already had one), and she gave him a framed photograph of herself with Prince Phillip. What a president who disdained a bust of Churchill will do with the photograph of the Queen has not been determined. The frame is nice. Now it’s on to France, where Mr. Obama can expect to be kissed on both cheeks by M. Sarkozy, but he need not shave close.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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