President Obama demonstrated his work-the-situation prowess in Copenhagen in which he molded a meeting planned with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who may have been trying to duck Obama, into a five way chat between the leaders of China, Brazil, India, South Africa and the United States.
When Obama is on, he really is on. Obama biographer Richard Wolffe hammered home Obama’s approach to challenges as basketball games and how he sees situations like the one he confronted in the quickly deteriorating Copenhagen scene.
I wish there were more situations — Israel/Palestine comes to mind — where he was able to get his game on, and move others to get to “yes” more frequently.
I realize that there are a lot of doubts lingering about the details and substance of the Copenhagen agreement, but what Obama achieved there in the last hours of the Summit is impressive. (Here is a pdf of the text of the Copenhagen Climate Accord.)
From Politico‘s Glenn Thrush:
A senior administration official, briefing reporters aboard Air Force One en route Andrews Air Force Base: “[T]he President said to staff, I don’t want to mess around with this anymore, I want to just talk with Premier Wen. … Our advance team called their advance team to try to set this meeting up, and in all honesty make one more chance, make one more run at getting something done.
The Chinese say they need to call our advance guys back. So it’s clear that it’s going to take some time to get this Wen meeting done. … The Chinese then call and say, can we move our 6:15 p.m. bilateral back to 7:00 p.m. And we said — we put them on hold, talked a little bit, the President walked up, the President said, move it to 7:00 p.m., I’m going back to the multilateral. … [A] couple of us start to walk up to the room where the multilat is because we had sent advance to look at the room, the room where we were going to have the China bilat and realize the room is occupied by what we think are the Chinese and we can’t get into the room to look at it.
So they come back and it sort of got our antennae up a little bit. So by the time several of us, including Denis McDonough and I, got into the multilateral room we’ve now figured out why we can’t get into that room: because that room has Wen, Lula, Singh and Zuma. They’re all having a meeting. …
“[W]e weren’t crashing a meeting; we were going for our bilateral meeting. We found the other people there. … That’s when the President walks in … ‘Are you ready for me?’ … [T]here aren’t any seats, right, I mean, I think if you’ve seen some of the pictures, there were basically no chairs. And the President says, ‘No, no, don’t worry, I’m going to go sit by my friend Lula,’ and says, ‘Hey, Lula.’ Walks over, moves a chair, sits down next to Lula. The Secretary of State sits down next to him. … [A]ll four countries that we had been trying to arrange meetings with were indeed all in the same room. … [T]he room that the meeting is being held in for our bilateral currently contains the leaders of those four countries. …
He said, ‘Good,’ on the way to walking to the meeting. … We briefed him that our 7:00 p.m. meeting is in a room currently occupied by not just the Chinese, but the three other countries. And the President’s viewpoint is, I wanted to see them all and now is our chance. … [A]ctually I think we were shown into the room, in all honesty. I think we were shown which direction to go to the room and I think there was no doubt there was some surprise that we were going to join the bigger meeting. … I want to make clear, we did not break into what we thought was a secret meeting, okay? … We were walking to meet our 7:00 p.m. appointment.”
Obama-style statecraft achieved a deal. Now, we need to see more of this in other policy arenas.
One really interesting thing that some may note is the role of National Security Council Chief of Staff Denis McDonough.
Recently, I asked General Jim Jones, National Security Advisor to the President, about climate change as a national security issue — and how complicated it must be to build in climate and other avant-garde modern security issues into the decision-making process. Jones has a thoughtful, sophisticated approach to broadening the voices included in policy consideration and decision making, but in his response — he intimated that he personally would not be going to Copenhagen.
The fact that McDonough as there from the National Security Council does underscore what Jones was saying — that climate change is a real national security concern, and this is reflected in the types of personnel involved.
— Steve Clemons