Imagine your country is suffering from the worst financial crisis in nearly a century (as in the UK) or that your export market is collapsing along with the promise of prosperity you’ve made to hundreds of millions of peasants (as in China). You have hinged your public support on creating effective regulation and creating the next monetary system (Merkel, Brown, Sarkozy) and you are coming to Washington DC to meet with the leaders of the G20 to accomplish these multilateral goals.
Would you want to meet with President Bush or President-elect Barack Obama?
The answer is obvious, but as James Galbraith said in an interview with the Telegraph, “The one president at a time rule will apply.”
As leaders gather in Washington on November 14-15 for the G20 meetings, they should establish contact with Barack Obama but understand that he is constrained by his president-elect status, the magnitude of the Bretton Woods II agenda, and the limited resources at his disposal.
Members of the Obama team have rightly stated that they will maintain respect for the current president and have consistently responded “no comment” to questions about Obama’s role at the G20 meetings. They are cautious about the risks associated with overstepping his bounds. But there will be serious pressure to have Obama’s input on the problems facing the global economy and financial system in private discussions.
Deep involvement is risky for Obama, and it could be counterproductive and further complicate the already fractious G20. Furthermore, Obama and his staff are not ready to answer the questions at hand. The campaign, not the world monetary or regulatory systems, has been their focus for the past two years. The resources and expertise necessary to tackle these problems are only available to the current president.
Although foreign leaders would like to meet with Obama and forge a consensus on some of these key issues, they should recognize the constraints under which he is operating. They should also recognize, despite the pressure from Brown, Sarkozy and Merkel, that these debates will probably not be settled this weekend. In the future they can negotiate with a more informed and better equipped President – not President-elect – Obama.
— Sam Sherraden