Last month, Vice President Joe Biden told the Munich security conference that the Obama administration would “lead by example.” The implication, of course, is that the U.S. will “no longer” attempt to persuade other nations with admonitions and threats, and will not “go it alone.” It is a fine idea. No one wants friction where merely setting a precedent would suffice. The hitch is that it’s not enough to “lead by example”; others have to follow. And on the eve of the first G20 summit of Obama’s term, Europe has decided to go its own way on the most pressing international issue of the day. EU leaders rejected Obama’s and Gordon Brown’s “Global New Deal.”
“I will not let anyone tell me that we must spend more money,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The sentiment was echoed by French and Spanish statesmen. As the Times of London points out, “The assault by European Union leaders also represents a defeat for President Barack Obama, who is desperate for other big economies to copy his $800 billion stimulus plan.”
It would be too easy to say the U.S.’s stimulus plan is terrible and that’s the only reason why Europe won’t follow suit. As it happens, Gordon Brown wants to increase tax cuts and the Eurozone is having none of that. The point is: the rest of the world will not follow the U.S. just because a charming American president smiles and compliments everyone in his path. This is not the first indication that Obama’s charm has its limitations. He is having a hard time getting Europe to pledge more troops to Afghanistan and convincing the Continent to take in Guantanamo Bay detainees. (This is to say nothing of his depressing failure to flatter hostile nations into cooperating with us.)
Taking personalities out of the equation, what indicates a higher degree of American arrogance: a president who understands the need to “go it alone” because he knows that other countries will sometimes cling to their own agendas no matter what, or a president who assumes that the rest of the world will follow America’s example because we are simply worth following?