Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Of Presidents and Prime Ministers

The Year was 2002. Having made quick work of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and completed all military objectives that his administration had planned ahead for with little effort and little cost to American and Allied lives, President George W. Bush turned his eyes a little to the West. He really wanted to overthrow Saddam Hussein in Iraq and implement a more America-friendly regime. Disobedience to UN mandates and intelligence suggesting there might be weapons of mass destruction gave him cover, but President Bush wasn't particularly popular abroad, there wasn't much support outside of the US for the Iraq invasion, and President Bush needed someone to support his plans.

Enter Tony Blair. The United Kingdom's Prime Minister was young, vibrant, moderate, reform-minded, and incredibly popular. There were newspaper articles about his meetings with the teachers of his children. He was seen as a man of the people, a Prime Minister that common people could identify with. In 1997, under his leadership, the "New" Labour Party had given the Conservatives their most devastating defeat ever. And importantly for President Bush, PM Blair wanted Hussein gone as much as he did.

It didn't exactly work as planned. Instead of PM Blair's popularity gaining support for President Bush's invasion, it killed PM Blair's popularity. The United States and United Kingdom had allies: Canada, Australia, Georgia, Spain for a while, and (don't forget) Poland, but many important, reliable allies like France and Germany refused to join the party. PM Blair was called as a Bush-loving neoconservative in his home country, and his support eroded to the point that he stepped down from his post in 2007.

Seven years later, while the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are still being fought, the world has turned its attention to the worldwide banking crisis and recession. During the first days of the recession, the world seemed to want to work together. When credit froze up, most major countries bailed out their banks, expanded deposit insurance, expanded their currency supply, and did what they could to insure that bank failures were minimized. One leader wants to do more. Much, much more. UK's Prime Minister Gordon Brown fully believes in a government spending a country out of recession, and is prepared to print as many Pounds as it takes to do it. If the UK destroys its own currency to inflate itself out of recession, it needs its trading partners to do the same, or it will destroy the standard of living for UK citizens. Unfortunately for PM Brown, many of the UK's trading partners are refusing to spend their way out of the mess, and are preferring to clean up their regulatory systems and provide a growth atmosphere for a market recovery. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France is off fighting windmills of competing currencies, and many of the rest of the G20 leaders from PM Stephen Harper of Canada to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany to libertarian-leaning President Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic (current EU Presidency) are taking a more conservative approach. PM Brown doesn't have the respect, and certainly doesn't have the popularity to convince them.

Enter United States President Barack Obama. He's young, vibrant, liberal, and incredibly popular. He's easily the most popular world leader right now. Some European commentators have said that his "Barackness" will convince their citizens and politicians. In November, he and his Democratic Party gave the Republicans their worst defeat in years. And importantly for PM Brown, President Obama wholly endorses the idea of governments spending their way out of recession. At this week's G20 meetings, PM Brown is counting on President Obama's popularity to give him cover and gain support for the borrow-and-print-to-recover economic plan. They will gain some support, but the President and the Prime Minister need most or all major trading partners to agree to go along, or their plan doesn't have a chance of making life better for their citizens. If France, Germany, China, Japan, or Russia decide to play a different game or take their ball and go home, PM Brown doesn't get cover, he takes President Obama down with him. If "Don't Forget Spain" becomes the next "Don't Forget Poland", President Obama's popularity will fade quickly.

No comments: