Obama Sees Progress in Measured Steps

SummitA defensive President Barack Obama claimed progress Friday in a round of global economic talks that exposed discord over U.S. policy and doubts about American influence. Not every summit can be a game-changer, he said.

“Instead of hitting home runs, sometimes we’re going to hit singles,” the president said. “But they’re really important singles.”

Obama pointed to a consensus by 20 powerhouse and emerging economies on plans for a balanced economy, with the makings of a system to track and prevent unhealthy trade deficits and surpluses, an initiative that lacks enforcement.

Yet Obama failed to get leaders to take a tough stand against China’s undervalued currency. Instead, he took heat for the Federal Reserve’s decision to print $600 billion to boost the economy, a move that devalues U.S. currency. And a trade deal with South Korea eluded him.

Obama answered “No” when asked at a news conference if the stinging results of the midterm elections diminished his clout abroad.

“People are eager to work with America, eager to engage with America,” he said. Obama said the meetings strengthened relationships with presidents and prime ministers in ways not apparent from superficial “photo ops” served up at such gatherings.

“It’s not just a function of personal charm,” the president said. “It’s a function of countries’ interests and seeing if we can work through to align them.”

Obama started his Asian trip in the aftermath of a political battering at home, as Republicans recaptured the House and significantly cut the Democratic majority in the Senate. His meetings at the forum of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in Japan are his last stops before he heads back.

In defending his standing at home and abroad, complaining about the media’s focus on “drama” and discord, and asserting that more is being achieved than meets the eye, Obama sounded very much like presidents of the past who were trying to climb back into the game.

Bill Clinton asserted his “relevance” in 1995 after devastating midterm losses; George W. Bush declared he was “engaged” and “relevant” in 2007 when his approval ratings had hit bottom in the months after his party lost control of Congress.

So on Friday, Obama used every opportunity to show command at his news conference. He often challenged the premise of questions and embraced the chance to “provide my own interpretation” of events.

He poked fun at one reporter who asked him what advice, complaint or concern he heard at the meetings about his handling of the economy. “What about compliments?” Obama asked. “You didn’t put that in the list.”

More seriously, he said the reason the United States attracted dissent was because it was pushing for tough, balanced economic changes that made other nations worry about losing ground.

“That resistance is natural,” he said. “It arises out of the fact that the U.S. is showing leadership.”

The mission of creating jobs for Americans was at the heart of Obama’s 10-day trip in Asia. Job growth has been modest at best after a crippling recession in which millions of jobs were lost. The unemployment rate has been at 9.6 percent or higher for the last 15 months.

Obama refused to say whether it would still be in that range when he runs for re-election in 2012, but he pushed back when asked if people are going to be seeing noticeable job growth in his entire four-year term.

“We’ve grown the economy by a million jobs over the last year,” Obama said. “So that’s pretty noticeable. I think those million people who’ve been hired notice those paychecks.”

Source: The Associated Press.