President Obama took a break this week from Washington D.C. drama to attend the G20 summit in France. As you can imagine, most of the debate at the summit had to do with the European debt crisis. Given that focus, it was not a summit at which one would expect U.S. leadership to be especially evident and perhaps that is what prompted some commentators to question if the U.S. was still the “indispensable country.” Maybe that’s why the White House went out of the way to affirm U.S. leadership. I think they are still sensitive to all that talk about “leading from behind.” All of this at a time when most Americans, preoccupied as they are with domestic issues, barely even knew that their president had left the country. Of course, the relative newness of the G20 may be partly to blame for the lack of public awareness. It doesn’t have the name recognition of the G8 and the it’s probably true that the more arcane aspects of international financial governance do not lend themselves to easy coverage by the mainstream press. That’s why I was impressed with this backgrounder from the Council on Foreign Relations, it offers a great primer for anyone interested in how the G20 and other international bodies go about coordinating the world financial system. It also explains why the G20 is a great forum for bringing in emerging economies in a collaborative manner and thus not really the kind of forum where one leader (other than the leader of the host country) is seen to be dominant. Asking if the U.S. is leading at the G20 (or if Obama has changed U.S. standing in the world, as BBC News does here) is a fair question, but the G20 gathering may not be the best forum to look to for an answer.
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