Stuart H. Loory, program moderator: President Barack Obama has embarked on a week-long tour of Europe and Turkey, but all is not sanguine for him or the United States. At the G-20 summit in London, he sought the help of the world’s richest nations in finding a way out of the global economic disaster. His plans for spending the way out of the crisis met strong opposition from French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as Prime Minister of the Czech Republic Mirek Topolanek. After the London summit, he traveled to a meeting of the NATO nations in an attempt to win more support for the war in Afghanistan. It is virtually certain that the European powers will not send more troops there. From NATO, he goes to the Czech Republic, where he will meet with Topolanek, who called Obama’s worldwide stimulus plan “the road to hell.” He then travels to Turkey, looking for help in extracting troops from Iraq. Let’s start in London; Obama and Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Great Britain have won a major concession from the summit, a stimulus of $1.1 trillion to promote global trade. What will the impact be?
Philip Coggan, capital markets editor, The Economist, London, U.K.: The stimulus will go to both the International Monetary Fund and for trade credit. This year, four categories of global output are falling at the fastest rate since World War II. Exporters are having problems getting credit as world trade is falling for the first time in a long time. This means that more countries, like Iceland and Hungary, will struggle to repay their debts and will turn to the IMF for money. The IMF must get that extra money and borrowing capacity from the big countries.
Loory: What concessions did Obama make to get this stimulus money?
Coggan: The Europeans are after regulation such as: getting hedge funds to report more of their information; restricting how much borrowing banks can do; and having them pick up more capital in the good times so they have a cushion in the bad times. These are all good things in light of the recent downturn.
Loory: Merkel was opposed to any great spending proposal being approved by the summit. Yet, she has gone along with this agreement. What happened?
Greg Benzow, political analyst, Deutsche Welle Radio, Bonn, Germany: It is horse-trading; she wants the U.S. to agree to tighter financial restrictions for banks and other institutions. The agreement is within a framework of funding that is financially realistic for E.U. countries and the U.S., without going overboard.
Loory: Is there concern about protectionism, the U.S. allowing fewer imports from other places?
Benzow: Obama has worked hard to dispel those concerns. In London, he met with the leaders of Russia and China and they reiterated not pursuing protectionism. Many European countries, like Germany, are concerned that if Americans stop consuming, it will affect their exports. Obama warned that the world could not expect Americans to continue driving worldwide growth by voraciously consuming.
Coggan: A biased statement about avoiding protectionism was made after the last G-20 meeting in November. The World Trade Organization said that 17 of the 20 countries have since installed some protectionist measures, including the U.S. They talk the talk, but when they’re back home facing their electorate, different proposals are made.
Loory: What is Obama really up to on this trip?
Joseph Curl, senior national political correspondent, Washington Times, Washington, D.C.: He is trying to establish himself as the anti-Bush. George W. Bush was criticized for his “cowboy diplomacy” and running roughshod over a lot of relationships. The operative word said over and over is to “reset” these relationships with Russia and China, and take a more conciliatory stance with his European allies.
Loory: Does Obama’s trip to the Czech Republic have anything to do with calming apprehensions about the dominance of Russia in Eastern Europe?
Curl: I think so. It is to show he is listening to concerns from the rest of Europe, not just the big G-20 or NATO countries, but everyone involved.
Marketa Hulpachova, news editor, Prague Post, Prague, Czech Republic: The meeting in Prague leaves room to discuss whatever was not discussed at NATO or G-20, but the diplomatic significance is much broader. It shows that Obama is no longer differentiating between the new and old Europe.
Loory: The big issue in the Czech Republic and Poland is the missile shield that the Bush Administration said it wanted to install. Obama has not said whether he is going ahead with it. Will that be pushed at the E.U. meeting, one way or the other?
Hulpachova: Radical decisions are not anticipated at this point; there are some bilateral meetings expected to address the issue. From the Czech side, a decision is welcome at this point due to our internal government crisis and the radar’s unpopularity.
Loory: What is the internal crisis in the Czech Republic?
Hulpachova: It is an absolute mess. There was a no confidence vote last week that brought down Topolanek’s government. That government now has lame duck status, but is still heading the E.U. presidency. They’re trying to set up an interim government that would last until the next elections, scheduled for this fall. Until then, we’re not sure this current administration will be allowed to finish the presidency. Agreements are now pointing toward a conclusion of this current administration at the end of April, and a bunch of technocrats will be brought in to finish up the presidency in June.
Loory: What does the president hope to accomplish on his visit to Turkey, and what do the Turks hope to accomplish?
Paul de Bendern, bureau chief, Reuters, Istanbul, Turkey: It is Obama’s first official visit as president to a Muslim country. There are many key bilateral issues for the U.S. and Turkey. Turkey is in a unique position, as a large member of NATO and bordering Iran and Iraq. It has troops in Afghanistan and has been a negotiator between Syria and Israel. Obama is going, partly, for perception damage control from the previous administration. One recent problem making the relationship worse is that the U.S. and Iraqi authorities did not deal with the PKK, Kurdish rebels based in Northern Iraq attacking Turkish soldiers. Cooperation has changed since last November, so ties have improved. The Turks say they don’t have a problem helping the Americans move troops and equipment out of Iraq. Afghanistan is a bit trickier. Turkey is the second biggest force in NATO, but Turkish troops are reluctant to go on the front line in Muslim countries. The Turks prefer a more neutral stance.
Loory: What do the European nations hope to get out of the NATO summit?
Coggan: The NATO summit will concern who bears most responsibility for the war in Afghanistan, and whether the U.S. can persuade European nations to commit more troops. The Europeans see this war as terribly unpopular and don’t want troops dying. Only the British have been in the Helmand Province, and have most of the European casualties. Negotiations will also occur over how France fits into NATO, after 40 years of being outside the highest level.
Loory: The Germans will likely be asked to provide some amount of economic aid and technical assistance in Afghanistan. Will they go along with that?
Benzow: They have announced adding non-combat troops to Afghanistan in the northern regions, where they are already deployed. Germany won’t send any combat troops, but they are increasing the amount of money and human resources to carry out civilian projects. Deutsche Welle is involved in building up radio and television transmissions and training journalists in Afghanistan.
Loory: That leaves President Obama a lot to be concerned about, as international activities are a key to political success.
Producers of Global Journalist are Missouri School of Journalism graduate students Jared Gassen, Brian Jarvis, Sananda Sahoo and Melissa Ulbricht. The transcriber is Pat Kelley.