While He Works On the Catchphrase

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In his press conference following the second day of the G-20 summit today, Obama told a Chinese journalist he wasn’t very good at coming up with catchphrases to describe his approach to foreign affairs. But if you were listening for some sign that the Obama era is going to involve a new orientation on the global stage, you couldn’t do much better than these few paragraphs that followed in his answer:

But in an era of integration and interdependence, it is also my responsibility to lead America into recognizing that its interests, its fate is tied up with the larger world; that if we neglect or abandon those who are suffering in poverty, that not only are we depriving ourselves of potential opportunities for markets and economic growth, but ultimately that despair may turn to violence that turns on us; that unless we are concerned about the education of all children and not just our children, not only may we be depriving ourselves of the next great scientist who’s going to find the next new energy source that saves the planet, but we also may make people around the world much more vulnerable to anti-American propaganda.

So if I’m effective as America’s President right now, part of that effectiveness involves holding a — providing Americans insight into how their self-interest is tied up with yours.  And that’s an ongoing project because it’s not always obvious.

And there are going to be times where short-term interests are going to differ; there’s no doubt about it.  And protectionism is the classic example.  You can make arguments that if you can get away with protecting your markets, as long as the other folks don’t protect theirs, then in the short term you may benefit.  And it then becomes important not only for me to try to give people a sense of why, over the long term, that’s counterproductive, but also it becomes important for me to put policies in place in the United States that provide a cushion, provide support for those people who may suffer local dislocations because of globalization.  And that’s something that I think every government has to think about.

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