With Barack Obama headed overseas for the first time as president, David Rothkopf at Foreign Policy has a nicely done scene-setter proposing that the Europeans will see not one but three Obamas: “Barack Obama, media superstar, Barack Obama, president of the United States and Barack Obama, leader of the free world.”
“Barack Obama, media superstar, is likely to be in his element, flashbulbs popping, and throngs of spectators lining the streets to catch a glimpse of him. He is the most famous man in the world, telegenic, charming and, oh yes, an African American. For most of the countries in attendance at the G20 meeting, the thought of an ethnic minority rising to the level of political success Obama has achieved is unthinkable and the world is titillated by that, the boldness of his story and his charisma (and with some luck, they are learning something)….
Barack Obama, president of the United States, has a tougher job on his hands. He has to balance domestic political realities with international imperatives. This trip is really his diplomatic coming out party, a chance to determine whether he is not only a star but a genuine world leader. In a few short days he will meet with top representatives of almost every really important country in the world and each of those meetings will raise complex issues. Obama has to master those complexities and produce real advances on both the economic and international security fronts. …..
Finally, while the title “leader of the free world” seems a little antiquated given the end of the Cold War, it is still the moniker that most closely captures the special role the U.S. president assumes when it comes to international leadership. This, in many respects, is the most important of the three Obamas and the one who faces the most changed reality. America, reeling from the disrepute and anger of the Bush years, had hoped to recover, but instead is seen as the cause of the current global economic crisis. So, Obama will be on the defensive and, given our financial state, the country that is the source of his power will legitimately be seen as somewhat diminished. …
Obviously, all three Obamas would like to have a good trip. But frankly, they should be happy if two out of three feel it’s a win. That’ll be a good outcome for a young presidency. But if it’s only the sizzle of Obama Superstar and the other two can’t deliver on the big issues at stake, he’ll be happy to get back home and resume dealing with the easy problems like Congress, health care, reinventing U.S. energy markets, and saving Detroit.”