Following Instead of Leading at the G-8 and NATO Summit Theaters

I came across a quote recently from the ubiquitous James Lipton, discussing how candidates should act on the campaign trail. “The lesson of Reagan is that, whatever his politics and legacy, there was always only one of him,” Lipton wrote, emphasis added by the Inside the Actors Studio host.

Interestingly, new French President Francois Hollande — trying to carve out his own path on the world stage after “Sarko the American” ushered in a new era of French-American relations — was asked outside the NATO summit in Chicago whether he felt American.

“I don’t try to play the American, and I don’t need to play the Frenchman: Be myself,” Hollande responded.

Through dual summits this past weekend, Obama tried to be everything to everyone. The resolver of  war. The broker of global economic security. The BFF of every leader there. The president who clearly wants voters to see that he needs to be shepherding the coalitions through the valley of darkness into a second term.

But he really just ended up being the follower.

Hollande came into the summits just days after being sworn into office, his campaign platform reflecting a sharply defined version of the Obama fairness doctrine. He left giving the world the impression that he won’t be shy about letting his fellow leaders know where he stands. He could have worn a “Socialist and proud” T-shirt if his accountant style would accommodate such tacky American wear.

And whether it was an effort to make a buddy out of Nicolas Sarkozy’s Socialist replacement or his relief that he had finally met kindred policy beliefs, Obama backed Hollande’s plans to stimulate growth early on at the G-8 summit preceding the NATO meeting. Hollande remained firm on his pledge to pull French troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year, despite Obama pleas to stay in the game until the end of 2014.

The White House photos from the Camp David get-together show Obama kicking back with his British mate David Cameron, laughing on a park bench with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, turning on the football (soccer) game for José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, and the other leaders, and Hollande just pretty much looking bored in each shot.

When Obama addressed the NATO summit on Monday, Hollande wasn’t even there, slipping into his seat — the only empty chair — after Obama finished speaking. His aides told a French journalist that he was busy in bilateral meetings with Poland’s president and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Obama had rolled out the red carpet a little further for Hollande than the rest, welcoming him for a one-on-one meeting at the White House before heading up to Camp David and over to Chicago. Mike Froman, deputy national security advisor for international economics, said he thought the Hollande-Obama conversations were “very good, open, frank and honest conversations.”

After their bilateral meeting, Obama made some jokes about American fast-food and then stressed the two leaders would discuss with the G-8 how to “manage a responsible approach to fiscal consolidation that is coupled with a strong growth agenda.”

Obama said the Socialist has gotten off to a “very strong start,” and Hollande said he intended for his first world leader visit outside of Europe to be at the White House.

“I discussed the main topics with President Obama, including the economy and the fact that growth must be a priority, at the same time as we put in place some fiscal compacts to improve our finances,” Hollande said. The two definitely have in common their belief in “investment spending” as the ticket to growth.

And confirming that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s excuse about not attending because he was forming his cabinet was hogwash, The Moscow Times reported today that the new cabinet “has a strikingly familiar look” — all holdovers from Medvedev’s term or Kremlin faithful.

Amusingly, Obama commented after his meeting with Hollande that he was grateful to the French leader “for being willing to come here so shortly after his election and the formation of his government.”

Not that Obama didn’t have allies. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen gushed that the summit had achieved its goals of focusing on the future of Afghanistan, economic challenges, and adequate defense funding. With a hearty helping of effusive praise for the host, of course.

“Chicago is famous for thinking big and for doing great things. You have just organized the biggest summit in NATO’s history, and you have done it with great style,” Rasmussen said. “The decisions we have taken here in Chicago will reinforce the vital bond between North America and Europe and strengthen NATO for the years ahead.”

Obama closed the summit by thanking “my great friend” and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“As President, one of my top foreign policy priorities has been to strengthen our alliances, including NATO, and that’s exactly what we’ve done,” he boasted. “Two years ago in Lisbon, we took action in several areas that are critical to the future of our alliance and we pledged that in Chicago we would do more. Over the last two days, we have delivered.”

Demonstrating have-you-learned-nothing-from-the-Putin-snub, Obama optimistically proclaimed, “I continue to believe that missile defense can be an area of cooperation with Russia.”

He brushed off the lack of hard negotiations with Pakistan as something that wasn’t designated to be solved at the Chicago summit anyway, saying his meeting with Prime Minister Asif Ali Zardari was “very brief as we were walking into the summit.”

“We think that Pakistan has to be part of the solution in Afghanistan, that it is in our national interest to see a Pakistan that is democratic, that is prosperous and that is stable, that we share a common enemy in the extremists that are found not only in Afghanistan, but also within Pakistan and that we need to work through some of the tensions that have inevitably arisen after 10 years of our military presence in that region,” Obama told reporters.

The president was asked about G-8 discussions on Greece and whether it will stay in the eurozone, and expressed a sense of “greater urgency now” about Europe’s financial issues “than perhaps existed two years ago or two and a half years ago.”

“And keep in mind just for folks here in the States, when we look backwards at our response in 2008 and 2009, there was some criticism because we had to make a bunch of tough political decisions,” Obama said. “In fact, there’s still criticism about some of the decisions we made.  But one of the things we were able to do was to act forcefully to solve a lot of these problems early.”

And he took a bit of time to promote his hometown. “I was just talking to David Cameron. I think he’s sneaking off and doing a little sight-seeing before he heads home,” Obama said. “I encouraged everybody to shop. I want to boost the hometown economy.”

On Wednesday, the EU leaders who smiled for the cameras at Camp David and in Chicago will get less of the Obama campaign agenda and more of the dire problems confronting the continent’s economy. Hollande will propose euro bonds, something hotly opposed by Merkel, while Italy and Britain are expected to get behind the new Socialist leader’s plans. And the austerity plan that Merkel and Sarkozy championed, chiding the spend-and-spend countries to wake up to reality instead of incurring fresh debt?

It will be up to the most powerful woman in the world to try to lead Europe out of its mess, standing alone with her conservative principles.

Obama, meanwhile, will hit the trail this week to fundraise in Colorado, Silicon Valley, and Iowa.