Planet Gore

Obama: Not the Savior of the World

The Guardian laments a few pesky aspects of the U.S. political system; that whole “consent of the governed” thing is proving inconvenient for Obama’s efforts to do what “international opinion demands of him.”

On Friday [President Obama] will touch down in Copenhagen, this time required to offer his regrets that, despite the hopes he stirred round the world a year ago, he will not be able to pull out his pen and, at a stroke, sign the deal that saves the planet.

This is fast becoming Obama’s role on the world stage: managing disappointment. The gap between what international opinion demands of him and what he can deliver widens with each passing month, and it falls to him to explain why. If he could be completely frank, he might well tell the climate activists in the Danish capital that, were it purely up to him, he would give them everything they desire. After all, he is the same man whose stump speech two years ago used to open with a declaration that “the planet is in peril”. But it is not purely up to him. He has to represent the multiple, complex and contradictory interests of the country he now leads. His job is not saviour of the world. As the climate adviser to a 19-strong group of African nations puts it ruefully: “He’s still an American president.”
The US team in Copenhagen is haunted by a spectre that many of today’s US negotiating team saw first hand: call it Gore in Kyoto. As vice-president in 1997, Al Gore made fine promises about future US emissions, only to find that the US Senate would swallow none of them, rejecting Kyoto 95 votes to zero. The Obama team have vowed not to repeat that mistake. They will agree to nothing they cannot sell to the Senate. . . .

Sitting in Britain, or any other western democracy for that matter, this can be hard to fathom. Gordon Brown has an automatic majority in the Commons and can almost always get his way. In a Guardian interview today, Brown’s opponent, David Cameron, promises that if Copenhagen yields a real deal, he’ll give it his full support.
But the problem goes deeper than that. The men and women of the US senate are, after all, only reflecting the people who vote for them. The latest BBC World Service global poll showed US concern about climate change among the lowest in the world, with just 45% of Americans regarding it as “very serious”, nearly 20 points below the 23-country average. A Gallup survey found 41% of Americans believed projections of global warming were “exaggerated”. It is hardly surprising that those who live in the 25 American states that produce coal are wary of controls, which they believe will kill jobs and raise their energy bills. . . .

This is the reality that Barack Obama has to deal with. He is not the president of the world, even if millions dreamed that that was the job he was elected to 13 months ago. He is the president of the United States — and his problem is that the two are very, very different.

Amen to that.

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