President Obama will be returning from Seoul with his tail between his legs. “Obama’s Economic View Is Rejected on the World Stage,” is the way it is being bruited at the top of page one in today’s New York Times. “European and Asian powers have had it with being lectured* by the U.S,” is the way it was put in the Daily Beast, which reported that the president’s letter to his foreign counterparts was fated to “make things worse.” Mr. Obama couldn’t even fetch a free trade agreement with, in Free Korea, a host country that has been running newspaper ads thanking America for 60 years of support. It seems the skills and principles of a community organizer don’t translate well into the world of statecraft.
So, just as a thought experiment here, let’s consider what might have happened had America been represented at the Group of 20 Summit not by a former community organizer but by a certain former governor of a state that, like South Korea itself, can see Russia from its door — and, in Free Korea’s case, Communist China, too. The big news on the eve of the G20 was how upset our friends overseas are with the plan for a second round of money printing by the Federal Reserve. Mr. Obama took time out from his Asian travels to defend the weak-dollar policy. It turns out that the politician who challenged Mr. Bernanke most pointedly, and substantively, as the G20 was getting set for its meeting was none other than Mrs. Palin.
So one can speculate that had a President Palin been leading our delegation to Seoul, the monetary tensions would have been dissipated. The whole issue of a currency war — a competition over who can keep their currencies low and thus promote their own exports — would have been defanged. No doubt that had Mrs. Palin been leading our delegation in Seoul, her departure would have been preceded by a wave of warnings in the liberal press about our country’s trade deficit. The conceit is that we need to devalue the dollar in order to make it more attractive for foreigners to buy American products.
Mrs. Palin, however, has a plank in her political campaign that would address the trade deficit in a way that neither Mr. Obama, nor any other Democrat, has been prepared to endorse. She wants to move to domestic energy production, opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve and close-in (and safer to drill in) coastal regions for production. Mrs. Palin has a hard-earned canniness about the energy sector that can be matched by few other politicians in the country. She knows that our oil imports are a major part of our trade deficit. So while pursuing a sound-dollar policy that, at least in theory, could hurt our exports, she’d pursue a domestic oil policy that would help our trade deficit.
And — en passant — also dramatically strengthen our hand throughout the Middle East. Had Mrs. Palin been representing us at Seoul, there would, presumably, have been no announcement from Indonesia of the kind Mr. Obama made carping about Israel’s housing construction in its own capital. Mrs. Palin has already declared that the housing question is a matter for the Israelis to decide. More strategically she would be less beholden to the Arab oil producing stages, and they would be feeling the chill of competition from her strategic shift on energy production. They would be wondering how long they can sustain the arrogant position that our ban on developing so much of our own petroleum has helped them finance.
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This is only a matter of speculation, of course, but one can imagine that, had it been Mrs. Palin in Seoul, the other members of the Group of 20 would have received a different letter from the one that Mr. Obama sent them and that they found so irritating. One can imagine Mrs. Palin sending a note about the philosophical roots of her policy, the idea she has been pressing about constitutional conservatism. She might have talked to the G20 about how the Founders of America thought about money and the warnings they made against paper money and the horror they felt about inflation. She might have talked with them about how she intended to work with the new Congress on fundamental monetary reform, crafting a new system that would constrain an independent board, like that of the Federal Reserve, from debasing the dollar. She might tell them that if they would like to participate she’d be happy to talk it over at a meeting to be known as the Wasilla Summit. Laugh at such a prospect, if you will, but then look at the headlines that are greeting one of the most signal failures of summitry of any recent American president. It’s not hard to imagine that our foreign friends and allies would react well to a president who had a clear and savvy world view and knew where he, or she, was going.
*According to one count, Mr. Obama’s letter to the G-20 leaders used the words “must” or “should” 11 times — so many that it sounded like a New York Times editorial.