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Rock star no more, Obama takes a back seat at G20 (video)

President Obama was a celebrity at the G20 in 2009. This time, ruffled by Congress and the economy, he's lying low. To some experts, that raises concerns about US economic leadership.  

By Staff writer / November 4, 2011

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and US President Barack Obama walk together during arrivals for the G20 summit in Cannes, France on Thursday.

Philippe Wojazer/AP

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Washington

President Obama must be feeling what it’s like to be a faded international rock star as he attends the G20 meetings in Cannes, France, this week.

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Not so long ago the center of everyone’s attention, from adoring throngs in Europe to fellow world leaders, Mr. Obama finds himself taking a back seat. The US president is commanding less time in the spotlight as other headliners – the European debt crisis, a cash-flush China, even American billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates – take center stage.

Today, Obama is hobbled both by a weak US economy and a sharply divided Congress – preventing him from attending the meeting of the Group of 20 world economic powers with anything resembling a “this is how we do it” swagger.

Obama did take part in a late-night meeting Thursday with European leaders during which Italy, whose debt problems are perhaps more worrisome than those of Greece, acquiesced to International Monetary Fund review of its efforts to implement an austerity plan. The US and other nations said they would not add money to an IMF fund upon which deeply indebted nations could draw unless Italy conceded to some outside oversight.

Still, things were a lot different for Obama just a couple of years ago, when he wowed world leaders on his first trip to Europe as president in April 2009 – a trip that included the G20 London summit.

“What a difference 2-1/2 years make,” says Heather Conley, director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“President Obama was welcomed with great euphoria and expectations for a new era, and the G20 came together to do some bold things to save the economy,” she says. “Now [Obama] is one of many at the table, not particularly influential in resolving the European crisis, not proposing any bold initiative for addressing the global economy.”

No one is suggesting that the US should solve Europe’s debt crisis – indeed many experts recall the cold shoulder Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner received recently when he made a few friendly suggestions to his European counterparts. But the degree to which Obama is appearing to sit on the sidelines in Cannes suggests a different world from the one he entered as president.   

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