Obama, drubbed at polls, now dropped from top spot in global power ranking

While Forbes magazine still terms President Obama the 'Leader of the Free World,’ the title of most powerful now goes to China's Hu Jintao.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
Forbes magazine has decided President Obama is no longer the world’s most powerful person.
Thibault Camus/AP
Chinese President Hu Jintao waves after laying a wreath at an unknown soldier's tomb, at the Arc of Triomphe, in Paris, on Nov. 5. The American business magazine, Forbes, declares in its annual 'most powerful' global ranking this week, Hu Jintao.

Just in case President Obama wasn’t feeling deflated enough by the drubbing he got in Tuesday’s midterm elections, now there’s this: Forbes magazine has decided he’s no longer the world’s most powerful person.

That would be Hu Jintao, president of China, the American business magazine declares in its annual “most powerful” global ranking this week.

Mr. Obama, whom Forbes grants still holds the unofficial title of “Leader of the Free World,” fell to No. 2 in the power rankings – behind the leader of the world’s most populous (and a rare remaining communist) nation – after occupying the top slot last year.

Saudi King Abdullah jumped six places to land the No. 3 position, while Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin fell one notch to No. 4 this year. Pope Benedict XVI is No. 5.

Forbes editors say they based their elevation of Mr. Hu on the fact that he is leader of one-fifth of the world’s population, that he presides over the world’s largest army, and that under Hu, China has rocketed to second place on the list of the world’s largest economies, with no signs of throttling back.

The magazine also pays homage to Hu’s extraordinary power at home, noting that “Hu can divert rivers, build cities, jail dissidents and censor [the] Internet without meddling from pesky bureaucrats [and] courts.”

By implication, much of Obama’s global power derives more from intangibles like America’s moral leadership and the American president’s bully pulpit – although Forbes does recognize that Obama is still commander-in-chief of the world’s “largest and deadliest” military and leader of the world’s largest and “most dynamic” economy.

Still, Obama’s dethroning from the top ranking suggests that, while he may have used those intangibles to good results in 2009 – his Cairo speech, winning the Nobel Peace Prize – his international powers took a beating in 2010.

Some China experts were quick to suggest that Forbes was showing its ignorance of the Chinese political system by declaring Hu the world’s most powerful person. Hu, they say, derives his power from his role as one of nine members of the Chinese Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee, not from being president – a role whose power, they say, pales in comparison to that of Communist China’s leaders of the past.

In any case, the Forbes list was timely not only because of the midterm election results, but also because it came out just as Obama was undertaking the longest overseas trip of his presidency – to Asia, and with widespread disquiet about China’s rise in the region underpinning the 10-day, four-country sojourn.

Obama is set to meet with Hu Nov. 11 in South Korea on the sidelines of a G20 summit. The two leaders are expected to discuss North Korea, but the Forbes rankings seem unlikely to figure on the agenda.

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