Though President Obama blamed failure to wrap up a long-delayed free trade agreement with South Korea on technical difficulties, the setback last week suggests a larger story: the shrinking capacity of a U.S. president.
In June, Obama targeted completion of the trade deal negotiated by the Bush administration in 2007 but which has since languished in the Democrat-controlled Congress. It would expand American exports of cars and beef while eliminating a tariff on Korean autos imported to the U.S.
Obama's meeting with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in Seoul was expected to cap negotiations but came up short instead. â€œWe need to make sure that over the next several weeks, we are crossing all the t's, dotting all the i's, being able to make the case to both the Korean people and the United States population that this is good for both countries,â€ Obama said.
Really? A deal potentially worth billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs, upon which the president of the United States staked his prestige, was sidetracked by a few trifling details?
â€œIt reveals a stunning level of ineptitude and seriously undermines America's leadership in the global economy,â€ writes the American Enterprise Institute's Philip Levy. â€œThe implications extend far beyond selling Buicks in Busan.â€
Key hang-ups include Korean environmental and safety standards, seen by U.S. automakers as effectively closing that market to them. The New York Times reports Korean companies sold 10 times as many cars in the U.S. last year as American car companies sold in Korea.