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Zakaria: Obama critics have it wrong

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  • Fareed Zakaria: Some observers say president failing in role as free world's leader
  • Other countries are resistant to President Obama's policy proposals, Zakaria says
  • Story of G-20 is power is shifting away from American dominance, analyst says
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Fareed Zakaria is a foreign affairs analyst who hosts "Fareed Zakaria: GPS" on CNN at 1 and 5 p.m. ET Sundays.

Fareed Zakaria

Analyst Fareed Zakaria says President Obama has found resistance to his policy proposals on his European trip.

(CNN) -- President Obama on Friday called on Europe and the United States to drop negative attitudes toward each other and said "unprecedented coordination" is needed to confront the global economic crisis.

Speaking at a town hall meeting in Strasbourg, France, on his first overseas trip as president, Obama said, "I'm confident that we can meet any challenge as long as we are together."

Obama's comments came after the Group of 20 meeting in London, England -- which the president called "a success" of "nations coming together, working out their differences and moving boldly forward" -- and on the eve of a NATO summit in Strasbourg marking that organization's 60th anniversary.

Author and world affairs expert Fareed Zakaria spoke to CNN about the G-20:

CNN: What do you think of President Obama's trip to the G-20?

Fareed Zakaria: Although he brought a lot of star power -- the talk of the week -- at least in certain circles in Washington, New York and London -- has been that President Obama is failing in his role as leader of the free world. British columnist Jonathan Freedland wrote in The Guardian newspaper that President Obama looks neither like JFK nor FDR but rather JEC -- that's James Earl Carter -- better known here as Jimmy Carter.

'Fareed Zakaria GPS'
Former Secretary of State James Baker discusses President Obama's trip to Europe.
1 and 5 p.m. ET Sunday

CNN: But it appears everyone is fawning over him.

Zakaria: President Obama has encountered a Europe that is more resistant to his policy proposals. The French and Germans have their own proposals. The Chinese and Russians have come with their own demands. And everyone expects him to apologize for having caused this mess in the first place.

CNN: But can they blame him for the mess?

Zakaria: Of course not. He didn't cause this mess, and no one really blames him personally. The problems President Obama is facing on the world stage have nothing to do with him. They are really a sign that personality cannot trump power in the world of realpolitik. The real story here is that power is shifting away from American dominance to a post-American world. Video Watch: James Baker on Obama's performance as president »

CNN: Are you just plugging your book?

Zakaria: Well, that was the argument of the book I wrote last year -- "The Post-American World" -- but what I had outlined is coming true. The evidence for this just keeps piling up.

CNN: Before you outline the evidence, remind me of the basic premise of your book.

Zakaria: It's that the rest of the world is rising to meet the United States' position -- economically, politically and culturally. I want to be clear that I am not talking about America's decline as much as the rise of the rest. While we stayed comfortable in our status quo position, the rest of the world was learning from us and are playing our game and succeeding in it.

CNN: OK. Now give me the examples from the G-20 meeting.

Zakaria: Let me name two things that struck me.

First, the Chinese have called for a new reserve currency to replace the dollar. This would never have happened 10 years ago -- back then, they needed America too much.

Then the French and Germans have said they want a new system of financial regulation that will replace the American-style one that has reigned for the last 20 years.

Why are the flexing their muscles? Because they can.

CNN: Is this happening because of the financial crisis?

Zakaria: The trends were there before, but it appears the financial crisis has accelerated the process. So we are entering the post-American world much faster than even I had anticipated.

CNN: Should we be scared?

Zakaria: Fear should not be our response. We need to recommit to our strengths. America's great -- and potentially insurmountable -- strength is it remains the most open, flexible society in the world, able to absorb other people, cultures, ideas, goods and services.

The country thrives on the hunger and energy of poor immigrants. Faced with the new technologies of foreign companies or growing markets overseas, it adapts and adjusts. When you compare this dynamism with the closed and hierarchical nations that were once superpowers, you sense that the United States is different and may not fall into the trap of becoming rich and fat and lazy.

CNN: What should the U.S. do?


Zakaria: The United States needs to make its own commitment to the system clear. For America to continue to lead the world, we will have to first join it. President Obama seems to understand this and is doing his best at meetings like the G-20 and the NATO summit.

It is also imperative that more Americans become aware of what is going on in other places -- the other 90 percent of the world.

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