World attention on this weekend's G-20 summit risks putting the United States in the dock. It is going to be tempting for the Europeans and Asian representatives to lay the blame for the global financial mess squarely on the outgoing Bush administration and those overpaid and crafty American bankers.
Eagerness, though, to point the finger solely at the United States for the world's current financial and economic problems won't get us very far. Since Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson has already done the decent thing by acknowledging his nation's faults, it is time for concerted efforts on how best to dig our way out of the hole we are all in.
Paulson said this week that the United States was "well aware and humbled by our own failings and recognize our special responsibility to the global economy." This is not the kind of mea culpa incidentally that you are likely to hear very often from the present British, French or Japanese governments.
Yet it underlines the key international point. It makes some sense to convene a global summit so that important players can air their views but no one ought to be confused by the photo opportunities and the calls by the likes of Prime Minister Gordon Brown and France's President Nicolas Sarkozy for instant financial reform.
It is still the United States that calls the shots. Others may have contributions to make and they will certainly be expected to pay a goodly proportion of the bailouts that will inevitably be required but the major decisions are likely to be made between the White House and Congress.
Neither the Japanese public nor the overwhelming majority of Europeans who have been cheered by Barack Obama's victory in the American general election can do anything about the timetable. Only after Obama becomes the next president in January will we know much more than the raw outlines of his international economic programs.
In the meantime, it is up to President George W Bush and his advisers to work toward shoring up defenses against what is repeatedly being dubbed the worst economic crisis since 1945. Bush may be hugely unpopular and about to start packing up his papers for safekeeping in his future presidential library but he is still the president.
All the commentary about the continuing decline of the United States and its lame-duck president risks missing the international reality. The U.S. remains the only power remotely able to provide a degree of political and economic security to the global system. No other single power comes anywhere near it. What's more, it is pretty difficult to spot any serious contenders even on the distant horizon.
Of course, the United States is a lesser beast than it was half a century ago but the immediate post-1945 years gave Washington an extraordinary supremacy that was bound to shrink. Once other states, particularly the larger western European ones and a newly reformed Japan, began to regain some of their earlier strengths and national self-confidence, American power could only become relatively weaker.
Yet the world's media has no choice but to keep on concentrating on Bush and Paulson. It is even being claimed that the Japanese public's general awareness of the recent American presidential contest was greater than that of the American citizenry. If so, it surely underlines how the international power game is rightly perceived in east Asia.
It follows that for the next quarter century, Asia and Europe will continue to complain, mutter threats and attempt rather half-heartedly to think up alternative schemes for running the world. Yet the chances are that no other power, certainly not China that is discovering that being an integral part of a global economy has its massive drawbacks as well as its pleasant gains, will voluntarily take on America's job. The reality is that either the United States provides the necessary global leadership to get us out of today's mess or we are all sunk.© Japan Today