Surprisingly, Bush plays the wallflower in Munich Talk about jobs unmatched by action

July 09, 1992|By Ian Johnson | Ian Johnson,Contributing Writer

MUNICH, Germany -- Intentions, suggestions and recommendations abounded. But the "J" word was missing from the economic summit.

Jobs, the mantra that the U.S. administration repeats in hopes of obtaining re-election, was mentioned in every U.S. briefing, every photo opportunity and even in the Group of Seven's economic declaration. But concrete plans to create them were missing as the summit ended yesterday.

Not only was economic help lacking, but President Bush himself seemed invisible during the three days of negotiations. Unlike last year's summit in the afterglow of the Persian Gulf war, the trip to Munich was an "outing, from which he wants to return as quickly as possible," an administration official said.

But Mr. Bush has to be in Helsinki, Finland, today for another summit -- this one of the 52-nation Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the body that is trying to stabilize post-Communist Europe.

While Mr. Bush usually uses such meetings to flaunt his foreign policy experience, he and the U.S. delegation were the surprise wallflowers in Munich.

While Britain took the lead in world trade negotiations and the International Monetary Fund dominated the decision making on Russian aid, the United States was cast as an uncomfortable bystander, nervously glancing across the Atlantic at the coming political conventions.

The Munich summit could have been helpful in the U.S. elections because it was meant to address Mr. Bush's Achilles' heel -- the economy.

But except for vague calls for growth, the summit failed to unite the member countries in any common economic purpose. Unlike in past years, Germany and Japan resisted U.S. pressure for them to be the world economy's locomotive.

Germany also outmaneuvered Mr. Bush by putting the emphasis on inflation fighting and local conditions, allowing it to escape participation in the pump-priming that Mr. Bush wants.

And the two examples cited by the Bush administration as summit successes -- a Japanese economic stimulation program and a tight German budget -- were, in fact, announced weeks ago and had nothing to do with the summit.

But for Mr. Bush, the only real problem is a "reality gap" -- the gulf between the U.S. economic recovery that he and his six colleagues at the summit said existed and the perception back home that the economy is getting worse.

"I think people [here] feel that the world economy is growing just as I feel the U.S. economy is growing. A growing world economy will increase [U.S.] jobs," Mr. Bush said.

A trade agreement was sidestepped at the summit, with U.S. and French officials exchanging recriminations over the other's intransigence.

Mr. Bush said that he never actually expected a world trade agreement to be reached in Munich, but Secretary of State James A. Baker III belied the official line by saying that a breakthrough had been possible Monday or Tuesday.

"I really am disappointed that we were not able to conclude the particular part that we were working on here because there was some sense that maybe we could," Mr. Baker said.

This failure and the preoccupation with propping up the U.S. economy led to speculation that the United States was losing its superpower influence among the world's other rich democracies.

At least Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney stood fast by his friend. Mr. Mulroney said the United States is so important that future summits could be a one-man show.

"The size of the American economy is such that it dwarfs everybody else's, including the Japanese, the Germans', the French and everybody," he said. "So you could always have a G-1. Next year, he could go to Japan. Put him in a room there for another three days and he could tell everybody what he thinks."

But administration officials say Mr. Bush is no fan of holding annual summits, which have turned into costly extravaganzas.

Mr. Bush "brings that subject up at every meeting and he feels strongly about it. He has even suggested skipping a year," a senior Treasury Department official said.

Even this modest proposal from Mr. Bush was ignored. Next year's summit is set for Tokyo.

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