After a full day of talks on economic issues and a meeting with African leaders, the summit leaders will pack up and move their teams to Chicago, where a larger contingent of more than 50 other leaders await them for a summit of the NATO alliance. Key decisions are expected to be made on the Afghanistan war.
Before getting there, though, the president is determined to impose a simpler, less-glitzy atmosphere at Camp David, which never before has hosted more than two foreign visitors at a time. It will be in that atmosphere that the casually clad leaders on Saturday will sit around the dining room table in Laurel Cabin and get to the heart of the summit, the economic crisis gripping Europe and threatening to spill over to the U.S. economy. "This is a euro-crisis summit. It will be dominated by the crisis," said Heather Conley, director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Crisis. Obama will have a chance to influence the debate, marked by the German-led calls for an emphasis on austerity and the French calls for leavening that austerity with more growth-oriented policies.
(PICTURES: The G8 Summit By the Numbers)
But Tom Donilon, the president's national security adviser, said on Thursday that Obama is not going to try to exploit the differences between Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "That's not the intention of the president of the United States," Donilon said, instead stating that the president will push both sides to address the crisis "in a comprehensive way" — shorthand for a mix of austerity and growth.
The outcome is critical for both the American economy and the president's reelection campaign, reflecting the reality that the eurozone is the No. 1 trading partner of the United States. Conley said the "worst-case scenario" for Obama comes into play "should the European crisis begin to rapidly deteriorate, the impact on the U.S. economy six months before a presidential election has profound implications for our economy and for our election." And the White House realizes that is possible, leaving what Conley called "a huge cloud of uncertainty that does not seem to be dissipating." Particularly frustrating for Washington is that the key decisions will be made across the Atlantic, not here. "We're not in this game, quite frankly," she said. "This is really for Europe to sort out."¦ We are sitting in the bleachers a bit."
The discussion on some other crucial issues such as Iran, North Korea, Syria, and missile defense will be hampered somewhat by the absence of newly elected Russian President Vladimir Putin's absence. Claiming the need to form his government in the wake of his May 7 election, Putin is, instead, sending the man he replaces in the top job, Dmitry Medvedev. But it is unclear whether the outgoing leader has the authority to deal with the Western leaders.