There’s a rumour doing the rounds in Washington, which I mention in the magazine
this week, that the reason Gordon Brown was invited to address a Joint Session of Congress is that the Obama administration isn’t yet ready to have a detailed conversation about the agenda for the G20. This is largely because the Treasury Department is absurdly under-staffed. The only confirmed official there is the Secretary, Tim Geithner. All the deputy and assistant and under secretary jobs are empty. Just to compound this problem
, Annette Nazareth, who was expected to be the Deputy Secretary has dropped out and Caroline Atkinson, who as undersecretary of international affairs would have been key to the administration’s position on the G20, has also withdrawn.
Considering the current circumstances, having a Treasury Department which is not running on all cylinders is a real problem. Obama’s reputation for competence is going to be damaged if the White House can’t fix this soon.
From a British political perspective, the withdrawal of Caroline Atkinson is a major blow to Brown. Now the Americans will almost certainly want to stall at the summit on all the issues surrounding changing the international financial architecture meaning that the summit is not likely to be the great triumph Brown so desperately wants it to be.