David Rothkopf

A birthday message and gift of good news for the president

A birthday message and gift of good news for the president

Happy birthday, Mr. President.

Admittedly, there has not been a lot to celebrate lately.

With market losses in this slide now exceeding the 10 percent level, so-called correction territory (London’s FTSE is down over 11 percent since April), weak employment numbers in the United States, troubling global economic indicators wherever you look, the Arab Spring stalling, the Libya intervention in slow motion, AfPak a source of deep worry and frustration, China rising, global warming, Justin Bieber, the bad reviews received by Cowboys & Aliens, it might well be, Mr. President, that you feel like there is very little to celebrate.

Well, not only do I think you’ve got a wide range of accomplishments that deserve celebration, but I think it is high time that those of us who actually believe government can do some good start making our case as actively as are those who are simultaneously talking it down and taking it down. That’s why every week until I run out, I’m going to try to focus on at least one significant area of accomplishment, a success story.

This week, the gift wrapping around the success story is that which comes hard to some of us up here in the blogosphere’s peanut gallery: an admission that I was wrong. Now readers of this blog will be the first to note that I’m wrong all the time. But in this instance, I am even willing to acknowledge it.

When you announced your National Export Initiative, I thought it was just a rehash of the National Export Strategy we did back in the Clinton days. What’s more, since I thought the administration did very little on trade policy in its first year or two, I felt that the announcement, made in your 2010 State of the Union, was little more than a rhetorical device, that there was not meat on its bones nor was there likely to be any.

Well, that shows how much this former international trade official knows about it. International trade is on the verge of turning into a pretty compelling success story for the administration. Let me frame that story by quoting one of this administration’s most effective officials, a man who has done an exceptional job at a small agency far from the limelight, thereby making himself one of the most effective champions for creating jobs through exports that the country has. As you might imagine, I’m talking about Fred Hochberg, the top guy at the Export-Import Bank of the United States (or Ex-Im Bank for shorthand).

In a statement released today, Hochberg said, "Today Ex-Im Bank set an authorizations record for a third straight year. Coupled with overall U.S. exports being up over 16 percent, the Nation is on a pace to achieve President Obama’s goal of doubling exports by 2015."

Yes, that’s right, for almost two full years, through tough times, the United States has been keeping up with a very aggressive pace that you, Mr. President, targeted during your State of the Union. Ex-Im Bank has not only hit a record of $24.5 billion in finance authorizations today — 70 percent higher than it was in 2008 — but it is on pace to double those numbers by the end of the year. Hochberg and his team have been traveling the world to make deals happen, to offset unfair financing by the Chinese and others, and to build growth in the fast growing markets of tomorrow like India, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Turkey, Colombia, Vietnam, South Africa, and Nigeria.

If that were the whole story, it would be a pretty encouraging nugget glittering out there on the wasteland of today’s news. But it’s just a piece of a bigger story that’s going to get better when, as seems likely, the administration finally gets Congress to pass our pending free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama. It is enhanced further with the growing efforts being made — as on Secretary Clinton’s trip to India — to actively attract foreign investment to the United States. And it will be enhanced further as the overall export numbers continue to rise.

In short, one dimension of your signature idea of "engagement" that’s really producing results is international economic engagement, tapping into international growth to produce more jobs at home in the United States. And from what I hear from reliable sources, it seems likely that even more innovations and more focused efforts are likely on the horizon in this area in the next couple of months. That’s good news for the economy — Ex-Im Bank loans this year alone will support over 200,000 jobs — and for you, Mr. President. Because it is just the kind of success story that is showing your efforts bearing fruit, which is bound to resonate next year during the election, especially since the other side seems more likely to be hurling invectives than actually pitching in with real, constructive ideas.

Of course, you yourself would be the first to note that all of this is not to say the trade balance numbers are great. They’re not. And plenty of our trading partners aren’t playing fair, and we need to do more to level the playing field. It’s also not to say that more can’t be done. It should be. And it doesn’t offset much of the dark news out there. But it’s a pretty compelling story, getting better all the time, and you and your team ought to get credit for it. So even if it’s just one small, flickering candle on your cake today, enjoy it … the people for whom these efforts have created or sustained jobs certainly will.