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Is America losing its influence?

By David Gergen, CNN Senior Political Analyst
  • David Gergen: President Obama suffered two defeats on his Asia trip
  • Gergen says U.S. failed to secure South Korea trade pact and agreement by G-20 nations
  • America seems to have lost its position of global economic leadership, he says
  • Gergen: Growing number of nations sees U.S. as acting recklessly with its finances

Editor's note: David Gergen, a senior political analyst for CNN, has been an adviser to four U.S. presidents. He is a professor of public service and director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School.

(CNN) -- Opening The New York Times on Friday morning, I blinked. The headline on its lead story, spread over two columns, blared out, "Obama's Economic View Is Rejected on World Stage."

Whether or not you like this president, the headline should make every American wince. Yes, other presidents have experienced setbacks, but it has been a long time since any of them has been so publicly rebuffed in a gathering of the world's major nations. Indeed, since World War II, our presidents have dominated the world's economic decision-making.

In this case, Obama took double blows. His hosts in South Korea resisted making concessions that would have wrapped up the biggest bilateral trade deal for the U.S. in more than a decade -- a deal that Obama insisted be done by this week. No one knows now if it will be completed.

Meanwhile, at a meeting of the G-20 nations in Seoul, Obama ran into more trouble. For months he and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner have been pointing toward these talks as a place to secure a firm agreement from China to increase the value of its currency and to gain agreement from China, Germany and others to reduce their trade surpluses. The doors were slammed in American faces. China refused to make firm promises, and the U.S. was lectured by China, Germany, Brazil and others that it was manipulating for a weaker dollar so that it can increase exports.

There is a suggestion coming from the White House that the press is being unduly dramatic in its reporting on these setbacks. But is this believable about The New York Times? Hardly.

No, what we have here is something more serious: not only a president who is personally weakened by elections at home but a proud nation that is also weakened in the eyes of the world.

For too long, the U.S. has been seen by a growing number of other nations as acting recklessly with our finances. Within less than a generation, we have fallen from being the world's biggest creditor to the world's biggest debtor. Fingers are also pointed at us for causing the Great Recession.

We increasingly face a stark choice: Either we get our economic house in order or we will lose much of our influence -- and our leadership -- on the world stage.

Time to take a more welcoming look at the national deficit commission? I think so.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Gergen.