US stamp missing at Davos summit

US stamp missing at Davos summit

DAVOS - Reuters
US stamp missing at Davos summit

Top US officials, such as President Barack Obama (R) and Vice President Joe Biden (L), did not show up at this year’s Davos meetings. AP photo

As U.S. President Barack Obama starts his second term, the world’s business and political elite pines for greater American engagement to tackle a thicket of security and economic challenges.

The absence of top Obama administration officials from the annual brainstorming and networking event in the Swiss mountains symbolized to some a perceived pullback from global leadership, even though it was Inauguration Week in Washington.

Leaders of Russia, Germany, Britain, Italy, South Africa, Jordan and many other nations made the journey.

U.S. bankers, business leaders and academics were out in force, but the most senior U.S. government officials were a Treasury undersecretary, an assistant secretary of state and the outgoing U.S. Trade Representative.

Delegates debated whether and when China would overtake America as the number one economy and global power -- estimates ranging from the early 2020s to never -- and what troubles were brewing while Washington remains in hands-off mode.

The ground rules of many Davos panels preclude identifying the speakers. One minister, shielded by that anonymity, lamented the dangers of “a world without American leadership.”

Without U.S. involvement, one session was told, Syria would become a “Somalia on the Mediterranean”, with Middle East states waging a proxy war via sectarian factions, some of which would export militant violence to the neighbors and to Europe.

In a public address, King Abdullah of Jordan said his country, which had sent troops to fight Islamist militants in Afghanistan, now faces a “new Taliban in Syria,” where an al-Qaeda affiliate has gained ground among forces fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad. It could take years after the fall of Assad to “clean them out,” the king said.

His fragile desert kingdom has taken in some 300,000 Syrian refugees.