Obama's authority 'was undermined by advisers'


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Barack Obama’s attempts in the early months of his presidency to contend with the near meltdown of America’s financial system were hampered by a dysfunctional coterie of top advisors who “systematically undermined or hedged” his authority according to a new book to be published next week.

Penned by the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Ron Suskind, the book notably says that in March 2009 at the height of a crisis that was engulfing Wall Street and the car-making industry, the still-serving Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, ignored a request from President Obama that he consider breaking up of the banking giant Citigroup.

Called “Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and The Education of A President,” and spun from interviews with more than 200 insiders including Messrs Obama and Geithner, offers a detailed overview of the then fledgling administration’s struggle to contain the contagion in the financial system and suggests that nearly all the players are due some blame for things that went wrong.

Mr Obama acknowledges in the book that he sometimes met resistance from officials who were hired to implement his policy decisions. “Agitated may be too strong a word,” the president is quoted telling the author in the context of what might or might not have happened to Citigroup. Later he says that while he was trying to be decisive in the face of the crisis, “the speed with which the bureaucracy could exercise my decision was slower than I wanted”.

“I don’t slow walk the president on anything,” Mr Geithner told Mr Suskind, adding that he has no recollection of getting into trouble with the Oval Office over Citigroup. But the author concludes that that and other similar incidents “reflected a more pernicious and personal dilemma emerging from inside the administration: that the young president's authority was being systematically undermined or hedged by his seasoned advisers”.

Larry Summers, who served for two years as the president’s top economic advisor, is quoting complaining that at times during the rush of events of early 2009, he “felt home alone” and deprived of the necessary help to do all that was expected of him. Mr Summers reportedly said also that mistakes made by the new president at that time would never have happened under former President Bill Clinton whom he also served.

The book, copies of which were obtained by American news organisations, also suggests that Mr Obama found himself working with top advisors who had not been his first choice. It says for instance that Rahm Emanuel, the former White House Chief of Staff who is now Mayor of Chicago, had not even been on the President’s shortlist for the job.