Obama kept the process alive in Copenhagen at the cost of almost every major U.S. goal going in. He certainly knee-capped the throngs of adoring international activists and governments. It’s a high price. Critics will eviscerate him for coming home essentially empty handed. Beneficiaries like the Chamber of Commerce and assorted interests will kick him anyway. Already the gloating over Obama’s Copenhagen ‘failure’ rings out.
In broader historical terms, a status quo power like the U.S. (no matter however enfeebled), is rarely a radical change agent. (The Warlord being neither status quo oriented and America engaged the world as radicalized destabilizer). With the exception perhaps of Wilson in Paris, American presidents typically are unwilling to get too far ahead of domestic political thought. And climate change is still too amorphous on Main Street. Strident proponents on either side turn people off.
Regarding how Obama abandoned pretense of multi-lateral equaility in favor of status-conscious Realpolitik he had no choice. For practical outcome purposes as well as the need to ingratiate ourselves with Chinese power. The tension between Obama and confrontational Chinese officials waved away with Wen’s serene power a classic Chinese performance.
It’s a punt. He saved the ‘process’. He lost his international halo. Open question remains whether the ‘process’ was worth the candle.