WASHINGTON -- The summit of the United States and other industrial nations in Munich has to go down as a low point in international summiteering and perhaps as the least inspiring such conclave since the Group of Seven leaders began meeting in 1975.
President Bush and other heads of state, along with their top economic policymakers and foreign affairs experts, came up with a handful of shopworn phrases and half-baked promises for a better tomorrow. It was a singularly flat performance, like a bad play that is soon forgotten.
At times, in fact, last week's proceedings seemed to border on buffoonery. It is hard to say which event was more comical -- Russia's Boris Yeltsin showing up as an uninvited guest at the closing banquet, or Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady offering prescriptions on fiscal and monetary policy to the Germans.
Mr. Brady suggested that the U.S. budget agreement of 1990 and the subsequent rate reductions by the Federal Reserve provided a model for spurring economic growth through fiscal restraint combined with relaxed monetary policy. Nobody was buying such nonsense.
The Bush administration bellied up to the summit with annual budget deficits well in excess of $300 billion, excluding outlays for the bank and thrift bailouts. That is up from the $200 billion legacy of red ink left by the Reagan administration.
The Fed, according to the official minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee, has been easing rates in response to economic weakness and the credit crunch -- not because of the budget agreement.
Mr. Brady closed out the summit by suggesting that the Fed could lower interest rates some more, and by dismissing the weakness of the dollar in foreign exchange markets. His comments helped knock the dollar down to below 1.50 against the German mark.
At least Mr. Yeltsin got to enjoy a free dinner and to sign a $24 billion package of financial assistance for Russia, beginning with a $1 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. Debt relief is supposed to be next in the cards.
The G-7 heads of state failed to come up with any new initiatives for their own countries. They left the biggest economic issue, how to break the logjam over negotiating a new global trade pact, for another day. An agreement on the so-called Uruguay Round could unlock billions of dollars in new global trading.
In fact, most of the G-7 leaders came to the summit struggling under severe domestic pressures that made them unable, or unwilling, to make fresh efforts in international economic cooperation.
President Bush faces a sputtering economy and a three-way re-election campaign that his aides are still struggling to understand. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney of Canada has an economy that is barely out of recession and had to rush home to face another secessionist rebellion from French-speaking Quebec.
In France, Prime Minister Francois Mitterrand found himself representing a nation literally at a standstill as striking truckers and farmers blocked vacationers from the roadways.
And in Germany, Chancellor Helmut Kohl's popularity ratings are lower than Mr. Bush's as the country copes with the costs and stresses of unification.
The Japanese government of Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa is struggling with an economic slow-down and a falling stock market that has investors rattled. Meanwhile, Japan's trade surplus continues to soar as domestic demand for imports slackens.
The Munich summit highlighted the sour taste of the West's victory in the Cold War. There do not seem to be any immediate benefits after 45 years of struggle. Instead, the leaders of the world's richest nations are bogged down with domestic problems while uneasiness works away at the political consciousness of investors and ordinary voters.
What's missing is a sign of leadership, an inspiring call from Washington or elsewhere for a new world order that is shaped by today's integrated global markets in an era of instant communications.