Mr Rudd has received no coverage from the [New York] Times or other respected newspapers that would indicate he is an influential player in climate change negotiations or the push for a new world order. None appear interested.

That’s The Australian’s Brad Norington this morning on Kevin Rudd. Normally I’d suggest some right-wing agenda at work – Brad Norington brings to his coverage of the Obama Administration all the objectivity he showed in his coverage of industrial relations here – but it’s more the usual attempt to prevent any Australian leader from getting too uppity – especially one who so obviously loves to grace the world stage.

Then again, they all love to do that, especially when they’re in the US.

But compare and contrast the unfortunate Gordon Brown, who asked to meet Barack Obama five times during the current UN-G20 festival of the gab, and got knocked back each time. Boy, didn’t The Guardian, which regards Obama as a combination of Jesus Christ, Abraham Lincoln and Will Smith, think that was hilarious.

Admittedly, Kevin Rudd hasn’t recently freed mass murderers guilty of killing hundreds of Americans. But neither has he made lobbying Obama a priority. Rudd’s priority has been to sell the American foreign policy establishment on the benefits of the G20 as the “driving centre” of a new global framework. He devoted most of his address yesterday to the Foreign Policy Association arguing the case for the G20 as a permanent institution, representative but workable, unlike either the unwieldy UN or the too-small G8.

In Pittsburgh at Carnegie Mellon University overnight, Rudd explicitly identified the G20 as a key vehicle for addressing climate change, saying it would “deal with how to transform the global economy to a lower carbon world – through carbon markets, global finance (both public and private) and the technology platforms necessary to give effect to global commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions.”

That’s well beyond what the G20 leaders will knock off this weekend.

Rudd’s goal seems to be to develop a constituency within the US establishment for the G20, one that can continue to press the case on US leaders on an ongoing basis. That Rudd has credibility as a China-watcher in such fora will help his case.

There’s more than a couple of parallels with the Hawke and Keating Governments’ efforts to establish APEC in the early 1990s. That, too, was partly driven by the international ambitions of an Australian politician, in Gareth Evans. Australia was remarkably successful in establishing APEC, only for it to turn into a pointless talkfest, especially once Bill Clinton was succeeded by that vile Texan. A similar fate may befall the G20, should it become a permanent part of the international furniture.

Rudd inherited the G20 from the Howard Government, which via Peter Costello played an important role in its establishment at a finance minister’s level and its development as a permanent entity. Unlike Howard, who regarded APEC as a Keating-era multilateralist indulgence until he suddenly decided it could play a key role in his reelection chances in 2007, Rudd has enthusiastically embraced the structure bequeathed him as part of his “creative middle power diplomacy”.

Rudd also made a point at Carnegie Mellon of spruiking another initiative inherited from his predecessogars that he has run hard with – carbon capture. Rudd hasn’t just thrown big bucks at carbon capture, he’s established a Canberra-based “Institute” that he wants to see become the global centre for a technology that has a little more credibility than alchemy, but not much.

It’s a bit like Rudd’s “Asia-Pacific community” concept that he has invested considerable resources in shopping around the region, although that looks a lot more like a vanity project by the former diplomat. You can tell from the rather strained terms in which regional leaders go out of their way not to criticise it, but not to support it too strongly either.

In short, for a leader so ostensibly experienced in foreign affairs, a number of Rudd’s key initiatives have a distinct air of optimism about them. If they come off, Rudd’s international CV will receive a considerable boost. But if they don’t, what’s Plan B?