COLUMN

The summit as a dangerous farce

With our ears and minds already filled up with foolishness about a new world order, this summit muddles thinking even more

BARBARA AMIEL July 29 1991
COLUMN

The summit as a dangerous farce

With our ears and minds already filled up with foolishness about a new world order, this summit muddles thinking even more

BARBARA AMIEL July 29 1991

The summit as a dangerous farce

COLUMN

BARBARA AMIEL

She stole the show—Mila Mulroney was the clotheshorse of the summit. “The Mila style show,” proclaimed the upmarket tabloid Daily Mail (circulation 1,702,122). It would have been nice to hear that the clothes she was wearing were Canadian—perhaps they were, but I could never get anyone at the Canadian High Commission press office on the telephone to comment.

Apart from Mila’s star turn, British Prime Minister John Major’s G-7 summit last week turned out to be a puffed-up charade of sound and fury signifying nothing. Once, one might have excused the whole exercise by saying that bringing together a few leading politicians doesn’t do much harm—may even do some good—and gives a lot of journalists a chance to go overseas. But with our ears and minds already filled up with foolishness about a new world order, this summit muddles thinking even more.

When Major and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev appeared on television at the summit’s close, both appeared to be growing black mushrooms on their ears. One felt that the summit disease was now visibly manifesting itself in suppurating boils. It turns out that the mushrooms were not carbuncles, but some very modernistic translation device. But what were the words being translated? Major talked about the beginning of “dialogue” and kept looking warmly and moistly at Gorbachev, while Gorbachev replied self-righteously about the obstructionism of GATT and the IMF.

This was all followed by an interview with U.S. President George Bush, who wasn’t wearing a mushroom but sounded as if he had eaten rather a lot of the sort growing in Mexico. “Would you have ever believed,” he said incredulously to no one in particular, “that the Berlin Wall would be down, Eastern Europe would be free and....” So on and so forth. Where, one wonders, has this man been?

The trouble is, I think, that summits create a state of altered consciousness in politicians.

With our ears and minds already filled up with foolishness about a new world order, this summit muddles thinking even more

Insulated from the world by their private secretaries and retinues of policy assistants, our leaders travel about in a hermetically sealed little world of clichés, high hopes and television cameras. I believe that one day we may find that unlike white bread, refined white sugar and saccharin, what is really dangerous to human health and sanity is the portable television camera with its lights and stereo microphones. This creates a sense of importance out of all proportion to the event.

The truth is that the two problems that dominated the G-7 summit, the prospect of nuclear arms in Iraq and Gorbachev’s beggingbowl routine, are very simply dealt with when analysed in terms of the ideals that the United Nations and the Western G-7 countries profess. But no one dared to say that because it would have undercut the need for self-important anguish and debate.

Saddam Hussein is a run-of-the-mill tyrant and his Baathist party operates a totalitarian regime. Though some tyrants tend to terrorize only their own people, quite often they share with theocracies the notion that it is not a good thing to coexist peacefully with neighbors if those neighbors are not part of the same theocratic entity. This is an entirely different

way of looking at world affairs than ours. We consider peaceful coexistence a part of civilization.

Faced with this attitude, the West can try a so-called cordon sanitaire around Iraq, but this will never prevent it from obtaining the nuclear bomb. The Arab world may not share our values, but it has never been short of scientific talent. The only hope we have is to stay one technological step ahead of such awful regimes as Syria, Iraq and Iran and pray that by the time they catch up with us in sophisticated weaponry, they might also have caught up to us in the development of political institutions and civilized behavior. Instead of concentrating on this, however, the summit spent what little time it had for the matter on worrying about rapid deployment forces in Turkey, malnutrition in Iraq and ways to disarm ourselves further.

As for Gorbachev, one could only stand by speechless at his audacity. This man, who has promised to go to his grave a communist, dares to speak of Western obstructionism in developing a healthy Soviet economy? Mind you, he is aided by the media. I watched a BBC reporter question British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd and worry about whether asking Gorbachev to privatize state-owned factories and open up free markets and a proper stock market wasn’t being “too ideological.”

The Wall Street Journal, as usual, expressed the problem best when it referred to the distinction Russian writer Tatyana Tolstaya makes between ideological communists and merely corrupt ones. Ideological communists want to return to totalitarianism. Corrupt ones simply want to maintain control on the perks of the system. All those breakaway Soviet communist movements with names like Entrepreneurial Communists and Communists for Democracy are not as interested in reform as they would like us to believe. They are competing factions, squabbling over the spoils.

“Soviet businessmen,” said The Wall Street Journalin an editorial, “know that they survive at the whim of local party officials. Their businesses can be shut down on a pretext, their property confiscated. They have no incentive to invest. The private sector, though growing, operates in a state of nature, without any way to enforce contracts or protect against racketeers.” In a word, Gorbachev has created a natural evolution, from the big boss of a totalitarian state to the Mafia chieftain. He remains firmly in the tradition of his great forebears— Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev. Gorbachev, after all, is the unelected leader of a state that annexed by force the Baltic nations—an act we have never diplomatically recognized—and a man who continues to operate the Soviet economy as a private milch cow for the benefit of the party. To have him blackmail us with the prospect that if we don’t help him he may lose power is laughable.

The solution to his country’s economic chaos is straightforward: Soviet society and its economy must live under the rule of law and legalize private property. But no one dared call Gorbachev by his true name, capo di tutti capi, and reveal the summit for the opera buffa it really was.