At the G8 and in the Mideast, Bush covered a lot of territory
SETTING DIFFERENCES ASIDE
At the G8 and in the Mideast, Bush covered a lot of territory, writes PAUL WELLS
IT WAS GOING so well, right up to the end. For months before last week’s G8 summit of big industrialized countries in Evian, France, most of the leaders involved didn’t even bother to hide their tension. This would be the first time since the Iraq war that the men who had disagreed so bitterly about how to handle Saddam Hussein would sit down to tackle the next generation of global problems—including how to clean up the mess the war and the Iraqi dictator’s fall have caused. The meeting’s host, France’s Jacques Chirac, had not spoken to his most important guest, U.S. President George Bush, in months. He finally poked a tiny hole in the ice with two pre-summit telephone chats. Bush and Germany’s Gerhard Schröder had not spoken for even longer. Going in, the meeting had all the makings of a lurid diplomatic spectacle, a Celebrity World Leader Testosterone Cage Match for the ages.
Instead, the leaders turned their summit into a grimly determined display of camaraderie, shaking hands, slapping backs and stretching their faces into approximate grins as they participated in one photo opportunity after another. “We can have disagreements,” Bush said as he slouched in a patio chair next to Chirac, “but that doesn’t mean we have to be disagreeable.” They even got serious work done, signing off on an unprecedented number of final communiqués on issues ranging from controlling terrorism to fighting the plague of AIDS in Africa.
The problems began when reporters read those communiqués.
At Jean Chretien’s summit-closing news conference, reporters bombarded him with questions about a nine-paragraph “G8 Declaration” describing the leaders’ plan to keep weapons of mass destruction out of the wrong hands. What precisely did the leaders mean when they wrote that in ad-
dition to treaties, inspections and export controls, they would “if necessary [take] other measures” to keep the worst weapons away from regimes like Iran’s and North Korea’s? Did they mean war?
U.S. officials, briefing reporters off the record, said they might indeed. Chirac, at his own news conference, said no way. “That interpretation seems extraordinarily daring. There was never a question of using force against anyone in any way.”
Chrétien, carrying his trusty personal cloud of rhetorical fog to his last of 10 G7 and G8 summits, said as little as possible. “We don’t have a solution clear in mind at this moment,” he said—before his aides rushed back to the summit’s sprawling press centre to hunt for the document those pesky reporters were asking about.
But even Chretien’s non-answer was inaccurate. The problem is not that the world’s most powerful leaders have no clear solution.
It is that they have two clear solutions, each quite incompatible with the other. Evian is hardly the largest city in France, but in the space of a weekend, it managed to contain two parallel 21st-century worlds.
In the world according to Chirac, nothing can happen without the approval of the “international community,” which, handily, means the approval of France. He is comforted in this view by many friends. One of his aides told reporters Chirac was delighted to discover, in China’s new leader Hu Jintao, a fellow believer in “a multipolar, balanced world” governed by “multilateral institutions.”
Good for them. But Chirac’s most formidable guest believes no more strongly in a “balanced” world than he believes in the tooth fairy. For George Bush, nobody’s problems are as important as America’s and nobody’s veto against its actions is permissible. He can be gracious, even surprisingly so, in taking any help other nations offer. But he will be implacable in rejecting any obstacles they attempt to put in his path.
Every stop he made on the most ambitious foreign tour of his presidency hinted at the scope of Bush’s plan to reshape the world into a geometry less threatening to American interests and American lives. The tour’s
most crucial phase was the leg after Evian, when Bush met with Mideast leaders at separate peace summits in Egypt and Jordan. On the second stop, he brought an end, for now, to his policy of keeping peace talks at arm’s length, and engaged in face-to-face negotiations with Israel’s Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas—much as his predecessors Bill Clinton and George Bush Sr. had forced participants to the table.
But to understand not only Evian and Jordan but whatever will come next, it is handy to focus at least briefly on the way Bush’s week-long tour began: with a May 31 speech at Wawel Castle in the ancient Polish cultural capital of Krakow. Poles were days away from a referendum on joining the EU. Bush, who is intent on pushing Poland and other former Communist satellites—most of them pro-American—into a continental alliance he thinks is too dominated by softies like Chirac and Schröder, left no doubt where he stood: “Soon you will be a member of the European Union.”
Earlier this year Chirac warned Europe’s new applicants Old Europe might veto their membership if they get too cozy with the Yanks. Bush would have none of it: “You have not come all this way—through occu-
pations and tyranny and brave uprisings— only to be told that you must now choose between Europe and America.”
At first the Krakow speech was obscured by the pageantry of St. Petersburg’s 300thbirthday party, which drew Bush and dozens of other leaders to the birthplace of Russian President Vladimir Putin. And before Evian was even over, Bush had departed for the high stakes of the Middle Eastern summits, where even Chirac approved his role as the only representative of a peacemaking global “quartet” that aslo includes Russia, the EU and the United Nations. But it took only a little hindsight to see the Krakow speech as a new manifesto of sorts.
The good news is that Bush does not plan to keep France or Russia in the doghouse forever. “We need the help, the advice and the wisdom of our European friends and allies,” he said at Krakow. He proved it at Evian when he quizzed Chirac about the best way to work with Syria, a country the French leader knows better than most.
But Bush will take only help, not grief. He cut short his Evian visit so he could attend to his more pressing business in Egypt and Jordan. (Bush is not the first leader to short-sheet a G8 summit like that, according to John Kirton, a University of Toronto specialist on the G8. The multilateralist Bill Clinton left the 2000 G8 early too.)
Even Bush’s apparent displays of magnanimity have elements of pure pragmatism. In his January State of the Union address, he called for $US15 billion against the AIDS epidemic in Africa. Chirac called the move “historic” as he and other leaders scrambled to match a specific Bush commitment of $US1 billion a year for an established global fund against AIDS and other scourges.
Bush is neither too pure to enjoy oneupping holier-than-thou Europeans, nor so wicked that he wouldn’t simply do good in Africa for good’s sake. But in Krakow he gave a third explanation: his skirmishes against famine and pestilence are part of his broader war on terrorism. “As we fight the forces of terror, we must also change the conditions in which terror can take root,” he said. “The ideology of terror takes hold in an atmosphere of resentment and hopelessness.” AIDS and famine, he added, threat-
en “the stability of an entire continent.”
This is a president so consumed by his mission to avoid another 9/11 that he sees almost everything through that lens, from the border at Vancouver to the villages of Senegal to the need for new Palestinian leadership and new pressure on America’s ally, Sharon.
This juggernaut, a perfectly nice guy until you cross him, was the man everyone else tiptoed around at Evian. At most, those who had disapproved of his Iraq adventure repeated their disapproval as a matter of record—and then turned the page as briskly as they could. “ ‘The past is the past’ was the motto,” Chrétien told reporters, “something I said at the beginning because I was the first Western leader to speak.”
Attempts to drag the past into the present were vigorously discouraged. The other leaders observed a decorous silence over mounting evidence that Bush and Britain’s Tony Blair were selective at best, dishonest at worst, in presenting evidence of a war-ready stock of chemical and biological weapons in Iraq. The press corps was less delicate to Blair, and he sweated profusely as he hotly denied getting fancy with the evidence that took Britain to war.
It would be easy to mock the leaders’ diplomacy in stepping around the Iraq rift, but the whole point of diplomacy is that it allows you to get good work done. It is not naive to think the communiqués they signed will lead to a real increase in the safety and prosperity of the world. Sales of portable grenade launchers, of the type that unsuc-
cessfully targeted an Israeli airliner last November, will be monitored and, in the case of sales to anyone except national governments, outlawed. The New Partnership for Africa’s Development, a promise to trade big increases in Western aid for demonstrable improvements to the quality of African governance, came a step closer to implementation.
It was all very brisk. Past is past. Friends are friends. Business is business. Work to do. Turn the page. In a word, it was Jean
EVERY STOP hinted at Bush’s plan to reshape the world into a geometry less threatening to American interests and American lives
Chrétien’s kind of meeting. Twice the Prime Minister marvelled at how the leaders had abandoned their longstanding fondness for tossing their prepared agenda overboard at the first sign of a sexier headline. “In past years, these summits would be hijacked by events,” Chrétien mourned. Not this year. “Discipline” was back, he said.
It’s easy to see why. As long as they stuck to their agenda the leaders could avoid another donnybrook over the legality of the Iraq war. As long as they stayed on ground
their “sherpas,” or hand-picked advance men, had cleared in advance, they could hope for calm and progress.
But that single line about “other measures” in the communiqué on weapons of mass destruction revealed how thin the veneer of co-operation was. The next time the rift opens—the next time Bush zigs when Chirac’s “balanced, multi-polar” friends prefer to zag—it may not be over anything as big as a war in Iran or North Korea. It may simply be over trade or border security or the agenda for next year’s summit.
As the luck of rotational order would have it, the host of that summit, in the hot summer of a U.S. presidential election year, will be George W. Bush. Chirac tiptoed as close as he dared to a suggestion about how the Texan should run things. Chirac opened his own summit by inviting a dozen leaders from developing countries like Brazil and Mexico to an “enlarged dialogue.” Blair has promised to do the same when his turn comes in 2005. And Bush? Chirac claimed “an intuition” that the American might do the same.
Bush declined to take the hint. He offered no indication about whether he will invite seven or 10 or 30 leaders next year, or whether it will just be him and Tony back at the ranch. “One thing’s for sure—it will be his agenda,” said Raymond Chrétien, who is Canada’s ambassador in Paris and used to be our representative in Washington. “The G8 is not the same for the G7 as it is for the G1,” Chrétien continued, with a rueful smirk. “And they’re the Cl.” lifl
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