Davos Diary, Day 4: Fatigue can’t stop this blogger

FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images It’s well past midnight in the Bidwell-Azarm apartment in Klosters as I sit down to review another long day at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Last night, I got to bed at 2:45 a.m. after giving you all a blow-by-blow(hard) account of all the panels I went to. Since I woke ...

596890_karzai_210.jpg
596890_karzai_210.jpg

FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

It's well past midnight in the Bidwell-Azarm apartment in Klosters as I sit down to review another long day at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Last night, I got to bed at 2:45 a.m. after giving you all a blow-by-blow(hard) account of all the panels I went to. Since I woke up three hours later and have staggered through the day, I'm going to be a lot more telegraphic about Thursday. In fact, I'm going to summarize the day in a different style altogether, just for a change. (If there are enough protests, I'll return to prose reporting on Friday). Herewith, my day in 10 easy points:

1. Misfires:

FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

It’s well past midnight in the Bidwell-Azarm apartment in Klosters as I sit down to review another long day at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Last night, I got to bed at 2:45 a.m. after giving you all a blow-by-blow(hard) account of all the panels I went to. Since I woke up three hours later and have staggered through the day, I’m going to be a lot more telegraphic about Thursday. In fact, I’m going to summarize the day in a different style altogether, just for a change. (If there are enough protests, I’ll return to prose reporting on Friday). Herewith, my day in 10 easy points:

1. Misfires:

  • Didn’t register in time for the Tom Friedman-Al Gore double bill on climate change, which was sold out within minutes of being available for sign-up.
  • Arrived at a scheduled lunch panel featuring George Soros and Walter Isaacson on philanthropy after a 15-minute journey and discovered they’d moved the venue to another hotel and neglected to inform the attendees. Unexpected bonus: Joined a lunch discussion on the water crisis around the world instead. Cloud attached to silver lining: Had to pay 90 Swiss francs, almost $75 now, for my salad.

2. Morning panel highlights: Fascinating discussion on peace and stability featuring four beleaguered Muslim leaders: President Karzai of Afghanistan, President Musharraf of Pakistan, “Chief Adviser” (de facto Prime Minister) of Bangladesh Fakhruddin Ahmed, and Deputy Prime Minister Bahram Salih of Iraq. All inveighed against terrorism and extremism, defended the ways in which their countries were run and sought the world’s help in promoting economic growth and political stability in their lands. Musharraf proved the ablest at swatting back tough questions; Karzai at ducking them. Asked (by me) what exactly he meant when he said that in his region extremism had been a “tool of policy,” and whether this related to his previously expressed view that terrorism was being exported his way from across his border with Pakistan, Karzai replied, “Mr. Tharoor, I have just had a good visit with President Musharraf. I’m not going to say any more.”

3. Panel disappointments: A bland performance by Musharraf in a hugely attended double-bill with Henry Kissinger, who was supposed to ask him three questions but tossed him two softballs instead. Musharraf repeated the points he’d just made at the previous panel.

4. Afternoon panel highlights: A first-rate discussion on the perils of Internet terrorism, featuring such heavy hitters as U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Britain’s Leader of the Opposition David Cameron, head of Human Rights Watch Kenneth Roth, and feisty Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid. Lots of pithy insight about the use of cyberspace to recruit terrorists and to wage war, plus a side argument about the definition of terrorism and whether Israel was shooting itself in the foot by denouncing even attacks on its soldiers, not just civilians, as terrorist attacks.

5. Afternoon panel disappointments: A wasted hour-long Middle East panel chaired by Tony Blair and oddly featuring three Israelis (President Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Livni and Defense Minister Barak) and only one Palestinian (Prime Minister Salam Fayyad). Not one person from this impressive galaxy said a single thing we hadn’t heard before, and the audience wasn’t allowed to ask questions.

6. Dinner panel: I found myself speaking on whether “globalization = cultural homogenization,” along with the likes of Québec Premier Jean Charest, London Mayor Ken Livingstone, genius cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the CEO of Burger King. We all agreed that it doesn’t, but had fun coming up with ideas and anecdotes about cultural diversity.

7. Uneven discussions: First, the water panel, an interesting but complicated topic that had been discussed earlier in the Forum and which left me feeling I’d walked in halfway through a suspense movie and couldn’t quite figure out the plot. Second, a discussion on “Brand America” with impressive panelists (starting with Rupert Murdoch) and chaired by FP‘s own Moisés Naím, which nonetheless went all over the place—including a bizarre attack on the United Nations by Murdoch, supported by a Bahraini royal—rather than focusing on its declared purpose of devising recommendations to the next U.S. President on how to improve America’s global image.

8. Memorable informal encounters: An animated conversation on the margins with the top leaders of Bangladesh’s interim government, and another at the Tata reception with two of India’s more impressive cabinet ministers. Also a chat with Bombay society maven Parmeshwar Godrej, currently under pressure from Muslim fundamentalists to apologize for having hosted Salman Rushdie at her home, who is refusing to buckle under despite threats of a boycott of her company’s products.

9. One-liners of the day:

  • “I don’t agree with the notion of Brand America. A country is not a brand and cannot be sold.” – French ad tycoon Maurice Lévy
  • “Foreign Minister Livni has just told me her parents were arrested by the British. Being prime minister of Britain means having to go around the world apologizing to everybody.” – Tony Blair, looking remarkably unapologetic
  • “As a business journalist, I feel like I’ve gone hunting with Dick Cheney and some sidekick has just released all the pheasants in front of me so I can’t miss them.” – reporter marveling at the availability of quoteworthy CEOs in every hallway

10. Change of plan: Thanks to the lateness of the hour and President Musharraf’s repeating himself in the two sessions I’ve heard him on already, I’ll skip a breakfast with him organized by a Pakistani businessman Friday morning. Midway through the Forum, and particularly at the end of a Davos day featuring six panels, three breakfasts, two lunches, four receptions, and a blog diary to maintain, my borrowed bed looks a lot more inviting than a 7 a.m. bus from Klosters. Good night…

Shashi Tharoor is the author of nine books, including India: From Midnight to the Millennium (New York: Arcade, 1997) and, most recently, Bookless in Baghdad: Reflections on Literature, Writing, and Writers (New York: Arcade, 2005).

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