David Rothkopf

From a wish list to a bucket list: a mixed grade and a semi-eulogy for the G8

During the first part of their meetings, it looked like G8 leaders gathering in Italy had taken a page out of the books of small children everywhere, elevating the wish list to new diplomatic prominence.  Unable to fulfill the hopes of their constituents to actually do anything meaningful about the global economy, nuclear proliferation or ...

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During the first part of their meetings, it looked like G8 leaders gathering in Italy had taken a page out of the books of small children everywhere, elevating the wish list to new diplomatic prominence. 

Unable to fulfill the hopes of their constituents to actually do anything meaningful about the global economy, nuclear proliferation or the rapid onset of climate change, the officials meeting in L'Aquila instead produced a barrage of strongly worded aspirations. To whom they, the most powerful men and women in the world, were appealing is open to speculation although there were rumors of naked dancing in the moonlight and animal sacrifices. (Italian insiders however, urged that not too much be read into these rumors as they typically accompany any party thrown by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi...a man who combines the best of many of his famous countrymen, the low-key restraint of Roberto Benigni, the touching spirituality of Pope Alexander VI, and the values of the Roman Emperor Caligula -- as portrayed by Malcolm McDowell in the Bob Guccione classic of the same name.)

During the first part of their meetings, it looked like G8 leaders gathering in Italy had taken a page out of the books of small children everywhere, elevating the wish list to new diplomatic prominence. 

Unable to fulfill the hopes of their constituents to actually do anything meaningful about the global economy, nuclear proliferation or the rapid onset of climate change, the officials meeting in L’Aquila instead produced a barrage of strongly worded aspirations. To whom they, the most powerful men and women in the world, were appealing is open to speculation although there were rumors of naked dancing in the moonlight and animal sacrifices. (Italian insiders however, urged that not too much be read into these rumors as they typically accompany any party thrown by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi…a man who combines the best of many of his famous countrymen, the low-key restraint of Roberto Benigni, the touching spirituality of Pope Alexander VI, and the values of the Roman Emperor Caligula — as portrayed by Malcolm McDowell in the Bob Guccione classic of the same name.)

Among the wishes expressed by G8 leaders for us during the first day or two of the meetings were: a more peaceful, prosperous, temperate planet (also rainbows, unicorns, and butterflies). And yet no specifics as to how to achieve these goals were agreed upon. However, in lieu of the next summit, there is talk of simply buying the world a Hallmark card instead.

Given the likely future for the G8, however, as it has been unable to cast aside certain members who make it look hopelessly outdated (that would be you, Italy) and replace them with other, actually important countries, some critics suggest that in lieu of a wish list what the G8 might be better focusing on is a bucket list — a list of things the G8 should do before it dies. Paradoxically, of course, the apparent agreement among the members of the G8 that something new and more representative of the way the planet works is in fact one of the two signs of real progress that the meeting produced.

It was confirmed by President Obama who, during his almost 40 minute post-G8 press conference, signaled that he has learned important lessons from his early summit experiences. As quoted by Agence France Presse, he said:

I think we’re in a transition period. We’re trying to find the right shape that combines the efficiency and capacity for action with inclusiveness.

“And my expectation is that over the next several years you’ll see an evolution and we’ll be able to find the right combination. The one thing I will be looking forward to is fewer summit meetings.”

For those of us who have been calling for a new more inclusive “steering committee” for the community of nations, the search for a better country mix is good news. For those of us who like to see the President of the United States making better use of his time, the hope for fewer summits also is. (And despite the almost reflexive impulse some have to withhold credit from the prior administration…which seems churlish given how little credit they actually have any reasonable claim on…it is worth noting that Obama’s focus on finding a successor to the G8 carries forward a process that really began in earnest when, last November, President Bush’s team sought a G20 meeting to deal with the global financial crisis rather than a G8 meeting.)

In addition to this progress on an important point of process, the G8 leaders did make a hard commitment of $20 billion in farm and food aid for the world’s poorest nations, another real accomplishment. We can always do more in this area…and should…I still feel that it is within the power of the leading nations to focus on and eliminate the daily deaths of 40,000 or so children from preventable causes like lack of access to clean water, adequate food, or medicine. It almost certainly would cost less than the stimulus money that will end up being wasted worldwide (which is not to say that all stimulus money is wasted…quite the contrary…rather it is to say we could make a big dent in the problem with just the spillage.)

So after a G8 meeting that gets a mixed grade and a semi-eulogy, Obama is off to Ghana…an excellent choice for his first visit to Africa as president. This will undoubtedly be a highlight of his trip and is certainly one place where who he is and how he is different from his predecessors will not only play well but will meaningfully advance the interests of the United States in the region.

VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images

David Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017. Twitter: @djrothkopf

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