Diplos, dignitaries and Elvis Costello honor George Soros
New York’s diplomatic luminaries gathered Tuesday night at the Pierre Hotel to honor billionaire investor and philanthropist, George Soros, take in a few songs by Elvis Costello, and assess the WikiLeaks accounts of their own privileged discussions with American diplomats. The black-tie event, hosted by the conflict resolution organization the International Crisis Group, included appearances ...
New York's diplomatic luminaries gathered Tuesday night at the Pierre Hotel to honor billionaire investor and philanthropist, George Soros, take in a few songs by Elvis Costello, and assess the WikiLeaks accounts of their own privileged discussions with American diplomats.
New York’s diplomatic luminaries gathered Tuesday night at the Pierre Hotel to honor billionaire investor and philanthropist, George Soros, take in a few songs by Elvis Costello, and assess the WikiLeaks accounts of their own privileged discussions with American diplomats.
The black-tie event, hosted by the conflict resolution organization the International Crisis Group, included appearances by Louise Arbour, the Canadian former U.N. human rights chief who now heads the organization; Time Magazine columnist and author Fareed Zakaria, who served as the evening’s master of ceremonies; Chris Patten, Britain’s last governor of Hong Kong; former U.S. President Bill Clinton; a top former U.N. and British official Mark Malloch-Brown, and former über-diplomat Thomas Pickering.
Patten, the former foreign policy chief for the European Commission, told Turtle Bay he was reassured by what he read in WikiLeaks, saying that diplomatic cables showed the American diplomatic corps to be keen and seasoned observers of foreign affairs. The portrait, he said, was not that of a great power in decline, but one engaged in a practical effort to help manage the affairs of a complex world. The U.S. account of his own secret talks with American diplomats was right on the mark, particularly his view that the European Union will never become a "real power."
Soros was less confident in the maturity of the American system. Interviewed before the audience by Zakaria, Soros provided a deeply gloomy assessment, saying he feared America was heading towards a "dictatorial democracy". He took a swipe at Fox News, saying it had helped the "lunatic fringe" — including Glenn Beck and the Tea Party — move to the center of the country’s national political discourse. The Republican right’s "propagandistic" methods recalled his childhood in Nazi occupied Hungary, he said.
Soros compared the slogans of Republican pollster Frank Luntz — who is credited with coining the phrase "death tax" — with that of the classic George Orwell novel 1984. "If people want to be deceived they can be deceived," he said. "There is only one possible protection against it: it is for people to become aware that institutions that have worked for two hundred years may not be working anymore." Soros said he realizes his views may seem "far out," but "I think I’m on pretty solid ground."
But the night was not a total downer. Zakaria opened the evening with musings about the literary vitality of America’s diplomatic corps, noting that the now classic cable, entitled "Caucusas Wedding," signed by then U.S. ambassador to Moscow, William Burns, evoked the writings of British novelist Evelyn Waugh. There were more laughs when other speakers, including Arbour, mangled the pronunciation of Zakaria’s name. (It sounded distinctly like Soros called him Fred).
Paul Tudor Jones II, a billionaire hedge fund investor and founder of the Robin Hood Foundation, which contributes to New York City’s public schools, joked that it was a good thing that Soros had helped to found the crisis group with a $2 million donation in the 1990s because his currency bets had been responsible for causing many of the conflicts they are seeking to resolve.
But most of the evening was an opportunity for Soros’ friends to lionize the aging investor and philanthropist who, as Jones noted, had given $50 million to the Robin Hood Foundation at the deepest moment of the Great Recession. Zlata Filipovic, known as the Anne Frank of Sarajevo because of her riveting diary she wrote as an 11 year old girl in the midst of the Bosnian war, thanked Soros for financing the schooling of war-affected Bosnian youths. Much of the U.N.’s diplomatic corps, including the ambassadors of France, Gerard Araud, and Britain, Mark Lyall Grant, and Lichtenstein’s Christian Wenaweser, also turned out for the event. Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, didn’t make an appearance. But Former U.S. President Bill Clinton showed up. "I’m glad to be just another guy kneeling at the shrine of George Soros," Clinton said.
By the time the star attraction, Elvis Costello, hit the stage, most of the diplomatic crowd was already starting to leave. "You look like a real rock and roll crowd," Costello said as he looked out at the thinning audience, before doing a solo rendition of his war classic, "Shipbuilding," which recounts the tale of British ship-workers preparing to build a new fleet of war ships for a coming battle.
Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
Colum Lynch was a staff writer at Foreign Policy between 2010 and 2022. Twitter: @columlynch
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