Politics of Poverty

Berlusconi’s looking good

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What are President Obama’s ambitions for the May G8 Summit?

I asked the question whether President Obama could surpass the rather low standard set by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi when Italy hosted the G8 in 2009.

The parallels are eerie. In the wake of an earthquake, Berlusconi, made a grandiose gesture of moving the G8 from Sardinia to the ravaged L’Aquila. It was a symbolic statement that Italy would rebuild L’Aquila, although it was a logistical nightmare.

Yesterday, California had an earthquake as well. But President Obama eschewed the Italian grand gesture. Instead, he retreated, moving the G8 meeting from his home town, Chicago, to his mountain redoubt, Camp David.

Berlusconi eating spaghetti. Ilaria DiBagio/Oxfam-UCODEP
Berlusconi eating spaghetti. Ilaria DiBagio/Oxfam-UCODEP

In fairness, the California earthquake wasn’t so bad, so making a grand symbolic gesture about rebuilding wasn’t really called for. But the symbolism and purpose of Obama’s move to Camp David aren’t yet clear. The White House, in a short explanatory statement, said, “To facilitate a free-flowing discussion with our close G8 partners, the President is inviting his fellow G8 leaders to Camp David on May 18-19 for the G8 Summit, which will address a broad range of economic, political and security issues.”

The Occupy movement declared a sort of victory, tweeting: “#BREAKING: #G8 Summit is retreating from Chicago to Camp David, afraid they might have to listen to the voice of the people. #OWS #winning

The City Mayor Rahm Emanuel (former Obama Chief of Staff) demurely said, “We wish President Obama and the other leaders well at the G8 meeting at Camp David and look forward to hosting the NATO Summit in Chicago.”

For the rest of us, there’s confusion. Oxfam and others had hoped that this G8 summit would be an opportunity for President Obama to launch the next generation of the G8 food security initiative that was launched in 2009. Does moving the G8 summit out of sight and out of reach make this more likely? Is it easier for leaders to make commitments when they’re holed up on a mountain?

I have my doubts. But we haven’t yet seen or heard from President Obama about what his ambitions are for the meeting.

Perhaps his main purpose is to contribute to the slow asphyxiation of the G8. This might, in fact, be a good thing to do. But if that’s the plan, why not say so and just kill it off?

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