walter russell mead peter berger lilia shevtsova adam garfinkle andrew a. michta
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G-8 Leaders Agree: More Rosy Platitudes, Empty Statements Needed

Participants in the most famous of the world’s useless gabfests — the G-8 summit at which such global potentates as the prime ministers of Canada and Italy gather to pretend to make decisions and have their pictures taken with their colleagues — agreed on the need to issue anodyne statements that make them all look good.

Since most of the leaders have at least some functioning brain cells left, it was not hard to reach consensus that words like “growth” and “jobs” needed to feature in the communique. However, in case anyone anywhere might mistake the statement for something of substance, they also noted that each country had its own special circumstances and needed to follow its own course.

The legacy press, which covers empty non-events like this with great relish, strained and gasped to find some drama in the event. Would the leaders fail to find a statement so bland, so meaningless and yet somehow cheery and optimistic sounding that their deliberations would be difficult? Would any leaders have a few too many cocktails and let a little bit of candor slip into the flow of banal talk?

As usual, the answer to these questions appears to be no. President Obama spoke of an ‘emerging consensus'; translated out of dipspeak that means that no consensus emerged. Yet again, absolutely nothing happened at a G-8 summit; yet again, millions of dollars, rubles, euros and yen were spent on a spectacle whose major purpose to to provide flattering photo ops for incumbent politicians; yet again, the summit ended without changing a single thing in the wider world.

For the New York Times, the desire to make President Obama look good and the journalistic need to whomp up some drama led to a story line about “pressure” being put on Germany’s Angela Merkel to shift to a more accommodative, ‘pro-growth’ path. No doubt she is under pressure, but did peer pressure or anything else at the G-8 change her mind? The Times story tries hard to make it look as if something was going on, but close reading of the story shows no movement in Merkel’s position from her first meeting with Hollande and the final communique simply repeats the usual bilge. Judging from the quotes in the piece, the best headline would have been “Merkel Rejects Obama Plea for Change in German Policy”, but the misleading and vacuous “World Leaders Urge Growth, Not Austerity” struck the Times as a happier way to go. (The biggest piece of drama in the story, President Putin’s decision to stay home, sending only his number two prime minister Medvedev, was largely passed over.)

Those who follow the press babble about the endless round of summits may recall that just a couple of years ago the G-8 was widely dismissed as a fossil and a relic. The new, souped up G-20 was the Forum of the Future. It Was Going To Change Everything. It has changed virtually nothing and the G-20 has turned out to be an even emptier photo-op than the G-8. For a while, G-8 meetings were being downplayed to give the new forum some air time; now, largely one suspects because of American politics, both the administration and the press are dusting the old G-8 forum off and trying to act as if this event is some kind of milestone in world affairs.

The most useful feature of these conferences is that they give heads of government a chance to get to know one another on a personal basis. There are times when it helps to have a relationship with the person you are calling on the phone. Watching how these politicians interact with one another can help diplomats and politicians figure out who is comfortable with who, and provides, for example, insight into the dynamics between Germany and France now that the new French president has joined the Club of 8.

By and large these are the meetings that the press doesn’t see and doesn’t cover, but it is in the bilaterals and small groups that anything of note takes place. It is because of these meetings that Via Meadia doesn’t support the abolition of these gabfests. And it matters a great deal to the Canadians, the Italians, the French and a few others that they are members of this club. This is a relatively cheap way to stroke allies, and stroking allies is one of those things that major powers need to do.

Still, for the person trying to follow world news in an intelligent way, these sessions and their communiques are a distraction and a snare. Via Meadia recommends that you pay as little attention as possible to this kind of event, and save your time and attention for the real news.

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  • http://thepencilofnature.net Lorenz Gude

    The legacy press, which covers empty non-events like this with great relish, strained and gasped to find some drama in the event.”

    That;s about the size of it. The legacy press can be counted on to report in great detail about the Emperor’s new clothes. After all, that’s what got them in to the position of being keepers of ‘the narrative’. Reading and believing the Legacy Media is a form of mental disability in the present environment where there are much better sources like Via Meadia available.

  • Kenny

    If the truth be told, the “Rosy Platitudes and Empty Statements” serve a definite purpose.

    They essentially allow the game of kick the can down the road to go on, and each day that it does, this in turn allows the parasitical class of elites to continue to enjoy its perks and astronomical compensation packages.

    It also gives these elites more time to just their own personal finances to avoid, if not profit outright, the consequences of the coming collapse that their mis-management and pipe dreams brought on.

  • http://nationaldebtprimerplan.blogspot.com/ GC

    These summits are nothing more than a co-conspiracy between the politicians and the media. The pols get photos and airtime and the media get a story which, as you point out, is a non-story. Yet year-in and year-out this nonsense rolls on.

  • http://facingzionwards.blogspot.com/ Luke Lea

    @ – “the legacy press”

    Nice phrase. Like legacy admits to elite universities.

  • http://facingzionwards.blogspot.com/ Luke Lea

    @ “dipspeak” — another great neologism. Worthy of Orwell.

  • http://facingzionwards.blogspot.com/ Luke Lea

    With the exception of Russia, the G-8 looks to be composed of the chief representatives of what used to be called Western civilization. You know, the one based on science, capitalism, and democracy. With Japan in It needs a new name, one less geo-centric. How about “the civilized world?”

  • Kansas Scott

    The nature of this post seems a little too snarky and a little to undecided as to what it’s point is.

    There are nine paragraphs. The first six are spent belittling the gatherings but then the next two point out reasons that the gatherings are still of some value and then we finish with the final paragraph telling us to ignore the whole thing.

    I love most of this blog’s writings but maybe in this case the writer could spend less time being clever about how many “functioning brain cells” our elected leaders have and spend a little more time on determining an agreed upon point.

  • cali

    The ‘emperor’ is still naked; his naked audicity to ask them for assistance in his re-election hopefully fell flat as well.

    As Reuters reported, the emperor even had the gall to make these leaders as uncomfortable as possible, hitting them up for his re-election campaign.

    How much more vain can he get?

  • jay

    “Merkel Rejects Obama Plea for Change in German Policy”

    “How’ve you been?” Mr. Obama asked Ms. Merkel.

    She shrugged and pursed her lips.

    “Well, you have a few things on your mind,” Mr. Obama said consolingly.

    More accurate headline “Merkel respectfully tells Obama to [profanity removed]”

  • j lindsey

    Great post, Walter. It is gratifying to hear that the G-8 has endorsed Apple Pie (aka Growth.) But how to actually achieve it is not the strength of the legacy press. Possibly what motivates those pundits is the same instinct that expects big government and elite opinion to solve the big problems that they themselves are so reluctant to admit complicity to.

  • SamC

    Orwellian-speak: ” ‘pro-growth’ path” AKA Tax & Spend AKA stimulus.

  • Rob in Mass

    The most significant aspect of this article was that it floated an emerging framing device for Euro-socialists, the Democratic Party and their media enablers: the idea of a choice between “growth” and “austerity”. In this framing, the Dems/French Socialists represent growth and the Republicans/Germans represent austerity. Nevermind that growth in this telling can only come from more government spending and austerity means spending 50% more than four years ago versus 70% more. I heard this frame echoed on NPR this morning and expect to hear it a lot more going forward. The idea that real growth comes from the private sector has been quietly excised from the discussion when it is framed this way. And,austerity simply means spending less than the most ardent socialists have most recently requested.

  • Snorri Godhi

    “World Leaders Urge Growth, Not Austerity”

    The NYT is not alone in framing the narrative as though austerity is an alternative to growth: the BBC does it too, and at taxpayers’ expense. (At least, judging by BBC headlines: I don’t waste time reading articles with fatuous headlines.)

    Meanwhile, in the real world, countries and American States that embraced austerity report the strongest growth — though that growth might have more to do with deregulation than with austerity per se.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Kansas Scott: you are missing the point. What our distinguished host is saying is that these meetings are useful, but at the same time reading reports about them is at best useless.
    There is no contradiction between the 2 claims, as long as you accept the reality that important events can take place without your knowing or even being able to know about them.

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