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.