The G-8 and G-20 economic summit meetings about to be inflicted on the unenthused population of Toronto are illustrative of the absurdity of much of the world’s political leadership. A catalogue of all that is amiss in the world in policy terms is hardly necessary. These leaders constantly meet with each other, yet their itinerant economic summits seem not to have turned up the slightest prior apprehension of the current economic crisis, nor many useful ideas about how to mitigate it.
For years they subscribed ever more fervently to the most hair-raising global-warming scenarios, terrorizing the whole world with the specter of Old Testament floods and droughts. It all led to the grand coruscation of the Copenhagen Conference last December, by which time the scientific basis of the concerns had been seriously undermined. What ensued in the Danish capital was a surrealistic farce such as had not been witnessed since Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds more than 70 years ago.
Almost all the leaders of the world gathered. Among them was President Obama, heir to Woodrow Wilson at Versailles (1919) and Franklin D. Roosevelt at Tehran (1943), redrawing the maps of continents; to President Truman at Potsdam (1945), disclosing atomic developments to Stalin (who already knew of them through his espionage network); to President Eisenhower at Geneva (1955), proposing “Open Skies” to Khrushchev; to President Nixon in Moscow (1972), concluding and signing with Brezhnev the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty; and to President Reagan, back in Geneva (1985) to deescalate the Cold War with Mikhail Gorbachev. Those were real summit meetings, carefully prepared, discussing matters of such moment that only national leaders could agree on them.
At Copenhagen, it will be remembered, President Obama, with a perfect poker face, earnestly urged the developed world to commit to a $100 billion annual fund to pay conscience money to underdeveloped countries for the ecological damage industrialization has supposedly done to their environments. With an equally indomitably stony countenance, the Chinese ridiculed the connection between carbon emissions and global warming, in their capacity as the world’s greatest carbon emitter; and, at the same time, took the leadership of the underdeveloped world, inevitably the G-77, in demanding compensation from the advanced countries for the damage done by the carbon emissions of others. It was a boffo performance.
Robert Mugabe, who has reduced Zimbabwe’s standard of living by 99 percent while tyrannizing the whole country, dismissed human rights as “rubbish” compared to the West’s spoliation of the environment. The accused genocidist president of Sudan (a million deceased victims) dismissed Europe’s offer of $11 billion as “peanuts.” Outside the conference center, thousands of people demonstrated costumed as animals — bears, giant bunny rabbits, turtles, even elephants — or as trees; many carried belligerent placards in their paws, hooves, or branches. It was one of history’s highest expressions of theater of the absurd; Jean Genet would have rhapsodized.
And the absurdity is of a piece with the general state of the world’s leadership. The president of the United States, after 17 months in office, has given no clue of how he intends to avoid a decade of trillion-dollar annual money-supply increases. He still gives lip service to a green fantasy of windmills and solar panels, and in his address to the country about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and environmental policy generally, he limned an Arcadian paradise that no sane person could take seriously.
Japan changed governments and governing parties last year with almost as much excitement as the U.S., and the new leader has now gone, after converting a 79–19 percent approval rating into an 80–18 percent disapproval rating in eight months. The prime minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi, though entertaining, is unserious and disreputable; the president of France is widely known to his countrymen as a “water-bug” because of his rather feckless hyperactivity, though he is helped by his astonishingly beautiful wife, whose sophomoric pronunciamentos are received with uncharacteristic courtesy by the French. German chancellor Angela Merkel is sensible, but has been inexplicably torpid since her reelection. In the Kremlin, there is always a thug, or a naïf about to be replaced by a thug; we are in the thug part of the cycle with Putin (despite George W. Bush’s searching look into the man’s eyes, which revealed the Russian leader to be a public-spirited fellow Christian).