'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Whither Bono? 

July 2005. Gleneagles. It seems so long ago now:

Rockers Bob Geldof and Bono, two of the world's best known Africa fund-raisers, declared victory Friday in their campaign to push leaders at the G-8 summit to double aid to the continent.

We've pulled this off, said U2 frontman Bono.

He and Geldof praised the Group of Eight summit for pledging to double aid to Africa to $50 billion, saying the move will save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who would have died of poverty, malaria or AIDS.

The world spoke and the politicians listened, Bono said.

In pursuit of this humanitarian agenda, Bono practiced an amnesiac anti-politics of embracing the most ignoble right wing religious and political figures:

On 3 April 2005, Bono paid a personal tribute to John Paul II and called him a street fighter and a wily campaigner on behalf of the world's poor. We would never have gotten the debts of 23 countries completely canceled without him. Bono spoke in advance of President Bush at the 54th Annual National Prayer Breakfast, held at the Hilton Washington Hotel on 2 February 2006. In a speech containing biblical references, Bono encouraged the care of the socially and economically depressed. His comments included a call for an extra one percent tithe of the United States' national budget. He brought his Christian views into harmony with other faiths by noting that Christian, Jewish, and Muslim writings all call for the care of the widow, orphan, and stranger. President Bush received praise from the singer-activist for the United States' increase in aid for the African continent. Bono continued by saying much work is left to be done to be a part of God's ongoing purposes.

Arguably, this was a marginal improvement of Bono's effusive praise for Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in 2004, when he compared them to Lennon and McCartney (the Beatles being more popular than Jesus). He justified his refusal to criticize Bush for the invasion and occupation of Iraq by saying: I work for them. If me not shooting my mouth off about the war in Iraq is the price I pay, then I’m prepared to pay it.

But there has always been Gleneagles and the pledge of the 50 billion with which to bludgeon critics . . . well, not anymore:

The world's richest nations were working on plans to reduce maternal deaths in developing countries as they sought to minimise their embarrassment over breaking aid pledges made at the Gleneagles summit five years ago.

Canada, the host nation at this year's summit, was pushing hard for an agreement that would focus assistance on preventing deaths of mothers and newborn infants, but without any commitment that the proposal would involve new money from cash-strapped western governments.

The initiative came amid signs that the summit communiqué from the G8 would omit all mention of the promises made at Gleneagles in July 2005, which involved a $50bn (£33.4bn) increase in aid by 2010, of which $25bn would go to Africa.

Until this year strong pressure from both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown at the summits that followed Gleneagles prevented countries that were failing to meet their commitments from removing any mention of the 2005 promises. David Cameron arrived in Toronto insisting that the G8 should be more than a talking shop and needed to make good on its promises, but as the final touches were being put to the communique, there was no reference to Gleneagles.

Perhaps, Bono might not have been such a useful idiot for capitalists and imperialists if he had spent just a little time talking to Naomi Klein instead of people like Larry Summers and Paul O'Neill:

AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Klein, in your piece in The Globe and Mail, you talk about the history of G20, how it was formed.

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, you know, the G20 is a little bit of a mysterious institution. Amy, you and I were both at an event in Toronto on Friday night, both speaking at an event organized by the Council of Canadians. It was a terrific event. And Vandana Shiva was one of the other speakers, and she had a great line. She said, Ah, the G20, so young and yet so old, referring to the fact that the ideas of the G20 are so old, so predictable. But it is a young institution. It was conceived in 1999 as a summit of finance ministers. It only became a sort of an extension of the G8 as a leaders’ summit in the past two years, and that we saw in London, and we saw it in Pittsburgh, and we have now seen it in Toronto. So this incarnation of the G20 as a leaders’ summit is very young indeed.

But yeah, ten years ago, Paul Martin, who was then Canada’s finance minister, later Canada’s prime minister, was at a meeting with Larry Summers. This is 1999, so Summers at that time was Bill Clinton’s nominee for Treasury secretary. And the two men were discussing this idea to expand the G7 into a larger grouping to respond to the fact that developing country economies like China and India were growing very quickly, and they wanted to include them into this club, and they were under pressure to do so. So, what Martin and Summers did—and this history we only learned last week. This really wasn’t a history that had been told. So this story came out in The Globe and Mail. And it turns out that the two men didn’t have a piece of paper. They wanted to—I don’t know how this would possibly be the case, but their story is that they wanted to make a list of the countries that they would invite into this club, and they couldn’t find a piece of paper, so they found a manilla envelope and wrote on the back of the manilla envelope a list of countries. And by Paul Martin’s admission, those countries were not simply the twenty top economies of the world, the biggest GDPs. They were also the countries that were most strategic to the United States. So Larry Summers would make a decision that obviously Iran wouldn’t be in, but Saudi Arabia would be. And so, Saudi Arabia is in. Thailand, it made sense to include Thailand, because it had actually been the Thai economy, which, two years earlier, had set off the Asian economic crisis, but Thailand wasn’t as important to the US strategically as Indonesia, so Indonesia was in and not Thailand. So what you see from this story is that the creation of the G20 was an absolutely top-down decision, two powerful men deciding together to do this, making, you know, an invitation-only list.

And what you really see is that this is an attempt to get around the United Nations, where every country in the world has a vote, and to create this expanded G7 or G8, where they invite some developing countries, but not so many that they can overpower or outvote the Western—the traditional Western powers. So, as this happened, we have also seen a weakening and an undermining of the United Nations. And I think that that’s the context in which the G20 needs to be understood. And that’s why a lot of the activists in Toronto this week were arguing that the G20 is an illegitimate institution and the price tag is—that we, as Canadian taxpayers, have had to take on for hosting this summit, you know, $1.2 billion, is particularly unacceptable, given that we have the United Nations, where these countries can meet in a much more democratic, much more legitimate forum, as opposed to this ad hoc invitation-only club from the back of an envelope in Larry Summers’s office.

The countries of the G-8, as well as the more recent lesser developed invitees for the larger G-20, were all too willing to allow Bono to come along for the ride, until they decided that they weren't getting anything out of it anymore, at which point they unceremoniously kicked him to the curb. If he hadn't trumpeted his illusory achievements quite so loudly, I'd feel more sympathy for him.

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