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What’s He’s Looking For

Jul
4
2005

The president’s on vacation so maybe that’s it. But is there some reason no one in the Bush administration has said “boo” about the approaching G8 Summit?
British Prime Minster Tony Blair can’t shut up. If it’s not African debt relief – the focus of the conference, courtesy of Bono and Bob Geldof – he’s talking about helping the Chinese and Indians better manage auto emissions. Yes, he’s hosting and yes, it’s an extension of “Cool Britannia” and yeah, this one’s for the history books. But there’s something else going on here. The Brits are winning the political PR war and, to some extent, they’re doing it by imitating the tried and true U.S. approach to solving problems. First, they’ve racheted up the high-minded rhetoric.
All the Bush folks want to talk about is the “last throes” of the Iraqi resistance, a clear piece of wishing aloud as you’re liable to see in public these days. They’ll fill your ears with talk about the administration’s AIDs relief efforts, too. But that’s about it. They’re saving their energy for the war on terror; a semi-permanent state of world affairs that’s not going to be changed anytime soon and which most Europeans – particularly the English and the Irish who haven’t forgotten the IRA – see as a regrettable fact of modern life.


The contrast is all the sharper when it’s up against the eloquence that Bono, the U2 singer, brings to this conversation. Yes, he talks to the administration, the rocker told Charlie Rose last week. And yup, they’re interested. But it was pretty clear when he was talking that the whole point of Live 8 was to apply clear and hard peer pressure to the U.S. policy on Africa. It’s probably not going to work. But it’s very interesting to watch indpendent agents like Bono try.
And he’s smart about it, too. “It’s not misty-eyed Irish nonsense,” Bono told Rose. And he’s very specific when he needs to be. The idea is to “end extreme poverty.” That’s different from “ending poverty.” One might just be possible. The other, well, they are always with us and always will be.
Why is this so fascinating? Well, this is an administration that believes it stands above the rest of the world. That it leads. That it always has led. But that’s clearly not the case in the eyes of those who are familiar – and devoted – to this issue. “I’m calling this a moon shot,” Bono said, evoking that blazing hot summer day when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. “We thought Americans were mad. They are mad. Look what they can do when they put their minds together. It’s insane.”
Like Josh Trevino and Ethan Zuckerman, I hold out little hope that Live8 will actually make a dent in how the world – the white Western world — looks at Africa. We’ll go back to thinking our own thoughts and having our own worries soon enough. But I can’t help but think that a little high minded White House rhetoric would change that. Perhaps for the better.
“Brand USA is in a little bit of trouble in the rest of the world,” said the rocker who has successfully built an international brand out of a couple of guitar riffs and a clear, soaring voice. “This is a chance to put a little bit of the glow back in,”

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