No one outside of the White House knows exactly why the President decided to move the G-8 meeting this Friday from Chicago to Camp David. Speculation that security concerns were driving the change in venue is probably off base given that the NATO summit scheduled two days later is continuing in Chicago as planned.
Maybe we should just take the President at his word about the switch: He said in March that none of these leaders had yet visited Camp David—in itself a pretty revealing comment about the lack of importance this Administration has placed on actually cultivating good relations with other countries as opposed to simply talking about cultivating good relations—and that he envisioned a meeting “in which we talk about a wide range of issues in a pretty intimate way.” Digging deep, the President offered Maryland’s good weather as a reason for the change.
In previewing the G-8 meeting, the President highlighted his “chance to spend time with Mr. [Vladimir] Putin, the new Russian President.” However, Putin has decided to stay home, sending Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in his place. As a possible consolation prize, Francois Hollande, the new president of France, will be in attendance.
Behind all the pretty words about intimate discussions of world issues is the sad reality that nothing much will actually happen at the G-8. Leaders will no doubt pressure Hollande to abandon his anti-austerity campaign promises and uphold the new EU fiscal treaty. Beyond that, the agenda is a politically correct foreign policy wonk’s dream.
The G-8 foreign ministers highlighted 23 major issues at their meeting in April, which range from peace in the Middle East and the bad behavior of North Korea to transnational organized crime and the “role of women in international peace and security.” The finance ministers have added their own wide-ranging set of issues relating to recovery, growth, development, jobs, and taxes. But don’t expect significant decisions. By trying to be all things to all countries, the G-8 has devolved into little more than a talk shop where leaders chat about the crisis of the moment and issue communiques about all the “progress” they have achieved since their last meeting.
Maybe President Obama, in moving the event to the hills of Maryland, just thought to spare Chicago all the hot air that’s going to be generated. Maybe he thought to spare his fellow leaders—and himself—the glare of the U.S. media in an exercise where they are unlikely to appear at their best.