Diplomatic relations with Squamish?

I found it difficult to get excited about the G8 foreign ministers meeting in Whistler this week. It must have been important; why else would the world’s media, including five Japanese television networks and the infamous Al Jazeera, descend on Whistler? And why else would bus loads of protesters come to demonstrate in front of the Chateau?

Or maybe that was just one bus load.

But aside from consuming massive amounts of fuel to keep a helicopter perpetually hovering over the conference (and driving some people crazy with the sound of helicopter rotors echoing off the mountains), what could the men and women representing the eight most powerful countries in the world accomplish in less than two days together? What are the foreign affairs issues facing the Western world in 2002?

The short answer, available even before the meeting started, is terrorism and security. Secretary of State Colin Powell was in Whistler to maintain and build support for the U.S. War on Terrorism. Unfortunately the concept is so ambiguous that there isn’t even agreement between Powell and U.S. President George Bush on one of the key steps to winning the war. Powell, according to reports, believes a homeland for Palestinians is the key to stability in the Middle East. Bush thinks the answer is to take out Saddam Hussain in Iraq.

And what do most of us know about foreign affairs? Some of the top foreign affairs stories on television and in newspapers this week included Paul McCartney’s wedding, Afghanistan’s struggle with democracy as a leader is selected, another suicide bombing in Israel, the World Cup of soccer, the capture of Al Qaeda fighters in Morocco, flooding in China, tensions between India and Pakistan and more resignations by Catholic bishops over sex scandals.

One of the few foreign affairs stories with any context this week was a provocative piece in the Globe and Mail asking if former secretary of state Henry Kissinger was a war criminal for his involvement in the 1973 coup in Chile (an earlier Sept. 11 disaster) and the "killing, injury and displacement" of 3 million people during the Vietnam war.

The problem is foreign affairs stories are too complex and too far away for most media and most news consumers to care about. The simple stories and the dramatic stories are the ones most often told.

Later this month, when the G8 leaders get together in Kananaskis, Prime Minister Jean Chretien will announce several measures to try and raise living standards in Africa, part of the New Economic Plan for African Development. It’s starting to sound like NEPAD was Chretien’s idea, when in fact it is a multi-level plan developed by African leaders over the last several years to address the retarded economic development of the continent. It involves, among many other things, opening up African economies to Western companies, and opening up Western economies to Third World goods. That in itself is a complex issue. Unfortunately the story that comes out of the Kananskis summit will probably be along the lines of "New aid for Africa; protesters arrested."

The story out of Whistler this week was the War on Terrorism, security precautions for the conference and the handful of protesters.

The news in Whistler is about taxes and nightly rental of single family houses – an issue some think is so great the Supreme Court of Canada should rule on it.

Some of us are so insular we think foreign affairs are what happens in Squamish.

No, the G8 foreign ministers meeting didn’t really satisfy anyone. We were led to believe it was an important meeting, and it probably was. But most of us really don’t understand foreign affairs.


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