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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Summits Are No Longer Historic Events

For 16 years, carting the leaders of the world's leading industrial nations off to largely ceremonial meetings in some city where the food's good has seemed like a harmless if expensive undertaking.

Before a troubled and dismembered Russia was given a seat, these meetings at least enabled the West to present a common face to communism. But the recent meeting in Genoa raises questions about whether it is worth the life of a single demonstrator or the nerves of the Italian policeman who felt driven to shoot him to protect the politically anointed of the Earth from hordes of people who would harm them.

The siege of Genoa evoked demonstrations of power not witnessed since the 16th century, when the gr eat admiral-statesman Andrea Doria dominated the city and much of the Mediterranean with less obvious or savage force. A city famous for its pungent salami did its best under trying circumstances. The mayor urged citizens not to hang their underwear out to dry.

President George W. Bush may have hit the nail on the head when he explained why this meeting wasn't a waste of time. It was, he said, because "I think people will find out that I'm plenty capable of conducting the foreign policy of the United States in a way that reflects positively on my nation.'' I'm not sure what he meant, but if it was that foreign leaders would be reassured to see that he didn't come in cowboy boots or slurp his soup, performed flawlessly at tedious photo opportunities, and listened respectfully to a lecture by the pope, then he behaved impeccably.

When he hung on every word of the papal edict about the ungodliness of stem-cell research, you could almost see him make a mental note to himself to run home and call out the National Guard to enforce an immediate ban on embryonic experimentation.

Anyway, if Bush covered himself with glory by behaving at this summit, it still begs the question of why we go to the trouble of having them. To begin with, the United States and Japan have economies that together are about twice as large as the combined economies of the G-8's six junior partners -- Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Russia and Canada. In this sense, these lesser powers merely come along for the food and wine and to bask in the might of their betters.

And, while no one was looking, the gross domestic product of Brazil overtook Canada's -- making it the world's eighth-ranked economic power and at least theoretically entitled to a seat at Genoa, where not a single Hispanic nation was even invited. China was no where to be seen, yet its GDP outranks Canada's and Brazil's and is charging on the heels of Italy's. Russia, whose GDP now ranks it 16th among nations of the Earth, was very much visible at Genoa despite an economy that is now smaller than that of the Netherlands or India and about a third the size of the invisible China.



These summits have become like the British monarchy. They still glitter with pretense, even inspire huge respect and immense expense to protect them, but they have lost the pretense that they affect history.

***Robert Reno is a columnist for Newsday, where this comment originally appeared.