The leaders of the world's major industrialized democracies will gather in Gleneagles, Scotland this week. Russian President Vladimir Putin will be there, too.
That Russia does not belong in the G8 should be obvious by now. Put aside the fact that Russia's per capita GDP of $9,800 is about equivalent to Mexico's, and not at all in the same league with the U.S. ($40,100) or the other G8 members: Canada, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, and Japan.
More significantly, Putin has been shifting Russia toward authoritarianism. Today, the Russian press is no longer free. The Russian judiciary is not independent. Industries have been selectively taken over by the state or Putin's cronies. Political opponents have been both persecuted and prosecuted. The best-known example is Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who had been both a tycoon and a political opponent — and who last month was sentenced to nine years in prison.
Two years ago, Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) warned of a "creeping coup" in Russia. Recently he said: "The coup is no longer creeping. It's galloping."
Despite all this, Putin is likely to be welcomed in Scotland — and made the G8's next chairman. At the very least, his G8 colleagues ought to take him aside and explain clearly why his policies diminish the G8, embarrass them, and shame Russia.
President Bush can note that there is growing bipartisan support on Capitol Hill for expelling Russia from the G8. "I have a deep affection for Russia," Rep. Tom Lantos (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Relations Committee, told the Russian newspaper Izvestia last month. "It is possible that I am Russia's best friend in Congress. And friends should be candid. That's why I'm saying openly that Russia is no longer a democratic country."
Unfortunately for Russia, there is little chance that any G8 leader — other than perhaps Bush if he decides to take the high road — will make a serious effort to achieve the realizable goal of Russian liberalization. Instead, the summiteers are likely to focus on two unrealizable goals: eliminating African poverty and "global climate change."
This weekend, concerts "to fight poverty" were held in Philadelphia, London, and eight other cities around the world. You've probably also seen the television commercials featuring former South African leader Nelson Mandela, rock stars/activists Bob Geldof and Bono, and such celebrities as Brad Pitt and Tom Hanks. And on the www.one.org website you can order a white wrist band that will show your friends and neighbors that you are "part of a global effort to make poverty history."
If only it were that simple. In the real world, economic aid can be dedicated to either of two purposes: relief or development. Relief means feeding people who are starving and it's a fairly straightforward exercise. You buy the food and you deliver it to those who need it to survive.
But development — encouraging the growth of vibrant, self-sustaining economies — is a different and more difficult challenge. Insufficient aid is not the primary problem. Indeed, the African nations that have received the most foreign aid in the post-colonial era are in many cases the ones that have fallen furthest into destitution.
Endemic corruption is one reason. The Western "experts" who advised African leaders to adopt a "socialist path to development" did an enormous disservice as well. Those paths proved to be dead ends. The United Nations Development Program has spent billions producing nothing much. Meanwhile, many Asian nations — including Taiwan, which has been shunned by the U.N. and the international donor community — have grown by leaps and bounds.
What Africa really needs are leaders willing to undertake serious reform. That means establishing such democratic institutions as the rule of law, an independent judiciary, and secure property rights. That means encouraging foreign investment and tackling the culture of governmental corruption. Maybe a concert or two could be devoted to those causes.
The second issue likely to be in the spotlight in Scotland is the weather. Expect to see French, British, German, and Canadian pressure on Bush to accept at least some provisions of the rejected Kyoto Protocol to "halt climate change."
But there is no reason the president should be any more receptive than he has been in the past to European proposals that would cost Americans their jobs, weaken the U.S. economy, and guarantee little or no beneficial impact on the world's climate — which may or may not be changing for the worse.
With this as backdrop, the summit in Scotland is unlikely to be pleasant for Bush. For French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, by contrast, it looks like a win-win. If they get Bush to make concessions on anything, they take home a victory. And if they can't get Bush to make concessions, they can go home and attack Bush — always good for a few points in the polls. Putin, meanwhile, wins just by showing up and hanging around with the big boys.
To end on a positive note: The golfing in Gleaneagles is said to be spectacular.