President Bush attended his last G-8 summit meeting in Japan this week. As usual, there was a good deal of talk about things the G-8 nations - consisting of the world's leading industrial nations - can't do much about or have little intention of doing much about, and little discussion or significant action on a few problems these countries could do a great deal to alleviate.
Thus the first day of the summit featured an impasse over what to do about the problem of Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe won re-election by having his minions brutalize and even kill opposition leaders to the point that his opponent dropped out of the race. President Bush wants more economic sanctions and an international arms embargo, but the African nations aren't ready to sign on just yet.
That's fine, but let's get serious. The leading industrial nations aren't going to join a consortium to invade Zimbabwe and throw out Mugabe, so the talk at G-8 is essentially hot air.
Likewise on climate change. There's discussion about a new climate-change agreement to replace the Kyoto treaty negotiated during the Clinton administration, which the United States never ratified. In fact, however, the Kyoto treaty has done little to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and that's not just because China and India, with their growing economies and increasing emissions, weren't included. European countries have also failed to meet their commitments. So whether they come up with a follow-on protocol to Kyoto this year or next year will make little or no difference.
G-8 leaders will likewise blather about the price of oil, but there's little they can do about it.
The one thing the industrialized countries could alleviate is the world food crisis, but that would take more political will than they are likely to summon. They can't tell China and India to stop growing and demanding more and better food, which is one contributing factor. They can increase food aid to poor countries, but that's a short-term approach that may reduce starvation but not increase supply. But they could end ethanol subsidies and mandates - or at least suspend them for a couple of years.
The G-8 summit, which began in the 1980s, has always been more of an opportunity for presidents to be able to show constituents that they are respected as members in good standing of the fabled "international community" than as a forum for actually solving problems. This year's meeting continued that less-than-stellar tradition.