Sunday, March 16, 2008

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Good gossip from Brussels

The following ten tidbits have been picked up while attending the 2008 Brussels Forum:

1) At the opening session -- taped by the BBC -- the participants were asked to say something for a microphone check. Konstantin Kosachev, the chairman of the Duma's International Affairs Committee, said, "the Russians are coming."

Richard Holbrooke was next -- and he said, "the Democrats are coming."

2) Holbrooke made waves because during the session when, about midway through, he told moderator/BBC presenter Nik Gowing, "this has been a really stupid conversation so far." In defense of Holbrooke, he had a point -- the panel was about challenges to the West, and yet most of the conversation was devoted to, at best, discussing the history of second-tier issues like Kosovo.

3) Speaking of Holbrooke, I have it on good authority that, not only does the former UN ambassador believe that he'll be Secretary of State if either Clinton or Obama wins, he genuinely thinks he'll have a comparable position if McCain wins.

4) Both Robert Zoellick and Richard Holbrooke are very, very smart, and are fully aware of how smart they are. There are two significant differences between them:

a) Zoellick displays flashes of arrogance, but usually keeps it in check; Holbrooke, on the other hand, cannot appear to function in any mode other than pure disdain -- unless there's someone more powerful than him in the room.

b) Zoellick can talk about economic issues with just as much fluency as security issues; Holbrooke knows squat about economics. To be fair, I fear that Zoellick is the last of a dying breed.

5) Right before one panel, a German Green Party member sitting behind me looked at the panel title -- "Toward a Low Carbon Society: Climate Change as a Transatlantic Challenge" -- and said, "God, how boring." He was on his Blackberry for the first ten minutes, and then left the room.

6) Here's a useful piece of advice to conference-goers -- never, ever, sit between someone seeking foundation suppprt and someone possessing grant money to give. It's like trying to breathe in a vacuum.

7) The most potent symbol of waning American power at this conference: the entire U.S. Congressional delegation didn't make it because their DC-9 had to make a fueling stop in Newfoundland, and failed to re-start.

Meanwhile, the dollar sunk to a new low against the euro, which means that the EU economy is now larger than the American economy.

8) The most energetic period of the conference occurred at the Hotel Conrad bar at around 1 AM. It was a mix of Clinton foreign policy advisors, McCain foreign policy advisors, Eurocrats, journalists, staffers from a half-dozen European governments, and German Marshall Fund staffers with indefatigable energy.

OK, actually, that makes it sound boring -- you have to remember that they were all drinking very heavily, and there was a surprising gender balance in the room.

9) Take this for what you will -- at all of the sessions I attended, Iraq was, at best, mentioned in passing once or twice.

10) I'm typing this post in the Brussels Forum press room, as Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff is talking.

So what do real reporters do in the press room? Some of them are typing up the speech -- but most of them are catching up on e-mail correspondence and surfing the web. They're almost like real bloggers.

If you're dying for more info from this conference, Steve Clemons has further observations.

posted by Dan on 03.16.08 at 07:55 AM


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