- The Washington Times - Friday, September 1, 2000

ASPEN, Colo. Romanian Ambassador Mircea Geoana's hyperbole didn't seem too far off the mark as he eyed the high-level crowd at the Aspen Institute's 50th anniversary gala dinner on Aug. 19.
"The whole 'Washington mafia' is here," he said, flashing a faux-conspiratorial smile before diplomatically rephrasing his depiction to "la creme de la creme" in deference to the political, media, business and philanthropic elite celebrating under a snow white tent in this fabled Colorado resort town.
Former chief of protocol Selwa W. "Lucky" Roosevelt agreed, noting that the decision by so many capital notables to wine and dine while discussing "Globalization and the Human Condition" over the next three days made the Aspen symposium seem just like "home" except, of course, for the cool, clean air and an unparalleled backdrop of majestic Rocky Mountain peaks.
A heady opportunity, as Samia Farouki put it, for "intellectual nourishment in a fabulous setting."
Mrs. Farouki's comment was an offhanded one, but it nonetheless touched upon the institute's 50-year mission to provide a high-altitude forum leveraging the power of world leaders to improve the human condition.
It was, as expected, a stellar turnout. Interior Secretary Bruce R. Babbitt turned up to represent the Clinton administration (earlier that week he did double duty at the Democratic convention in Los Angeles followed by fire-line appearances at selected conflagrations consuming Western forests).
Other VIPs included Aspen Institute Chairman and former Labor Secretary Ann McLaughlin; Saudi Arabian Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan (who hosted a seated buffet supper for 300 conferees and contributors the previous evening); Librarian of Congress James H. Billington and former National Gallery of Art Director J. Carter Brown (both spoke movingly the following Tuesday about the effect of globalization on the human imagination); Mexican Ambassador Jesus Reyes-Heroles; former Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara (with Phyllis Coors); institute trustee William A. Nitze (a nephew of AI founder Walter Paepcke) and his wife, Ann; Sen. John W. Warner and daughter Mary; Lockheed Martin Executive Committee Chairman Norman R. Augustine; former Commerce Secretary Alexander B. Trowbridge; former Colorado Sen. Timothy Wirth; lobbyists Fred Dutton and Tom Korologos; and journalists Jim Lehrer, David Gergen and Daniel Schorr.
World Bank chief James Wolfensohn seemed to be targeting his well-heeled, politically powerful audience when he focused attention on the plight of the poor during his predinner plenary address in the splendid new Music Tent amphitheater.
Half of the world's 6 billion inhabitants, he pointed out, live on less than $2 a day whereas two-thirds of the planet's $30 trillion in wealth is controlled by the United States, Europe and Japan.
"Change starts with the people in this room," he said, noting that the Aspen Institute's role is to "make all of us wake up to the leadership needed today … to create an environment in which we have equality."
Mr. Wolfensohn's statements, while politely received by the invited guests, were greeted quite differently by a 100 or so mostly younger jeans-and-T-shirt-clad demonstrators who gathered outside to protest World Bank policies in developing countries with chants like, "World Bank, what are you for? You feed the rich to starve the poor."
Though clearly irritated by the audible interruptions to his remarks, Mr. Wolfensohn brushed off the incident during the cocktail party afterward when a reporter asked him about the ubiquitous "groupies" who now seem to turn up wherever he makes a major speech.
"They all say the same thing. That's what's stupid about it," he said as he headed into far more friendly surroundings at dinner among such fellow moguls as Gerald M. Levin, chairman and CEO of Time Warner Inc.; Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy; cosmetics king Leonard Lauder; and legendary oilman (and AI benefactor) Robert O. Anderson.
The next morning, Mr. Wolfensohn flew by private jet to his home in Jackson Hole, Wyo., which meant he missed Mr. Babbitt's admonition to take the demonstrators seriously during a session on "Science, Technology and the Natural Environment."
While the Interior secretary's comments were directed to the audience and not Mr. Wolfensohn personally, Mr. Babbitt spoke emphatically on the subject, cautioning listeners not to ignore the "thousands of young Americans" marching in the streets.
"It would be a mistake to dismiss them as overindulged, dissatisfied malcontents," he said, "because history says something different. One must investigate what is behind their cry of anguish … That cry is a voice of skepticism about the hubris of modern technology."
Queen Noor of Jordan, the confab's most glamorous guest, had a few asides of her own to make about dispensing advice to developing countries presumably including her own when she delivered the opening address on Tuesday morning before a session devoted to "Globalism, Culture and Civilization."
It was all too easy, the queen said, for wealthy nations and international organizations "to counsel belt-tightening where belts have never been loose," or to expect people to "lift themselves up by their bootstraps when they have no boots especially when told to do so by counselors with very expensive belts and boots."
Listeners were impressed by the queen's grasp of history and economics, and reacted especially warmly when she spoke of her late husband, King Hussein, whom she credited for taking Jordan "from a preindustrial state to a modern paradigm of social and economic progress in only two generations."
Which isn't to say the full effect of her beauty, style and flair was lost on the audience as she swept from the stage in a butter-colored leather jacket, black turtleneck and slacks, tossing her thick blond mane.
"She's some 'Queen Mum,'" as former ambassador to Great Britain Henry E. Catto succinctly put it.
Queen Noor, who celebrated her 50th birthday while in Aspen, enjoyed attending various low-key social events and mixed easily with guests at old friends Huda and Samia Farouki's private dessert party in her honor the night before her speech.
She laughed while reminiscing about her "go-fer" days at the institute 30 years ago, when she had a happy time "mapping the area and doing odd jobs and menial labor" during a year off from Princeton.
The Faroukis' fete also served as a get-together for Aspen's sizable Washington colony, many of whom had attended one or another of the national political conventions. (The hosts, who are Democrats, came directly from Los Angeles; those of the Republican persuasion who had been in Philadelphia two weeks earlier included Joe and Alma Gildenhorn, Marlene and Fred Malek, Stuart and Wilma Bernstein, and Mel and Suellen Estrin.)
The overall edification factor of the conference was extremely high, judging by the reaction of hundreds of attendees sitting in on 10 sessions that focused on such various aspects of the globalization topic as religion, security, human rights, culture, science and technology. Speakers, who included former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez, historians Garry Wills and Stephen Ambrose, oceanographer Sylvia Earle, economist Lester Thurow and former Harvard University President Derek Bok, among many others, were credited with stimulating lively debate on an inevitable process, which, as Aspen Institute President Elmer W. Johnson noted, "may represent the foremost opportunity for human flourishing, and also its greatest threat."
Former President Jimmy Carter closed the conference on Tuesday by praising Americans as the most generous people on Earth while lamenting that the amount of U.S. foreign aid, in terms of overall gross domestic product, is now less than it was during his presidency and that of his two predecessors.
Despite criticism from several participants that conferees were "preaching to the converted" and that the panels could have benefited from the presence of artists, literary figures and more speakers of conservative bent (Henry Kissinger and William Bennett were unable to attend), organizers were pleased by the event's success.
"No one else does what we do," Mrs. McLaughlin said, emphasizing that although the institute "makes room for all kinds of ideologies," it goes "out of its way to avoid an overtly political complexion."
"We used the opportunity," she said, "to positively influence the 'good society.' "

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide