- The Washington Times - Friday, April 25, 2008

Can you believe all the luminaries here tonight?” said Lisa Vershbow, wife of U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea Alexander Vershbow, as she gamely tried to circulate at the tightly packed dinner for 800 hosted by the Atlantic Council at the Ritz-Carlton/Washington on Monday night. Why the bottleneck? Probably because there was too much brilliance in one room. After all, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was holding court near the entrance as Henry Kissinger made small talk near Colin Powell and Brent Scowcroft while Henry Catto and former Spanish Prime Minster Jose Maria Aznar huddled near the bar. According to one head count, there were 37 ambassadors, five former heads of state and 26 CEOs of major corporations present.

“I haven’t seen this many important people in once place since Steve Schwarzman’s birthday last year,” joked Atlantic Council President and CEO Fred Kempe. (Mr. Schwarzman, chairman of the Blackstone Group and the Kennedy Center, was one of the evening’s co-chairmen.) Despite the few souls who insisted on discussing Tuesday’s Pennsylvania primary, most of the conversation centered on international affairs, particularly the role of the U.S. and Britain in safeguarding and promoting Western values. Mr. Blair, the recipient of this year’s Distinguished International Leadership Award, said as much during a press conference before the main event.

“We need to be prepared to stand up and defend our values, not only militarily, but through persuading hearts and minds,” said Mr. Blair, who skillfully ducked questions about the American presidential race.

Fox Business News anchor Alexis Glick emceed the evening, introducing former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski as “much sexier than Zbigniew Brzezinski.” Award recipients included Mr. Blair, News Corp. Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch, and Joint Chief of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen. Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin performed two pieces by Chopin, described by Mr. Kwasniewski as “the European Union’s greatest composer.”

There were more than a few words of warning about the need for change, both in the Middle East and beyond.

“The problem with Western politics is that the argument is posed as one between the advocates of hard power and soft power,” Mr. Blair noted during his dinner. “The reality is, we need both.” Adm. Mullen noted the impossibility of focusing on Afghanistan without including a strong focus on Pakistan as well. And Mr. Murdoch, criticizing Europe for allowing the U.S. and Britain to do all the “heavy lifting,” called for a globalizing of the NATO alliance, with partnerships based less on geography than a “community of cultures that share the values of the U.S., Britain and Western Europe.”

Lisa Rauschart

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