George Clooney met with Vice President Joseph Biden and President Obama to ask for a full-time envoy to the Darfur region.
In an interview from the White House lawn, Clooney told Larry King, “We had a long talk about the idea of, first and foremost, appointing a high level, full-time envoy that reports directly to the White House so that it’s not just temporary. We need somebody working on this, you know, every day — getting up every morning with their sole job to find peace in the area.”
In a later meeting with Obama, Clooney said he was told that once a foreign policy review was completed, the president would appoint an envoy to the region.
Under discussion, Clooney told King, is not sending troops but “we’re going to need diplomacy. And diplomacy has to start and it has to be aggressive and it has to start soon. We have an opportunity here.”
The growing influence of “celebriplomacy” — perhaps most defined by all of the attention that has been focused on Darfur — is met with some skepticism in Washington circles. It starts with the idea that performers aren’t fully committed to the cause, or even worse, aren’t fully informed.
But Clooney’s visits to the region and continued pressing of the issues, even when it started to fade into the backdrop, have put him at the forefront of the issue. Moreover, during the campaign, he backed Obama but wisely stayed out of the partisan fray, and this is perhaps one of the reasons why. His support of Obama certainly helped him gain an entree into the Oval Office, but he was able to use the occasion to make a singular focus on the crisis in Darfur rather than any kind of partisan politics. (He did make a few comments about the final episode of “ER”).
What remains to be seen is that whether any of this will help. For years, stars focused on their attention on Darfur, and while it is a whole lot better than public ignorance, the fact is the situation remains dire.
Update: I’ve posted additional comments below, but I wanted to also add this recent story from the Indepndent in London, which explores the whole phenomenon of celebrity diplomacy. Paul Vallely was at a recent conference in the Hague, where diplomats of all stripes debated the merits of Angelina Jolie’s forays into Iraq and Harry Belafonte’s meeting Hugo Chavez.
Hewrites, “”Who could say ‘No’ to Nicole Kidman?” asked one of the greybeards with heavy academic irony. But the way the two days of discussion proceeded it became pretty clear that none of them would. And similarly, very few of the world’s leading politicians feel unable to refuse an audience with the most insistent of the new campaigners, the Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie, who has, in recent years, transformed herself from merely “the most beautiful woman in the world” to a fierce campaigner for the rights of refugees.
“It’s easy enough to make cheap-shot jibes about all this, of course. Jolie herself discovered that when she first offered herself as a “goodwill ambassador” for the United Nations’ refugee organisation UNHCR, staff had bets as to how much luggage she would bring and whether she would turn up in the field wearing high heels. (If they’d studied Lara Croft they’d have known she’s not entirely averse to wearing hefty boots below her hotpants.)”
One of the points of the story is that more and more, celebrities are becoming freelancers in their world missions, eshewing the constraints of the UN and established relief organizations and creating their own. Clooney, while a UN ambassador, certainly has extended his work well beyond that, as was evidenced in an incident chronicled by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times.