In what was billed as their first appearance together since they left power, it was pretty much like old times for the three Cold War-era leaders.
Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher time and again trumpeted former President George Bush’s leadership during the Gulf War--as if she was buttering him up for yet another diplomatic favor.
Bush offered a little self-deprecating humor after explaining why the world need not fear becoming too dependent on technology--confiding how, three years out of the White House, he still hasn’t figured out the mysteries of his VCR. “That little light on my VCR still blinks all night,” he said.
And onetime Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev seemed poised to make lengthy speeches like during his heady days in the Kremlin, but also admitted to feeling a little lonely when his two former adversaries took a different stance on the role of the United Nations. “Perhaps we can add a fourth participant because it’s two to one,” he quipped.
The troika was brought together Sunday to ponder the state of the world on a darkened stage on fashionable Nob Hill before 2,000 applauding fans in an hourlong event.
It was pretty much like old times outside the Masonic Auditorium as well: One group of protesters railed against British policies in Northern Ireland while a mobile billboard urged the United States to get out of the United Nations.
Meanwhile, TV news crews gathered to beam via satellite every word of the event that capped a four-day State of the World Forum, the first major event sponsored by the Gorbachev Foundation, a think tank created in 1992 and headquartered at the new Presidio National Park in San Francisco.
The session moderated by CNN news anchor Bernard Shaw ranged from personal banter among the three former world leaders to serious debate.
In this city where the United Nations was established 50 years ago, Gorbachev, who was Soviet president from 1985-91, said that the world body remains relevant. “Alone, it can deal with the tensions and conflicts,” he said through an interpreter. But Gorbachev urged the United States to take the lead in reshaping the U.N. to better deal with economic and environmental questions.
Bush, who was President for four years ending in 1993, said that the U.N Security Council played an important role in the Gulf War but that world leaders must be aware of the organization’s limitations. “There are a lot of problems the U.N. can’t cope with,” he said, such as nuclear proliferation or the creation of free trading markets.
Thatcher agreed, saying the U.N. can feed the impoverished but not necessarily make decisions on war and peace. In the Gulf War, she said, the organization passed resolutions but “the United States and the United Kingdom did the fighting.”
Repeatedly, Thatcher praised Bush’s leadership during that war. “The fact is that Saddam Hussein would still be in Kuwait . . . unless George Bush and Britain . . . had taken action and thrown the tyrant out,” she crowed.
While dwelling on past crises and the current job of the United Nations, the three elder statesmen spent less time on their dreams for the 21st Century. Bush, in fact, once dismissed such looking ahead as “the vision thing.”
The troika of former leaders received a standing ovation before being ushered into a basement room for a brief photo opportunity, but no questions from waiting reporters. Accompanying Bush was his wife, Barbara, and at Gorbachev’s side was his wife, Raisa.
Gorbachev has said he hopes this will be the first of five such forums sponsored by the foundation. Much of the four-day forum was devoted to smaller panels and discussions at the nearby Fairmont Hotel that drew a diverse crowd from around the world to this city that prides itself on being a cosmopolitan mecca.
At the events, men in turbans mixed with those with yarmulkes. Men in suits mingled with women in saris.
Among those attending were former U.S. Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), acclaimed British naturalist Jane Goodall and actor Dennis Weaver. About 500 people paid $5,000 each to attend the entire week’s events, while those who attended just Sunday’s session were charged $100.
Participants were treated to several gourmet meals during the week, cooked by guest chefs, and also could sip a special edition “global cooler” concocted from fresh fruits from around the world, including organic peaches from Dinuba, Calif., raspberries from Macedonia and cherries from Brazil.
Afterward, they could purchase audiotapes of the panel discussions and were asked to send away for “the new sounds” catalogue of hard-to-find lectures and “sacred music of the world.”
One prankster tacked a message on a forum bulletin board announcing a “meeting on extrasensory perception and transformation . . . If you’re into ESP you’ll know when and where to meet.”