Like it or not, NATO Summit set to kick off in Chicago
By ABDON M. PALLASCH Political Reporteremail@example.com May 18, 2012 12:47AM
Outside of the German Consulate, Anti-NATO protest that started at the Obama re-election headquarters (Prudential Building) and then went to the Canadian, British and German consulates. Thursday, May 17, 2012. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times
- The NATO Summit: Latest news, protests and events
- Neil Steinberg: Protests are easy to mock, harder to take part in
Updated: June 29, 2012 9:46AM
Like it or not, it’s finally here.
Delegations from around the world are landing at O’Hare Airport and motorcading Friday and Saturday down the Kennedy Expressway .
They will fill Chicago’s hotels and restaurants; gaze at glittering Lake Michigan and our towering skyscrapers; and agreements will be signed for NATO member countries to pull combat troops out of Afghanistan by 2014.
But the majesty of the gathering may be lost on average Chicagoans who may have to wait on the Kennedy as motorcades whiz by; who won’t be able to bring backpacks or even coffee on Metra trains starting Saturday; who will find streets closed; and shop-windows boarded up against protestors who have threatened violence.
The biggest actors won’t arrive until Saturday night or Sunday after they finish the G-8 summit at Camp David, but under-secretaries and second-tier leaders among the 28 NATO member countries and another 33 partner countries began arriving as early as Thursday.
Will the 20,000 international visitors return to their respective countries raving about the beauty, cuisine and hospitality of Chicago and making us a future tourist mecca? Or will images of noisy, ugly protests dominate their vision and the news coverage?
Diplomats have been working hard behind the scenes to ensure that actual results emerge from the summit with member countries cooperating more with partner countries, transitioning from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s inaugural purpose of fighting a Soviet threat to the modern goal of defending against terrorism.
In addition to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, NATO leaders made the last-minute addition of Pakistan as a guest at the gathering.
“The first meeting that [President Obama will] have on Sunday will be with President Karzai of Afghanistan, obviously an important meeting because a central focus of the NATO summit will be on Afghanistan — and Afghanistan’s future,” said National Security Advisor Tom Donilon.
Complicating what is expected to be the centerpiece agreement of the carefully scripted summit — the Obama Administration is not looking for an Election Year surprise — is the election two weeks ago of a new French president who campaigned on pulling French troops out this year.
“You can look to Friday’s press conference with President Obama and President [Francois] Hollande to see how that’s working out,” a western diplomat told the Sun-Times Thursday. Both presidents are set to speak after an oval office meeting Friday morning.
Some protesters coming in from around the country and overseas promise a much colder reception for the leaders and delegations from the 61 countries that will be represented.
Many businesses have told employees to work from home starting Friday, fearing the so-called “black bloc” of protestors will rear their masked heads and start smashing windows just to cause a stir and get on TV.
Neither the Obama Administration nor Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration wants this pageant to turn into a black eye that would haunt both their re-elections.
But so far, other than throwing salty language at police, protests have been tame.
Police have not taken the bait, even when cursed at by protestors.
No videos have been posted of Chicago Police re-enacting the clubbing an earlier generation of officers gave an earlier generation of protestors in 1968 at the Democratic National Convention here.
Eight protestors outside the Canadian consulate Thursday covered themselves in a chocolate syrupy mock “oil” mixture to protest the mining of tar sands for oil. Obama has so far resisted calls to build a pipeline over a Nebraska aquifer to transport Canadian tar sands oil to New Orleans.
Obama’s re-election headquarters in the Prudential Building has become a magnet for protests. Another 50 protesters massed there Thursday demanding an immediate end to the war in Afghanistan, They also marched past the consulates of Britain, Canada and Germany, asking those countries to likewise pull their troops from Afghanistan.
What would happen if, hypothetically speaking, NATO’s leaders were moved to give the protestors what they ask for and pull troops out immediately instead of the gradual pull-out by 2014?
“The partially trained Afghan forces are not in a position to take on threats to the country — it’s still very much a partnership [with NATO],” a western diplomat told the Sun-Times Thursday. “On the development side, the help we’re giving them with health, education, elections — if you took the military support and the funding out, none of that good stuff would happen.”
The United States is the main country fundiung of NATO and part of the push at the summit, as at many NATO summits, will be getting other member nations to up their financial commitment, diplomats said.