The current issue of the Economist, a special edition entitled, “The World in 2008,” includes essays by a variety of well-known figures including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Dalai Lama, and . . . actress Angelina Jolie.
The thrust of Jolie’s piece—calling upon the international community to bring the perpetrators of the Darfur genocide to justice—is admirable, if a bit naive, the first quality an unusual one for the political pontifications of celebrities, the second nearly universal. She writes:
I hope that the Sudanese government will hand over the government minister and the janjaweed militia leader who have been indicted for war crimes by the ICC, and that the teenager I met in Chad will get to see the trial he seeks. I hope that those responsible for the atrocities in Darfur will be held to account, not only for that young man’s sake, but for the world’s.
But what are the actual chances of this happening? The Sudanese government has supported the continuation of this conflict for years, and the international community has been able to achieve little—despite the heady warnings of Ms. Jolie.
The phenomenon of celebrities attempting to shape foreign policy is not a new one (think Jane Fonda), but it has become de riguer of late. Despite their fame and popularity, however, it seems that celebrities are usually unable to achieve their goals in the international realm. Daniel Drezner has an excellent cover story in the latest National Interest entitled “Foreign Policy Goes Glam,” explaining why this is the case, and it applies to the specific example of Jolie:
A deeper problem celebrities face is that the implicit theory of politics that guides their activism does not necessarily apply to all facets of international relations. The goal of most social activism is to bring greater attention to a problem. The assumption is that once people become aware of the problem, there will be a groundswell of support for direct action. This is not how politics necessarily works, particularly in the global realm. Any solution to a problem like global warming, for example, involves significant costs. As people become more aware of the policy problem, it is far from guaranteed that a consensus will emerge about the best way to solve it. It is therefore not surprising that celebs have had their greatest successes in touting humanitarian causes and almost no effect on ending militarized conflicts.