Clooney charms, for Sudan's sake


WASHINGTON — George Clooney has brought his star power to the issue of Sudan's upcoming referendum.

GlobalPost has published many stories on Sudan and the precipice on which it sits prior to a January referendum on independence for the south.

So what you really want to know about Tuesday night's panel on Sudan at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C., featuring the Enough Project's John Prendergast and George Clooney is what George Clooney is like.

He was gracious, sincere and funny. And he looks up close just like he does on screen, not taller or shorter, fatter or thinner. It feels a little cheap to objectify Clooney in this context, except that the star himself predicted it:

"Cameras follow me wherever I go, so let's bring them to south Sudan and let them take pictures," he said, explaining his connection to Enough's advocacy work. "We can't just sit back. ... If we do nothing there's a good chance that hundreds of thousands of people would die, innocent people."

(GlobalPost Senior Editor Andrew Meldrum wrote eloquently earlier this week about why Hollywood advocacy makes a difference.)

Should Clooney ever tire of acting, he demonstrated two skills tonight essential for a career in politics: (1) He stayed on message and (2) he has a talent for reducing complex ideas into digestible soundbites. For example, explaining the importance of diplomacy: "At the end of every war it's still Appomattox. You still have to sign something."

Plus, like the U.S. president who, Clooney and Prendergast said, took 20 minutes out of his schedule today to discuss Sudan with them, he seems like the kind of guy you want to have a beer with — or share a tent.

"We stayed in these huts," Clooney said of the trip he and Prendergast just returned from. "We were roommates ... . He snores."

"He does other things," Prendergast replied.

"It was cold," Clooney said. "It was lonely."

Cue the laughter.

But the hut story illustrated a salient point. The hut, Clooney said, was equipped with safety instructions. In the event of fire, "run outside and scream, 'Fire, fire fire!'" So that's what he'd decided to do, come back to Washington and scream "fire!" — because things in Sudan could be that bad, very soon.

On a substantive note, as GlobalPost's Europe editor, I will follow-up with our Europe correspondents on whether Europe is living up to its rhetoric on Sudan. Clooney, speaking of what other countries could be doing to put pressure on the Sudanese government, said the international community could "look for funds and freeze them." Sudan, he pointed out, doesn't trade in its own currency, using pounds sterling, euros or other notes. Could Britain, France and corporations around the world could be doing more to put pressure on Sudan's government? Clooney says yes.