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06.15.10

George Clooney: Foreign Affairs Buff

George Clooney just accepted life membership in the Council on Foreign Relations, joining other Hollywood heavyweights at the foreign-policy think tank.

George Clooney, Oscar winner and star of such films as Syriana and Three Kings, is bringing his sly charm and rugged good looks to an expanded arena this summer: U.S. foreign policy.

The heartthrob has been accepted for life membership in the Council on Foreign Relations, the independent nonpartisan think tank whose ranks include Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice and Zbigniew Brzezinski. Clooney was nominated to the Council by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and TV host Charlie Rose. He joins fellow Hollywood heavies Michael Douglas and Warren Beatty as a member of the vaunted organization.

“I’m honored to have been nominated,” Clooney said. “I look forward to participating in the work and programs of the Council on Foreign Relations. And I hear the initiation ritual is wild.”

“I’m honored to have been nominated,” Clooney said. “I look forward to participating in the work and programs of the Council on Foreign Relations. And I hear the initiation ritual is wild.”

Clooney has a longstanding interest in international affairs and has focused considerable energies on the civil war in the Sudan. Just this week, he co-authored, with John Prendergast, an op-ed in USA Today arguing for bold U.S. diplomacy in the region.

After a trip to a refugee camp in Chad in the spring of last year, he wrote with passion and frustration about how little had changed in Darfur and its surrounding areas over the previous three years. And he has taken his plea to help the more than 12 million displaced residents of the region to President Obama, Vice President Biden and Larry King Live.

In April of 2006, Clooney and his dad, Nick, approached the International Rescue Committee about traveling to Sudan and Chad. They wanted to visit their humanitarian aid programs and hear stories first-hand from people who fled the crisis in Darfur.

“They were real troopers and great traveling companions,” recalled Melissa Winkler, who organized the trip and accompanied the Clooneys to Africa. “Our first stop was in an extremely undeveloped, war-devastated area of Southern Sudan, which borders South Darfur.” Winkler was taken by their engagement with people during the trip. “They were so absorbed by the experience that they hardly noticed the extreme heat and difficult conditions.”

Saint George

George Clooney: Nothing New to Report
In January, 2008, Clooney became a United Nations Messenger of Peace, honoring his years of previous humanitarian work, including a private trip he took to the region with his father in 2006, and the 2007 documentary Sand and Sorrow, which followed human-rights activists through refugee camps along the Chad-Sudan border.

The actor has used his mega-watt international profile, from critically acclaimed roles in E.R., The Perfect Storm, the Ocean’s Eleven franchise, and many other hits, to raise awareness of the atrocities resulting from Darfur’s seven-year guerrilla conflict, which some estimate has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. In 2007, Clooney co-founded Not On Our Watch, along with Ocean’s Eleven cast mates Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, and Brad Pitt. The organization is dedicated to stopping crises like that in Darfur and airing the stories of their victims.

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Rebecca Dana is a senior correspondent for The Daily Beast. A former editor and reporter for The Wall Street Journal, she has also written for The New York Times, the New York Observer, Rolling Stone and Slate, among other publications.