George Mitchell Says America is Not Living Up to Its Potential

Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell delivered a lecture entitled ‘America’s Role in the World’ as part of the 13th annual Julius Margolis lecture held by the Center for Peace and Conflict studies and part of the Chancellor’s Distinguished Fellows Series at UC Irvine.
After representing Maine in the U.S. Senate for 15 years and serving as majority leader for six, Mitchell is now devoted to politics at the global level.
In 2001, Mitchell was asked by President Bush to serve as chairman of an international fact-finding committee on violence in the Middle East.
Among his achievements, Mitchell chaired peace talks in Northern Ireland that led to the 1998 Good Friday accord, ending many years of violent conflict in the region.
Mitchell said that his experience in foreign politics has given him an understanding of how other countries view the United States and how it should behave, especially in light of current events.
‘I’ve had the good fortune to have traveled throughout the world, to every continent and to a majority of countries,’ Mitchell said. ‘I’ve learned that people everywhere are inspired by and drawn to what we have become as Americans.’
Mitchell explained that the basic ideals America espouses have universal appeal. Among these ideals, he listed ‘the primacy of individual liberty, the concept of equal justice under the law and the aspiration that there should be equal opportunity for every member of society.’
Mitchell said that the reason that many people around the world disagree with America’s politics is because of what he called a seeming disparity between what America claims to be its goals and what policies it chooses to pursue.
‘In addition to attracting others, our ideals impose a high standard upon ourselves and on our country,’ Mitchell said. ‘Whatever our country does, people everywhere expect us to have our actions match our stated ideals. Therein lies much of the problem in the world today. The perception is widely held that American actions do not match American stated ideals.
‘Some people object to what they believe to be the unilateralism of the current administration,’ Mitchell went on to explain. ‘Others resent what they believe to be American indifference to their plight. Then there are those for whom the United States is always the one to blame simply because of our place in the world.’
Mitchell suggested that American foreign policy should adhere more strictly to the moral principles on which the country was founded and recognize that power alone will not keep America a successful country.
‘Power is clearly important,’ Mitchell said. ‘We must be prepared to use it, including military force, when necessary. A strong economy and a strong military are essential to the preservation of our freedom, our security and our prosperity, but power must always be deployed in service to our basic ideals. Ideals have always been the primary basis of American influence in the world. Never forget that the United States was a great nation long before it was a great military or economic power.’
In addition to giving an analysis of America’s role in global politics, Mitchell spoke about the Middle East and the conflict between Israel and Palestine, which he views as one of the most vexing problems today.
Speaking of the committee’s findings, Mitchell said, ‘Among the principle recommendations we made are that the Palestinian authorities renounce violence, end incitement and the teaching of hatred and arrest and vigorously prosecute all of those engaged in terrorist activity. The government of Israel should withdraw its military forces back to the positions they held before the elevated violence and completely freeze all settlement activity.’
Although Mitchell acknowledged that a solution to this conflict may seem far-off, he stressed that patience should be practiced in order to achieve a lasting agreement.
‘There is no such thing as a conflict that cannot be ended,’ Mitchell said. ‘Conflicts are created and sustained by human beings for human objectives. They can be ended by human beings.’
Mitchell also said he does not have a high degree of confidence in President George W. Bush’s abilities in the Middle East.
‘What most concerns me about this administration’s actions is that it is intermittent and episodic,’ Mitchell said. ‘Different people go over for brief periods of time and at the first sign of adversity, they go back.’
Mitchell’s lecture was generally well-received.
‘I liked what he said about how people are upset that America isn’t holding true to its stated values in its actions,’ said Jeffrey Thomas, a first-year philosophy major. ‘I agree that the world sees us as a higher moral authority and I think we should act as such.’