First University Lectures speaker Sen. George Mitchell back after a decade

Sen. George Mitchell led a discussion focusing on worldwide issues and the need for communication between different countries in the final installment of the University Lectures series this semester.

On a snowy Tuesday night, hinting at the winter season to come, former Sen. George Mitchell closed the semester’s University Lectures series with a discussion on foreign policy.

Mitchell returned to Hendricks Chapel for the first time in more than a decade after delivering the first University Lectures in the aftermath of 9/11. In front of packed pews, he sat down with the dean of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and his “dear friend” James Steinberg, following an introduction from the School of Education’s Dean Doug Biklen, who spoke to Mitchell’s immigrant roots. His mother emigrated from Lebanon and his father’s parents hailed from Ireland. Biklen praised the former senator for his “grace, his optimism and sense of purpose.”

Photo: Leslie Walters
Dean James Steinberg asks Senator Mitchell a question regarding US relations with the Middle East during Senator Mitchell's talk in Hendricks Chapel.

Advertised on campus as a discussion on global implications following the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, Mitchell’s discussion had very little to do with the tragedy itself. He focused instead on worldwide issues and the need for communication between different countries.

“If you see the other person as a human being, you can begin to be open to listening,” he said.

First, Mitchell addressed the United States’ place in an ever-changing global landscape. Individual liberty and collective security, he argued, require a delicate balance following “watershed events,” such as the Pan Am 103 bombing and 9/11.

When discussing the technological and military advancements that have increased and emboldened government oversight, Mitchell urged the audience to take a step back: rather than fixating on our present-day power, he suggested remembering the values upon which our country was founded.

“I’ve never heard of a single immigrant who came to America because we have the best cruise missiles,” he said. “The real source of our influence, our strength and our future lies in our ideals.”

With regard to international involvement, Mitchell made a point to bust the myth that “every problem in the world is perceived to be an American problem.” Citing the 200 years it took for England and France to sort through their issues, he explained that no one should expect quick resolutions for conflicts such as the Arab revolutions or the Israeli-Palestinian standoff.

He commended Secretary of State John Kerry for his patience and perseverance in an increasingly volatile climate. But more action, he explained, has to come from whoever the president may be at the time.

“I believe that President Obama does strongly feel the urgency of trying to get an agreement,” Mitchell said in talking about countries, like Syria, with unstable infrastructures. “But in the end, they are going to require presidential participation and presidential assurances.”

The evening concluded with questions from the audience. One student audience member asked Mitchell for his stance on gathering intelligence, to which he responded seemingly frankly.

“The U.S. did not invent intelligence gathering,” he said. “So I think we have to recognize that every country in the world engages in some form of intelligence gathering.”

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