Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell’s view of the world has gone from “major disillusionment” to one of optimism after working toward peace in Northern Ireland and the Middle East.
The former senator started off his presentation yesterday in Reese Court talking about his first experiences as part of the federal legislature. He kept his audience entranced as he discussed his first filibuster. Mitchell was the only one in the room as the filibuster occurred. “Since I was the only person in the chamber, he talked to me for six hours.”
After Mitchell survived this grueling ordeal, the senate voted on an issue and “pretty soon another guy came in and he talked for six more hours.”
Spectators couldn’t stop laughing as he described his first experience in the senate “sleeping room.” “And there lying in their clothes were 98 snoring senators.” Mitchell jokingly described his journey in climbing over Senators Ted Kennedy and “heterosexual rights advocate” Jesse Helms just to get to his cot.
As he lay on his cot, the newly appointed senator thought, “Twenty-four hours earlier I had been a federal judge. A dignified person.”
Although Mitchell described his 15 years in the senate as “one of the high points in [his] life,” he informed the audience that he was not here to discuss his career in the senate and that he was more interested in talking about world affairs.
The main topic of Mitchell’s presentation was the issue of foreign policy. The former senator was adamant throughout his speech that conflicts between nations can be resolved.
“There is no such thing as a conflict that can’t be ended,” said Mitchell. “Human beings can end it.”
Mitchell was part of the committee that was sent to Northern Ireland to develop a peace accord. The senator was disillusioned by the amount of people in Ireland who thought that peace was just a dream, it could never happen.
A woman once told him, “We’ve been killing each other for over a century. We are doomed to kill each other forever.”
Mitchell was not discouraged though. He and various officials worked for five years to gain peace in the region. At times the road seemed like it would never end. The violence was escalating and the citizens did not believe in the cause. But peace was eventually reached, and Mitchell said he “hopes they (political officials) remain firm and steady on the path for peace.”
While peace has been attained in one region of the world, the Middle East is the region on everyone’s minds these days. The former senator tried to shed some light on his dealings with the situation and inform the audience there is a chance for peace.
“I would ask people to share my conviction that there is no conflict that can not be ended. I saw one end in Northern Ireland,” said Mitchell. “I believe I will see one end in the Middle East.”
Mitchell served as chairman of an international fact-finding committee on violence in the Middle East. The senator shed some light on the topic of Israel and Palestine relations and what needs to be done to create peace between the two warring peoples.
“The only way to achieve a lasting solution is through negotiation,” said Mitchell. The senator believes a two-state solution will help stop the fighting.
Basically this plan entails Israel and Palestine becoming separate states, but at the same time a few conditions need to be met. Israel needs to be recognized as a state by Palestine and the country needs to feel like it has security. On the other hand, Palestine needs to develop a state and take measures to end acts of terrorism such as Palestinian suicide bombings.
In between the two countries, the United States needs to act as a mediator. Mitchell said the U.S. is the only country with the power and the resources to make this happen.
In the Middle East “if an act of violence occurs, there will almost always be an act of retaliation,” said Mitchell. He believes this theory can be twisted around and used to bring peace to the region. By showing an act of kindness to one side, it will be reciprocated by the other side.
One of the biggest threats today it the possible war with Iraq. Mitchell gave his thoughts on recent developments in this situation.
“The reports earlier this week by the chief inspectors [for the U.N.] indicated both the failure by Iraq to comply with the Security Council’s resolutions and the need for some additional time to determine whether that compliance can be obtained by means other than war,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell mentioned evidence cited in the report of “prior Iraqi production of chemical agents and weapons.” He also stated there is “no evidence Iraq has revived its nuclear program.”
At a press conference earlier in the day, Mitchell stated that he sees North Korea as more of a threat because their “military is far superior to Iraq’s” and their technology is better. North Korea has working nuclear weapons and superior missile capabilities.
During his speech at Reese Court, Mitchell said that the U.N. inspection process will extend into March and that it is a good idea for the U.S. to wait to take action until then because it will take until mid-March for the U.S. military build up currently happening to reach its peak.
Mitchell also believes that the U.S. should not act alone. He thinks it is likely that France, Germany, Russia and China will cooperate with the U.S. if President Bush acts in a way that demonstrates the U.S. is not just trying to protect its own interests. Waiting to go to war until it is obviously necessary will “mitigate hostile reactions” among world leaders in Europe and the Middle East and help support the ongoing war on terror.
Mitchell does not see war as inevitable even though things look grim right now. He believes that the U.S., through the influence of American ideals can help bring an end to most conflicts in the world today.
Mitchell was brought to Eastern as part of the EWU Presidential Speaker Series. The Presidential Speakers Series was established in 1998 through a gift by EWU President Stephen M. Jordan and his wife Ruth, along with contributions from other donors. The Presidential Speakers Series brings guests to Eastern who, because of their influence and impact on the world scene raise the level of dialogue on important regional, national and world issues.