Deputy Secretary of State speaks on foreign policy
There was standing room only in Ostrove Auditorium at U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg's lecture on Thursday, October 21. Steinberg delivered the annual George J. Mitchell Lecture.
“U.S. engagement is more essential then ever,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg told a packed Ostrove Auditorium when he spoke at the College Thursday, October 21. Steinberg delivered the George J. Mitchell Lecture titled “American Leadership and International Cooperation: A Strategy for the 21st Century.”
Former senator of Maine George Mitchell, for whom the award is named, was in Maine at the time and attended the lecture. A Waterville native, he joked that he was glad to be back on the Hill, though he is an alumnus of rival Bowdoin College. On January 22, 2009, President Barack Obama appointed Mitchell as the administration’s Special Envoy to the Middle East Peace. He previously served as the Senate Majority Leader and is well known for his success in assisting the Northern Ireland Peace Process in 1995. He introduced Steinberg as his “old friend and now real-life boss” stating “he deals with every important foreign policy confronting the United States.”
After a brief introduction from the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Government and Director of the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement Sandy Maisel, Steinberg was welcomed by the applause of the overflowing Ostrove Auditorium.
Steinberg began his lecture honoring and noting Mitchell’s achievements and then delivered his thoughts on U.S. leadership. He cited the failures of early American presidents who were reluctant to get involved in international affairs, and spoke of how that led to conflict and tension in the international world. With the onset of the Cold War, however, Steinberg said there was a “different vision: [the United States] realized the dangers of repeating the past and they vowed to stay engaged in the world.”
He continued, addressing how he believes the problem of collective action can only be solved by supreme leadership: “leadership that brings actors together, creates the frameworks that facilitate cooperation and allows countries to see the benefits of collaboration over the long term.” The United States is in the position to offer that leadership because of “our dominant role in the security and economic realms, our global interests, our experience during the Cold War and our national can-do mindset,” he said.
Steinberg used three examples to further examine U.S. leadership: non-proliferation, merging transnational issues like climate change and peace building in two key areas, Afghanistan and the Middle East.
Each area attempted to seek the help of U.S. leadership in order to reach a level of success. When covering non-proliferation, Steinberg said that today with the “renewed sense of international determination and consensus, the critical role of our leadership offers a real opportunity for real progress.”
With the new and unprecedented environmental challenges, “U.S. leadership will be critical…in helping to create new institutions and new engagements to reap the benefits of cooperation,” Steinberg said. He also noted the importance of working together with other international actors to benefit all those involved.
In the Middle East, the United States, along with many other nations, has faced great challenges. “We need a multidimensional strategy to face this threat,” Steinberg said. “American leadership remains essential as we work to advance Middle East peace,” he added. Steinberg highlighted Obama’s work in Afghanistan in reference to removing troops and working to secure the safety and stability of Afghani people. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict, he said, should be looked at as a two-state solution, which remains in the United State’s best interest as well. “We will remain committed to a long-term vision, even when progress is slower than expected.”
Steinberg’s concluding remarks once again highlighted the necessity of U.S. leadership. Steinberg said that it is “no secret that this is a challenging time,” but stressed that it is important to remember Mitchell’s passion in Northern Ireland when after 700 days of failure and all it took was “one day of success.”
The United States faces many issues in the international world. Steinberg told the Echo in a private interview, “I don’t think we have the luxury of saying there is [just] one issue…in many ways the biggest challenge we face is that we have so many issues to deal with and think about them simultaneously.” The multidimensionality of the challenges the United States faces brings about its own sense of conflict and pressure to emerge as a leader in the 21st century.
Steinberg, a Harvard graduate, said, “The most important thing to do is study history because you cannot understand where people are unless you understand where they came from…[we] can learn lessons form history to help us deal with contemporary problems.” Steinberg said that during his undergraduate experience, he learned the power and importance of ideas. He encourages all students to take advantage of their time in college and to explore different realms of ideas because there is “never a better time to reflect on these things.”
Steinberg urged students looking to get more involved in the international political sphere to “Get involved. Get experience. Go abroad. Do internships and get some exposure to people of other countries.” He also said that when looking into the future, beyond college, it is important to “be open to opportunities because you cannot plan a career. There are too many tangible things. [Instead] be open to new possibilities and do things that excite you,” he said. “Spend as much of your time being as motivated and excited as you can.”