The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Commentary: Macalester as a middle ground

By Matthew Stone

The American flag planted between former Vice President Walter Mondale ’50 and Israeli Knesset member Yossi Beilin on the Kagin Commons stage Monday afternoon was telling of a question that has not disappeared from many minds these past two weeks.What role should the United States play-and what role can it play-on an international level?

None of the five diplomats who visited Macalester during these first weeks of classes managed to leave St. Paul without at least touching on the question. And the five speakers (two high-profile figures from the U.S. diplomatic corps and Democratic political circles, a Venezuelan ambassador, and Israeli and Palestinian legislators), with experience working in nearly every region of the world, did not stake out any markedly distinct position during their appearances at Macalester.

Richard Holbrooke, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, took his share of digs at the Bush administration, using its missteps in Iraq and failure to continue with peace dialogues in Kosovo to illustrate the fact that the United States can mess up when not under the right leadership.

Still, who else can the world turn to for a leader? The United States still has the potential to act as a positive force in international politics, and it must live up to that responsibility, Holbrooke inferred.

“When the U.S. is absent from negotiation, its chances for success are much diminished,” Holbrooke said.

The rhetoric was not at all surprising coming from a man who has endorsed Sen. Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy and will be vying for the Secretary of State’s job in a Democratic administration.

A week later, on the same stage, Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi also called on the United States to play “peacemaker” in the Middle East. With a few caveats-Ashrawi called on the United States to stop letting domestic political interests determine foreign policy-the lead Palestinian Authority spokesperson during the negotiations that eventually yielded the 1993 Oslo Accords envisioned the same role for the United States as Holbrooke.

Mondale, who was involved in negotiating the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt during his Carter administration days, said the United States was “needed in this peace process” and called for the return of responsible American engagement in world affairs.

Mondale’s message? The Democrats, or at least a president who is not George W. Bush, can do it better.

Beilin could not be counted on to offer any contrarian view.

“It is very difficult to make peace without the Americans,” he said in response to the first audience question on Monday.

The visit of Bernardo Alvarez, Venezuela’s ambassador to the United States, last Friday afternoon did not receive nearly the same level of publicity through the college’s formal promotional channels as the Middle East-focused events. If anyone could be expected to spout off some fiery rhetoric, it would have been the envoy from Hugo Chávez, the firebrand Venezuelan president who has branded Bush as a “devil” whose scent of sulfur does not subside especially quickly.

Alvarez did criticize U.S. “hegemony” over Latin America, albeit in a diplomatic way. The ambassador also said the word “Inter-American” has come to take on a meaning in support of U.S. hegemony.

Still, Alvarez decided to suspend all fiery rhetoric-or, rather, leave it to his boss-and imply that, once again, the United States is needed on an international level.

In the case of Venezuela, the United States is needed to help consume the largest oil reserves outside of the Middle East, Alvarez said, beaming with pride at the volume of trade conducted between his homeland and his land of employment.

Over the course of eight days with spiels from five diplomats, the Macalester community heard the same fundamental response to questions about the United States’ role in international politics-that the world as we know it, or as we want to know it, can’t go on without U.S. involvement.

Perhaps Macalester, to which some attribute a stubborn idealism, is a place where others are finding a middle ground.

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