Former U.N. ambassador speaks at convocation

By Matthew Stone

The former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations said Monday afternoon that the next president of the United States would be forced to deal with “the worst world situation ever,” but held out faith that the United States’ leadership role in the world could be a force for positive change.In a 45-minute convocation address held in Kagin Commons, Richard Holbrooke, who also served as the U.S. ambassador to Germany during former President Bill Clinton’s administration, praised some of his political forebears while taking digs at President George W. Bush’s foreign policy. The address attracted over 700 audience members.

Citing the four-year-old war in Iraq, a potential war with Iran, challenging diplomatic relations with China and Russia, the continuing presence of Al-Qaeda, and the global spread of AIDS, Holbrooke said, the next president would face a unique set of challenges.

Despite what he called the United States’ diminished standing in the world, Holbrooke said, the U.S. is “still capable of being the world leader.”

The U.S. needs to remain in that role, he said.

“When the U.S. is absent from negotiation, its chances for success are much diminished,” said Holbrooke, who has endorsed Sen. Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy and aspires to serve as Secretary of State.

The career diplomat, who has also served as a Peace Corps director in Morocco and a managing editor of the journal Foreign Affairs, cited past U.S. successes in brokering peace deals. The 1978 Camp David Accords that President Jimmy Carter helped to broker between Egypt and Israel were “a classic example of American leadership.”

The 1995 Dayton Accords signed between the presidents of Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia–Holbrooke headed up the negotiations that led to the deal–are another example of the United States’ potential for positive global influence.

“The U.S. could feel proud that by taking the lead…we were able to end the war,” Holbrooke said.

While he extolled the virtues of diplomatic negotiation over the use of military force, Holbrooke warned that the situation in Iraq has escalated to the point at which negotiation among the warring factions is no longer a possibility. The threat of military action against those parties that refuse to come to the negotiating table has lost its impact after more than four years of war.

“Iraq, I think, is just beyond a negotiated settlement,” Holbrooke said, calling Gen. David Petraeus’ assessment of the current Iraqi situation, which he delivered to Congress on Monday, too “upbeat.”

Conflict in Afghanistan, which Holbrooke called a counter-insurgency “bearing great resemblance to Vietnam” is not “amenable to negotiations,” the diplomat added.

Holbrooke repeatedly spoke of a need for world leaders to work to prevent serious conflict. The Bush administration’s abandonment of negotiations with Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo when it assumed the White House in 2001, Holbrooke said, has allowed a dispute to build up that has pitted Russia against the U.S.

“The failure to prevent a crisis set in,” the former ambassador said. “When the U.S. does nothing, the rest of the world tends to do nothing.”

Urvashi Wattal ’09 said she appreciated Holbrooke’s message about preventive diplomacy.

“The way he talked about prevention, that’s something that gets missed out on a lot,” she said after the speech.

Holbrooke’s address featured some lighter moments.

Recounting how he ended up as the German ambassador during the Clinton administration when former Vice President Walter Mondale ’50 became the U.S. ambassador to Japan, he praised Mondale, with whom he appeared publicly earlier in the day in Weyerhaeuser Chapel, as a “great American and a great civil servant.”

The diplomat told audience members that he has hope of the United States continuing to assume a positive role in the world because of an emerging generation of committed leaders.

“I’m utterly confident that the U.S. will prevail like it has in the past,” he said.

Article posted Sept. 10, 2007 at 9:48 p.m. CST.