In defense of Richard Holbrooke and America's active role in world affairs

By Josh Jorgensen

The Mac Weekly’s position on the Convocation address by Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and its relation to the Institute for Global Citizenship was somewhat shocking and completely disappointing.The gist of the editorial board’s opinion in “Holbrooke plays Kipling to Mac’s new burden” is that Macalester is rejecting its activist history in favor of a more privileged and powerful position that promotes a “missionary relationship with the rest of the world,” and has founded the Institute for Global Citizenship (IGC) to seal the fate of our radical past. Ambassador Holbrooke’s Convocation address was only another element of this project.

I expect more from the Weekly’s staff. In fact, I’m inclined to believe the opinion they printed was only a ploy to incite submissions that fill space on their pages. Briefly mentioning the IGC’s “troubling relationship to power and privilege” is underhanded and misleading. It’s hard to respond to this type of mudslinging because the Weekly included no substantive criticism of the IGC. I assume, however, the editorial is resorting to the tiring and baseless complaint that the Institute is somehow disconnected, secretive, and/or imperialistic. The alternative which the Weekly highlights is our noble activist tradition. But leading a march to the St. Paul Capitol in protest of the Iraq war is only one form of action against injustice.

The capacity for critical thinking and engagement with the broader world necessary for a life of meaningful activism is not endangered by the “systemic transformation” embodied by our new Institute. Rather, the IGC is built to facilitate students’ acquisition of the skills necessary to truly make a difference in the global community. Some may see this type of global citizenship as the undertaking of an unsolicited burden. Many, however, view a future working to enhance equality, negotiate peace, bring economic development to countries experiencing dire poverty, or cure illness as a highly admirable and worthy goal.

I further fail to see how public consciousness is a bad thing for a school that relies on outside support to maintain the level of excellence and accessibility that we as students demand. By blindly accusing the administration of trading our values for dollars, the Weekly’s editorial board denies that we do in fact exist in a context beyond our activist bubble. The College must be seen in order to be sustained as a viable educational institution, and it is unfortunate the Weekly derides the very Institute that could rejuvenate our school’s sense of commitment to the broader community.

The Weekly took another cheap shot by painting Ambassador Holbrooke as America-centric and blinded by his insular position in D.C. Because the U.S. has historic and undeniable military, economic, and political power in the international community, American involvement is indeed necessary in the world today, for conflict prevention and resolution, for the solution of all transnational global ills (e.g. climate change, pandemics, nuclear proliferation), and for furthering economic development of the poorest regions. Ambassador Holbrooke was exactly correct in pointing this out.

As if the IGC and Ambassador Holbrooke weren’t enough, the Weekly staff attacked what they called “a growing body of politically-focused Macalester students” planning to enter government. For some undeterminable reason, the editorial board seems to despise the idea that Macalester students actually want to enter public service with the hope of improving the world. There is no doubt in my mind or in the minds of our “politically-focused” colleagues that international institutions have their faults. But no governmental or financial institution is inherently evil and cannot be changed from within, and to say that some of our number strive to graduate and commit injustices that are universally bemoaned on campus is not only paradoxical, it is hurtful and divisive.

The Weekly concludes that at an older, more activist Macalester, Ambassador Holbrooke would not have received a warm welcome. It’s more than a little depressing to think that a supposedly activist, progressive, responsible student body would reject a man who has brought warring factions to the negotiating table and saved thousands of lives over his career. I only hope the editorial board is mistaken in its proposition, and that my fellow students can work to accomplish similar feats without being criticized by our own.