Mondale, Holbrooke field students' questions

By Zac Farber

The former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke, and the former Vice President of the United States, Walter Mondale ’50, agreed during a question and answer session Monday afternoon that the U.S. Armed Forces will not solve the situation in Iraq.”There is no successful exit from Iraq with the current strategy,” Holbrooke told the almost 200 Macalester students, faculty, and staff in attendance at Weyerhaeuser Chapel.

Mondale, Vice President under Jimmy Carter and a former Minnesota Senator who attended Macalester in the 1940s, agreed with Holbrooke, his longtime friend and fellow diplomat.

“I personally think that the possibility of American troops finding a military solution to Iraq is very remote, if not impossible,” Mondale echoed.

In addition to Iraq, Holbrooke and Mondale discussed the significance of the United States’ relationship with China and Russia, the 2008 presidential election, the AIDS pandemic, and the historical and current problems associated with refugees. President Brian Rosenberg asked the first set of questions before opening the floor to the audience questions.

Mohammad Asif ’08, a Fulbright scholar from central Afghanistan, asked the pair a question regarding his own nation. “Since 2005 and 2006 the situation [in Afghanistan] has been deteriorating, what do you think the best solution to the war is?”

“A government that can run the country,” responded Holbrooke. But he said he anticipated Americans to stay in Afghanistan “a lot longer than we’ll be in Iraq.”

Mondale talked for less time than Holbrooke during the hour and fifteen minute discussion, drifting between his assertion that Islamic terrorism was the single largest problem facing the United States today, and gloomy fears about Russia’s presence in the world.

“This ominous, strange isolation of much of the Islamic world [from] the West” will cause difficulties, Mondale said, adding vaguely that “in the Middle East they’re starting to play some of the old games they used to play.”

Holbrooke cited the rise of scare tactics and the assassination of journalists in Russia as another issue of concern for the United States.

“We are not back in the Cold War, but they [the Russians] are not our allies,” he said. “The close diplomatic relationship with Russia when Bill Clinton was President is over.”

Some students found that Holbrooke’s foreign policy declarations relied too much on his past successes in negotiating peace treaties and not enough on the complexities of current situations.

“He kept trying to peg current conflicts around the world into a category, and to relate them to past international conflicts,” Beth Miller ’10 said. “Each situation will always be different and unique in some way from the next, and I feel that this need to classify conflicts and then apply that type of remedy is a trap Washington falls into too often.”

Holbrooke was the keynote speaker at Macalester’s convocation later Monday afternoon.

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