What Mr. Holbrooke failed to mention

By Andy Wu

I would like to take the opportunity to expand a little bit upon some key points that were mentioned in Ambassador Holbrooke’s Convocation speech last week.Although the focus of Ambassador Holbrooke’s speech was on negotiation and diplomacy, one point he made early in his speech that stuck with me was that prevention is always more desirable than negotiation, the rationale being that it is always better to nip potential problems in the bud rather than letting them manifest themselves before taking action. Although I feel that the ambassador should have expanded a bit more upon these points in his speech, he did provide examples of how greater problems could have been avoided if the US State Department had paid better attention to warning signs in the Balkans, North Korea, and even Iraq and tackled said problems when they were still manageable.

Having said that, I would like to point out that problems in the Balkans, North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Israel, and Darfur are issues that have had extensive media coverage at some point or another. What about other blatantly obvious political hotspots in the rest of the world that do not receive as much attention from the press – such as Chinese aggression toward Taiwan and Tibet and the struggle over Kashmir on the subcontinent? At the risk of sounding unnecessarily alarmist, I believe there is as much significance in what was left unspoken as what was said during the ambassador’s speech.

What I mean by this is two-fold. First, if there is one thing that I firmly believe in, it is the capacity and willingness of your average Macalester student to do good deeds, whether social or political activism. As with such things, however, the first step in activism and advocacy is to identify key issues that resonate within you personally. This leads me to my second point: whether we like it or not, the mass media plays a massively-influential role in helping us decide what causes we would like to root for. The newspaper in many ways is our faucet of knowledge into issues that we face, not only locally but also internationally.

I believe that Ambassador Holbrooke ultimately did himself and his message a disservice by failing to mention or reference these less-publicized issues. Whether his omission was intentional (referring to my previous examples: since China, India, and Pakistan are major US economic and/or political partners) or not, he missed a golden opportunity to point out and/or remind the Macalester student body of an important point: just because a certain issue is deemed as being not newsworthy by the media does not mean that the issue is moot or non-existent.