Lee Hamilton '52 Examines 'America's Role in the World' at DePauw Discourse 2008
September 18, 2008
September 18, 2008, Greencastle, Ind. - [Download Video: "The Biggest Threat" - 380kb] "If you talk to most of our policymakers today and ask them what's your greatest concern right now, I think they'd say Pakistan," veteran statesman Lee H. Hamilton said tonight at DePauw Discourse 2008. Speaking in Meharry Hall of historic East College, the former chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and 1952 graduate of the University discussed "America's Role in the World" with Bret Baier, the chief White House correspondent for the FOX News Channel and 1992 graduate of DePauw.
Pakistan has the bomb and a new president, Hamilton pointed out, describing the government as "dysfunctional" with "no authority in the tribal areas," where it's believed al Qaeda has a heavy presence. "And the biggest nightmare to American national security would be to have the extremists get hold of the bomb."
At some point, Hamilton says, the United States must get cooperation from Pakistan to root out terrorist forces. [Download Video: "No Safe Haven" - 683kb] "The bottom line is that we cannot permit them to have a safe haven," asserts the Democrat who served 34 years in the House of Representatives. "At some point, I think the United States must go in. Far preferable that the Pakistanis do it, but if they do not I think we will have to."
Hamilton, who co-chaired the Iraq Study Group and 9/11 Commission was asked by Baier how much confidence he has in Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki, to which he responded, "Not much." He declared, [Download Audio: "The Surge" - 504kb] "I do not agree with those people who say the surge has been a success; that's overstating it. Has it made progress? Yes, indeed." While it has improved security in Iraq, Hamilton reminded the audience that nearly filled the historic hall "we did not have the surge for security purposes alone. We had the surge to achieve political purposes, and the political purpose was to give the Iraqi leadership space to bring about national reconciliation. They have not done that. They have made some efforts towards it but they have not come close to making Iraq an inclusive nation."
In Russia, "We've hit a hot button, and Putin, with the oil money, is asserting his power," in Hamilton's view. While the U.S. is wise to take a stand against aggressions in Georgia, the tensions in that region must not obscure the big picture. "The priority national interests are to get Russia to help us contain the loose nukes. I think the American national interest is to get Russia's support on sanctions against Iran and get Russia's help on North Korea and counterterrorism. I would put those interests -- this is putting it quite bluntly -- higher than Georgia and Ukraine," Hamilton stated.
How America leaves Iraq is equally, if not more, important than when it does, Hamilton told the students, alumni and faculty members in his audience. [Download Audio: "Reasonable Withdrawal" - 352kb] "We've done a lot of damage to that country. We've done a lot of damage to the people of that country. We have some considerable responsibility to those people and it is in our interest that it not become chaotic when we leave. So this is a very tough question, how do you have a responsible withdrawal, and the fact is gonna be that it has to be done -- as Sen. McCain says -- on the basis of the facts on the ground.
Hamilton is a member of Sen. Barack Obama's working group on national security and believes the Democratic presidential nominee is correct in believing that America should engage in talks with Iran. "We negotiated with the Soviets for 40 years" before the Cold War thawed, and he's not "starry-eyed" about talks yielding quick results.
[Download Audio: "Talking" - 456kb] "I know you have to back up diplomacy with force, I understand that. I know the president has to have the threat of force. The president is right when he says I'm not going to take the military option off the table with regard to Iran. My only difference there is, I wouldn't say it. Everybody knows it; the Itanians know it. But one of the things you have to do to get moving here is to lower the rhetoric a little bit, otherwise it'll make it more difficult to converse."
Hamilton offered, [Download Video: "Assistance" - 1822kb] "You name the problem and I can tell you we cannot solve it by ourselves. How are you gonna deal with the problem of nuclear proliferation without dealing with Iran, Russia and North Korea?," he asked. "How are you gonna deal with immigration without dealing with Mexico? How are you gonna deal with drugs without dealing with Colombia?" The citizens of the United States "have to understand that the big problems that really worry us we have to have help" in finding solutions to.
Newsweek has called Hamilton "Mr. Integrity," while the New York Times' David Brooks opined, "The country is hungering for leaders like him: open-minded, unassuming centrists who are interested in government more than politics."
With prices at the gas pump over $4 a gallon, Hamilton also addressed energy issues. [Download Audio: "Hamilton on Energy Independence" - 1102kb] "I believe the greatest failure of American foreign policy over the last several decades has been the failure to reduce our dependence upon foreign oil. It is a major failure of the system." The former congressman told the crowd he recently came across a speech on energy interdependence he delivered in the 1970s. "It is no exaggeration at all to say that I could give the exact same speech today ... We have been slow learners on energy and it really is frustrating, isn't it, that we find ourselves in 2008 with this dependence upon foreign energy."
At an afternoon news conference with DePauw student journalists at Walden Inn, Hamilton said the biggest challenge for the next president will be bringing together a very evenly divided nation."The climate today is difficult, but I think it can be overcome," he said. "If I were advising the new president, I would say, put some members of the opposite party in your cabinet. As soon as you walk into the Oval Office reach out to all members of Congress, Republican and Democrat. Go to the country and say, 'I've got my own views as to how problems can be solved ' -- you'd expect that, obviously, of anybody elected president -- 'I know that I don't have all the truth, and I'm willing to work with you and I want to get things done,' and try to maintain that posture early on in the administration. It can be done. Not easily."
[Download Video: "Hamilton's DePauw Experience" - 5903kb] "DePauw was an enormously beneficial experience for me," Hamilton told the student reporters, adding, "I loved the professors and learned a lot from them" and "enjoyed playing basketball here." He declared, "The mission of the University is hugely important," noting that he is a "great advocate of the liberal arts education ... I come from the school of thought that says you have to pay some attention to literature and philosophy and history and civics and social studies" and promoting civic engagement, which he says the nation desperately needs.
Earlier in the day, the 2008 Discourse opened with "Informing and Enlightening: Journalism's Role in a Global War of Ideas." Tomorrow's events include an 8 p.m. keynote presentation, "In Conversation with Madeleine K. Albright."Back