NORTH ADAMS -- The United States was correct in its actions when it chose to intervene in Libya, but not Syria, according to former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, who spoke at the MCLA Church Street Center during the second annual Michael S. and Kitty Dukakis Public Policy Lecture Series.
Speaking to a full auditorium Thursday, the former Senate majority leader explained that while Libya recently saw a revolution and Syria is in the throes of its own, the circumstances behind both are completely different and therefore the American response should equally be different.
"There's a sound case in Libya," Mitchell said, answering a question posed by Associate Professor Anthony Daly. "There's a reason to assist the opposition to establish a basic effort to achieve individual freedom and self-governance that the people demand. In Syria, that doesn't exist. There are, in fact, multiple entities that are in the opposition for a multitude of reasons. There is also the fact that the minorities in the country, especially Christians, continue to support the current regime."
He added, "In the absence of a cohesive and unified opposition and a assurance of the outcome when the regime ultimately falls, non-military support is the right course of action. We supply non-military support, most of which is not publicly known, around the world. It is not a case in which U.S. military intervention would be wise. It is a case for prudence and restraint until we know what we do will become beneficial and not just harmful."
Mitchell also said the United States should not just be seen by other countries as a military or economic power, but as a superpower that is true to its roots and the ideals on which it was founded, including the sovereignty of the people and opportunity for every citizen.
"As we move into the 21st century, the power and ideals of the United States are dominant and influential around the world," he said. "Most people around the world want to be on the side of the strong. But to many people, our power is increasingly perceived as the private or even the exclusive interest of our influence around the world. Our power must be deployed always in service to our ideals The United States was a great nation long before it was a great military or great economic power."
The lecture series, which was named for the former Massachusetts governor and his wife last year, is supported by the Ruth Proud Charitable Trust.
Mitchell, who currently serves as co-chairman of the Housing Commission at the Bipartisan Policy Center, was first appointed to the U.S. Senate in 1980 to complete the term of U.S. Sen. Edmund Muskie, of Maine, who resigned to become U.S. Secretary of State. In 1982 he won his first full term in the senate and continued in the position until his retirement in 1995. He left the Senate as the Senate majority leader, a position he held since 1989.
In addition to his work in the Senate, Mitchell served as chairman of the Peace Negotiations in Northern Ireland and at the request of President William Clinton, he served as chairman of an international fact-finding committee that examined the current crisis between Israelis and Palestinians.
In 2007, the Mitchell Commission, of which he was the lead investigator, released a report about the use of performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball. He has also served as the chairman of the Walt Disney Company and as the chancellor of Queens University in Northern Belfast.
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