America and the World:
What is the future of democracy in the world? That question was debated during an international meeting of nearly 200 academics, policymakers, international affairs experts, and students who gathered in Farmville in January 2007 for the conference “America and the World: Sustaining Democracy in the Global Age.” Sponsored by Longwood with support from Hampden-Sydney College, the three-day conference offered a wide variety of panel presentations and lectures addressing issues concerning democratization, the sustainability of democracy in the developing world, challenges facing post-industrial democracies, the impact of terrorism on freedom, and how globalization affects democracy.
With a schedule of speakers that included several top newsmakers – Lee Hamilton, co-chair of the Iraq Study Group; Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; and John Agresto, a former member of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq – the conference provided a forum for a lively discussion of current affairs. Other notable speakers included Thomas Boyatt, former U.S. ambassador and current president and CEO of the Foreign Affairs Council; and Ethan Bronner, deputy foreign editor for the New York Times.
Organized by Dr. Scott Cole, assistant professor of political science at Longwood, and Dr. David Marion, professor of political science at Hampden-Sydney College, the event was approved by the Jamestown 400th Commemoration Commission to be part of the Future of Democracy conference series which will culminate with the “World Forum on the Future of Democracy” to be held in Williamsburg, Va. in September 2007.
“The impact of this conference has been tremendous,” said Dr. Cole. “By bringing together a diverse group of people from around the world to discuss timely and important issues, we have enhanced Longwood’s image as a serious academic institution. However, the most significant impact seems to have been made upon the students who participated in the conference. Many professors have told me that their students are more engaged in classroom discussions since attending the conference,” said Dr. Cole.
Richard Holbrooke delivered the conference keynote address, “America and the World’s Crisis,” and reviewed the history of U.S. involvement in the promotion of democracy and shared his thoughts about the current situation in Iraq.
Holbrooke described how, in 1920, Winston Churchill, Gertrude Bell, and T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) met in Cairo and formed the country of Iraq from three separate provinces – the Kurdish (north) at Mosul, the Sunni (center) at Baghdad, and the Shiite (south) at Basra. “Had they not done that, those three entities would have become three different countries in 1920 and we would not be in the crisis we are in today,” he said.
Ambassador Holbrooke began his career in 1962, immediately after graduating from Brown University, as a Foreign Service officer. After studying Vietnamese, he was sent to Vietnam and, in the following six years served in a variety of posts related to Vietnam – first in the Mekong Delta as a provincial representative for the Agency for International Development, and then as staff assistant to Ambassadors Maxwell Taylor and Henry Cabot Lodge. In 1966 he was re-assigned to the White House, working on the Vietnam staff of President Johnson.
In reflecting on his service in Vietnam, Holbrooke said, “I spent my whole career trying to build nations, trying to improve them, trying to teach people in places like Vietnam how to create representative government, give themselves a chance for better education and better economic proposals. I really believe in that and think that it’s something we should do. I’m proud of the things the United States has done, and there are many success stories in the world starting with Japan, Korea, and Germany and moving on to the countries on every continent in the world where the American legacy is positive, very positive. What concerns me is that by using democracy promotion as a goal in Iraq we are risking a backlash against our very values all over the world.
“One of the consequences you need to consider in this conference is how we keep standing up for our values, internationally, which we must do, while dealing with a malignant tumor in Iraq which is mestastasizing everywhere.”
In his lecture “A Balanced View of American Power,” Lee Hamilton, a member of the 9/11 Commission, continued the discussion about promoting democracy and how the U.S. can use its vast national power to deal with threats from around the world.
“It’s amazing how powerful we are, isn’t it?” he said. “The most powerful military force in the world – nothing like it anywhere, any time in the history of the world. The largest economy, the highest level of technological achievement, the most extensive cultural influence in all the world. Just think about America’s presence.
“But our power is not infinite,” he said, “We cannot kill every terrorist. We cannot overthrow every evil regime. We cannot remake the world in our image. And it is this seeming contradiction – our awesome power on the one hand, our inability to bend the world to our will on the other hand – that confronts the United States. How do we deal with it? How do we achieve a more effective American foreign policy?”
Noting numerous examples of instability in the world – Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iran, North Korea, Russia, and Latin America – Hamilton said, “Everywhere we turn we are confronted with the limitation of American power.
“Whereas our ability to accomplish things in the world seemed unlimited with the removal of Saddam Hussein, it now seems that problems outpace our ability to confront them. But neither simplification is true. America is not all-powerful. America is not merely a prisoner of world events. American leadership in the world is crucial to establish a peaceful world order.”
Quoting John F. Kennedy, he said, “We must face the fact that the United States is neither omnipotent or omniscient. We are only six percent of the world’s population and we cannot impose our will on the other 94 percent of mankind. We cannot right every wrong or reverse every adversity and therefore, he [Kennedy] said, there cannot be an American solution to every problem.”
Thomas Boyatt, former U.S. Ambassador and president of the Foreign Affairs Council who is the 2007 Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow at Longwood, addressed “The Hundred Years’ War of the 20th Century.”
Ambassador Boyatt wove an intriguing diplomatic tapestry of how the 20th century was actually a hundred years’ war beginning with World War I, which, in effect, planted the seeds for World War II and the ensuing Cold War.
The North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO) was an outgrowth of postwar militarism and aggression by the then Soviet Union. The success of NATO, Boyatt said, was based on a triumvirate of priorities: keep the U.S. in, keep Germany down, and keep Russia out.
Today, the United States faces an unprecedented challenge in the war on terrorism. As the threat of global terrorism faces the free world, he believes the United States should get ready for another major terrorist attack. Although the Cold War saw the growing threat of nuclear attack, the idea of Mutually Assured Destruction kept both the United States and Russia in check. Now, there is no such assurance because we are fighting a nebulous and mobile enemy.
“We are stumbling,” he said, “because we have never fought a war like this.” He believes that the U.S. is closer to a nuclear explosion on homeland soil than at any other time in our history.
John Agresto, a contributor to the new Iraqi constitution, addressed “Making Democracy Safe for the World: Reflections on Our Mistakes in Iraq.” As Coalition Provisional Authority Senior Advisor to the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Agresto was responsible for assisting the Iraqi ministry in the physical rehabilitation, intellectual renewal, and curricular reform of 22 universities and 46 vocational colleges, establishing scholarship and exchange programs, and reopening the universities of Iraq to the world. He also assisted in drafting the Iraqi constitution.
He said that America went into Iraq with high expectations but seriously misunderstood how difficult it would be to promote democracy. “It looked like all we needed to do ... was take the lid off, remove the tyranny and let the people [manage], and we couldn’t be more wrong,” said Agresto.
“War and Terror: How the New York Times Covers Today’s Global Conflicts” was presented by Ethan Bronner, who has served as deputy foreign editor for the New York Times (NYT) since 2004. Before becoming deputy foreign editor he was assistant editorial page editor where he concentrated on foreign affairs, the law and education. He was the paper’s education editor from 1999 until 2001, and a national education correspondent from 1997 until 1999. He has also worked with The Boston Globe and Reuters. A series of articles on Al Qaeda that he helped edit was awarded the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism.
Bronner shared his insight about how the NYT assigns journalists, determines the lengths of their stays, and what their primary focus will be once they are assigned to an area. “Our task,” he said, “is to bring readers a real understanding of events happening in places far away.”