By Dan Henson
U.S. Distinguished Sen. George J. Mitchell (Maine 1980-95) wowed a packed house in Waco Hall on Tuesday night with the discussion of his involvement and insights on conflicts in Northern Ireland and throughout the Middle East.
President Ken Starr and Mitchell began the conversation by remembering Monday’s atrocities in Boston, and the lives of those whom were lost, including the young Martin Richard. During the Boston Marathon on Monday, two bombs exploded close to the finish line, injuring more than 100 people and killing three.
“I feel personally about this, because I grew up in Maine and I have spent a lot of time in Boston,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell was asked to serve as a special envoy for Middle East Peace by President Obama in 2009. He represented the United States in diplomatic relations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“There is no such thing as a conflict that can’t be ended,” Mitchell said. He said there are many threats for Israel. Two of these threats, which are widely understood today, such as rockets and isolation. “Hezbollah has 30-50,000 rockets,” Mitchell said.
Israel faces issues with isolation in that the nation has the support of the United States, but in that geographic area, it is the minority.
A third threat for Israel, according to Mitchell, is that the birth rates of Arabs are such that by the middle of this century, the majority of the population in that country will be Arab.
When asked by Starr about the recent election in Egypt and their current governmental struggle, Mitchell said that the real key and difficulty in the region is in guaranteeing the rights of the minority.
“It is not an easy thing for any society to do. It hasn’t been for ours,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said that many societies today think that they would be better off with a meritocracy, in which can change their social and economic status, like that of the United States, which is not necessarily true.
When asked by Starr about his opinion on the United States’ involvement in the conflict in Syria, Mitchell said there are three competing forces and we have the challenge of figuring out how to handle each of these societies.
“The last thing we need is another war over there,” Mitchell said.
Starr posed the question, “Pakistan the country, a friend or not a friend of the United States?”
Mitchell promptly professed that he does not believe in labeling a country a friend or not a friend. “What we should search for are common interests,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said this will be one of the greatest challenges over the next half century.
He said that by the middle of this century, there will be as many Muslims as there were people on earth in the 1960s.
Mitchell has been awarded the Medal of Freedom and has also been knighted by the Queen of England for his diplomatic work in Northern Ireland.
Mitchell said the violence he saw during his work in Northern Ireland was horrific and random. And through all of the violence, ordinary men and women, particularly women, stood up in the face of the chaos in hopes of just achieving a normal life.
“It was an inspiration to see them do that, especially those who suffered adverse consequences as a result,” Mitchell said. “They did the right thing, at the right time for their country.”
Starr also commended Mitchell’s character in his cooperation with former Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole. Mitchell told Dole on his first day as Senate Majority Leader that he would not stoop to petty quarreling.
“We understood that we had a higher loyalty,” Mitchell said.