By DOUG SHERWIN
San Diego Daily Transcript
Thursday, December 8, 2011

George Mitchell, the former Senate majority leader from Maine, said it’s imperative that Americans care about what happens in the rest of the world.

During an engaging — and at times witty — 45-minute address Wednesday to the City Club of San Diego, the 78-year-old Democrat explained why it’s important for the United States to support Europe during its current economic crisis and to back those in the Arab world who seek democracy.

“9/11 demonstrated to all Americans that what happens in the most remote parts of the world, in places most of us have never heard of and where we’d have a hard time finding on the map, decisions are being made and actions being taken that have a direct impact on the lives and, tragically, the deaths of many Americans,” he said. “And we can be no longer unconcerned about what goes on in the world. That even if we wanted to, it is in our interests to be directly involved, to be directly concerned and to be direct participants to try to shape the forces around the world in a manner that is most favorable to our well being, our national interests and most importantly our traditional values.”

Mitchell has served in various public and private sector capacities, most recently as the U.S. Special Envoy for Middle East Peace under the Obama administration. He was the lead investigator on two reports, one on the Arab-Israeli conflict and another on the use of performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball.

When he’s asked why Americans should be concerned about the problems in the Middle East, Northern Ireland or in Europe, his response typically involves a history lesson.

Mitchell reminded the audience that conflicts in Europe erupted into two major land wars that devastated the region and drew in the United States at a great cost in lives and money.

However, following World War II, the United States helped rebuild Europe and helped create several international organizations — the European Union, NATO and the United Nations — that enabled peace to settle over the region.

“There are some in this country who regard international institutions as hostile to our interests,” Mitchell said. “The reality is, they have very well served our interests over the past three quarters of a century.”
And he said it’s because of America’s exporting of democracy that has quelled any talk of war being waged over Europe’s current problems with the euro, according to Mitchell.

“There can be no doubt whatsoever that if another such conflict occurred, we would be deeply drawn in, inevitably to our great detriment,” Mitchell said. “So we should be doing all we can to support the Europeans in their efforts to resolve this in a peaceful manner.”

Mitchell also said the United States must continue to be engaged in the events that have followed in the wake of the Arab Spring. He said it’s going to take some time for democracy in the region to set in, noting it was eight years between the end of fighting in the American Revolution and the formation of the United States as a country.

This time of transition will be a great test of American principles, Mitchell said.

“If we believe in democracy, we should believe in it for people everywhere,” he added. “If we believe in the right of people to govern themselves, we should believe that people have the right to govern themselves, not just here, but everywhere else. And it’s important that we maintain our principles to guide us.”

Mitchell also said it’s imperative for the Israelis and Palestinians to establish two separate states, but it can only happen with compromise.

“I don’t think the Palestinians are going to get a state until the people of Israel have a reasonable and sustainable sense of security,” Mitchell said. “And I don’t think the Israelis are going to get that reasonable and sustainable sense of security until the Palestinians get a state.”

If they don’t reach a compromise, Israel faces the difficult decision of becoming a democratic state or a Jewish state — not both. And it likely will face increased isolationism. Palestine, meanwhile could be looking at another 60 years of occupation.

A compromise — while likely unsatisfactory for both — would be good for both.

“It will drain from the region not all of the problems but a major source of conflict,” Mitchell said. “And it will enable the Arab countries and Israel to join together in confronting what is the real threat to both of them and that is from Iran.”