Ex-U.S. Sen. Talks Trump, Global Policy

  • Former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell discussed a range of foreign policy issues during a summer speaking series about domestic divisions, sponsored by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Dartmouth in Hanover, N.H., on Aug. 9, 2018. (Courtesy photograph)

Valley News Corresponent
Published: 8/9/2018 11:50:59 PM

Hanover — Former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell filled Dartmouth College’s Spaulding Auditorium to the brim for a Thursday morning lecture in which he criticized President Donald Trump’s handling of international affairs, reflected on his diplomatic career and warned of the excessive influence of campaign donors on political candidates. Just for good measure, he addressed the topic of baseball and the Boston Red Sox.

Mitchell, a Democrat who represented Maine from 1980 to 1995, including a stint as Senate majority leader, has served in a variety of diplomatic missions, including brokering a peace agreement in Northern Ireland and, more recently, working as special envoy to the Middle East under President Barack Obama.

Speaking at a summer series about domestic divisions sponsored by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Dartmouth, Mitchell found himself discussing a range of foreign policy issues.

He described President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal as an ill-considered attempt to undo President Obama’s legacy.

“I think the main reason is pretty obvious,” he said of Trump’s motivations. “If Obama was for it, Trump is against it.”

Mitchell noted that the deal had driven Iran to reduce its uranium stockpile by 98 percent, and that the other parties to the deal still supported it. At the same time, he said, Trump found cause to declare North Korean denuclearization a settled issue despite the lack of a concrete agreement.

“Those are completely contradictory approaches to the same problem,” he said.

Mitchell also provided a dim view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, describing it as “much more complicated” than the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland that he helped bring to an end.

Mitchell views Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas as unwilling to enter into serious negotiations.

“They both don’t think the process will succeed, because they know each other so well,” he said. “Netanyahu believes — and this is speculation on my part — Netanyahu believes that Abbas does not have the political or personal strength to enter into an agreement and never will. Therefore, why should he risk criticism —maybe losing office — from his right wing to make concessions?

“Abbas believes that Netanyahu is not serious. He doesn’t believe a word Netanyahu says, and he thinks they’ll never be a success as long as Netanyahu’s prime minister, and he cites the fact that Netanyahu in his career has been against a Palestinian state, for a Palestinian state, against a Palestinian state, for a Palestinian state, now says he’s for it, but not now.”

An audience member who previously lived in the Middle East questioned how the U.S. could justify continually intervening in the region in the face of local opposition.

Mitchell responded by arguing “it is very much in America’s interest that we play a role in international affairs.” The U.S.’s economic standing depends on international trade and the primacy of the American dollar, he said. “The fact that the dollar is the world’s reserve currency produces enormous economic benefits,” he said. (The International Monetary Fund’s reserve currencies also include the euro, Chinese yuan and others, but the U.S. dollar remains tops.)

Mitchell focused much of his talk on American values, which he described as a bulwark against political instability.

“Democracy’s been corrupted,” Mitchell said, referring to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which loosened restrictions on corporate campaign spending. He said the decision led members of Congress to devote even more time to fundraising, detracting from time spent legislating and responding to constituent concerns.

In an interview during the intermission of Thursday’s event, Mitchell said he didn’t think there should be “any single litmus test” for Supreme Court nominees, but that he hoped the court would one day reverse its “unwise” campaign-finance rulings.

Two questions directed at Mitchell concerned his involvement with baseball, as a current senior adviser to the Boston Red Sox and author of a 2007 study of steroid use in the sport.

Mitchell said gathering information for his report proved challenging, because despite mailing an interview request to every active major-league player, only one agreed to talk with him. Now that the league has instituted a stronger drug-control program and player attitudes have evolved, Mitchell thinks the league is “much healthier.”

And while he stressed the unpredictability of playoff baseball, he said the Red Sox’ management was “as confident as we can be” in the team’s chances this year.

Gabe Brison-Trezise can be reached at g.brisontrezise@gmail.com.

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