United States Ambassador Thomas Pickering, Class of 1953, presented a lecture entitled "Priorities for the Next President of the United States in Foreign and Security Policy," to a packed Kresge Auditorium on Tuesday. Ambassador Pickering served in the U.S. Foreign Service for over four decades in a career that culminated with his appointment as Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs, the third-ranking position in the State Department. He retired from the position in 2001.
In his lecture, Pickering addressed a variety of issues facing the next U.S. president, including relations with China, Russia, and especially the Middle East, which he described as "the nexus of our problems."
Pickering urged a return to diplomacy backed by a strong military that would strive to solve the pressing problems of global warming, nuclear proliferation, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the growing worldwide shortage of water. His core argument focused on America's need to develop "a positive agenda" with countries "with which we have many problems" if we want to "gain ground on issues with which there is disagreement."
Deriding the use of military force under the Bush administration, he said, "I think we have moved beyond our flirtation with unilateralism...and the myth that all issues can be dealt with boots on the ground."
Regarding the Iraq War, Pickering said that "we shouldn't have started it...and have made a huge mess of it."
He proposed a "diplomatic ending to the conflict," explaining that a stronger Iraqi constitution must be drafted and that a peace agreement between the three major ethnic groups?the Sunni, the Shiite, and the Kurds?must be created since the country is "ethnically and politically divided."
Furthermore, he insisted that the bordering states of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Turkey be included in negotiating the future of the country. Since Iraq's neighbors all have attachments to parties inside the country, if the U.S. does not "incorporate them into the process...we will fail."
"Neither the U.S. nor the regional countries [of the Middle East] can solve this problem alone," he added. "The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council must be brought in to create a team that supports a reasonable solution. We need to find serious negotiators...who can help provide the creative solutions that have so far escaped us."
When asked how the future of policy towards Iran might look, Pickering urged an ideologically similar mission of diplomacy, aimed at preventing Iran from further improving the quality of its centrifuges. Currently, the Bush administration maintains that it will partake in direct talks with Iran only if Tehran suspends its nuclear enrichment program and grants International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors unfettered access to nuclear research facilities. Iranian officials have refused to make these concessions, thus severely limiting U.S. involvement in multilateral talks and preventing any direct negotiation.
Pickering argued that "we ought to drop our preconditions for talking [since we have] found no way to get Iran to stop enriching uranium."
"If we are going to get anywhere with Iran, we have to use diplomacy," he said. "If they joined a consortium to own and operate nuclear facilities" to benefit their civilian infrastructure, then monitoring and verifying their facilities could "be done by an international body," he said.
Pickering indicated that our European and U.N. Security allies would be encouraged to help us deal with Iran if "we give on civil development [in order] to allow for inspection."
Stances on policies concerning Iraq and Iran are crucial issues in the upcoming presidential election.
Professor of Government Allen Springer commented that willingness to negotiate "depends on your view of whether you believe talks with Iran will be productive."
"We need to work multilaterally with other states and the U.N. within the diplomatic frameworks that exits," said Springer. He also advocated caution when practicing diplomacy, saying "if we appear too soft on Iran, then we may appear not strong enough to engage Iran in constructive dialogue."
Pickering's lecture acknowledged that the issues of foreign policy facing the next U.S. President are both complex and immense. Citing the difficulties that lie ahead, he declared, "why anybody would want to be [the next] president is beyond me."