Former Sen. George Mitchell '54 said it was "very unlikely" he would be tapped by the Bush administration for the post of U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, but said he would "consider it" if asked.
"The president has the right, and I think appropriately, to nominate someone who is closer to him and his administration," Mitchell, a Democrat, said. "I expect that's what will happen."
Mitchell made the remarks in a telephone interview with the Orient on Wednesday.
The current U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, resigned on Monday and will leave the position when his temporary appointment ends in January. Mitchell, who served as Senate majority leader from 1989 to 1995, has been cited by some news sources as a possible replacement.
Last year, Mitchell co-chaired the Task Force on the United Nations, a commission created by Congress to provide recommendations on U.N. reform.
"From the standpoint of the U.N. itself, as opposed to simply the U.S. representative to it, I think it's important that there be a series of reforms that will eliminate some of the bad practices that have occurred in the past and streamline the organization for the challenges of the 21st century," Mitchell said.
He added that the task force concluded that "an effective United Nations is very much in the American national interest."
Mitchell said that some of the practices that needed altering included poor management practices and the secretary general's "lack of sufficient authority and discretion" in dealing with personnel issues.
"The fact is that positions within the U.N. are distributed not on the basis of merit but on the basis of national origin," he said. "There are a whole series of management practices that are obsolete, outdated, and contribute to undesirable results."
Concerning the United Nations' role in Iraq, Mitchell said that one of the Bush administration's "fundamental errors" was its failure to include the organization from the start. Because the United Nations acts as a "force multiplier," its involvement would have allowed the United States to gain support of other nations, he noted.
"There is widespread hostility to the U.N. within the United States?it's a minority but it is a vocal minority?that doesn't exist in most countries," Mitchell said. "A U.N. resolution in many, particularly smaller countries, [is] seen as Good Housekeeping seal of approval and the governments are sometimes willing to take action on the basis of U.N. resolution, but not willing to do it on the request of a single country, like the United States."
Mitchell said that in order to help the situation in Iraq, the United States needs to stop "this laser-like focus" and deal with other issues in the Middle East.
"For the past four years, the administration has focused almost single handedly on Iraq?resources, money, manpower, attention?to the exclusion of the other intersecting issues in the Middle East," he said. "The reality is that even if Iraq turns out better than is even now expected, there will not be stability in the Middle East until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved."
Mitchell declined to comment on the current debate on campus about college involvement in humanitarian issues, such as the newly created non-investment policy in the Darfur region of Sudan.
"I'm reluctant to get involved in internal matters at Bowdoin, including investment policies," he said. "I'd leave that to the Bowdoin community to deal with."
Mitchell, who is chairman of the New York-based law firm DLA Piper, was elected by Maine voters to the U.S. Senate in 1980 and held the position until he left voluntarily in 1995. In 1994, he turned down an offer from President Bill Clinton for a nomination to the Supreme Court in order to shepherd through the Senate a healthcare bill, which ultimately failed to pass.
"I genuinely thought that we had a good chance to enact comprehensive reform in the healthcare system," he said. "That to me was a much higher priority than my own personal future."
He said that while he has no regrets on leaving the Senate, he does miss dealing with public issues and legislation.
"I was the principal author of much legislation that I thought, and hope still, [was] good for people in this country and around the world," he said, "and that's a very gratifying result that you don't get as readily in other activities."
After leaving the Senate, he led peace negotiations in Northern Ireland and founded the Maine-based George J. Mitchell Scholarship Research Institute, which gives hundreds of scholarships to Maine students each year. Along with his work at Piper, Mitchell is currently chairman of the board of directors at the Walt Disney Company. He also is leading an investigation into alleged steroid use by Major League Baseball players.
Nat Herz contributed to this report.