Emory Report
April 17, 2006
Volume 58, Number 27


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April 17, 2006
Clark, Ashcroft deliver left-right combination

BY Rachel Robertson & Chanmi Kim

Right and left, progressive and conservative. On consecutive evenings last week, Emory brought in speakers from both sides of the political spectrum: retired U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark and former U.S. attorney general John Ashcroft.

Clark was invited to speak at the inaugural Charles R. Yates Distinguished Lecture on Monday, April 10, in Glenn Auditorium. The Emory Pre-Law Society, along with 15 other co-sponsors, including the Center for Ethics and the Office of the President, sponsored Ashcroft’s talk the following night in the P.E. Center.

Both speakers recognized the important leadership role the United States has in setting an example for other countries, and both addressed current U.S. foreign policy, specifically, how it has been shaped by major world events.

But the similarities ended there. While Clark advocated changes in current foreign policy, Ashcroft championed George W. Bush’s war on terrorism.

In President Jim Wagner’s introduction of Clark’s lecture, titled “Strategic Leadership in the 21st Century,” he said Clark was “superbly qualified to address issues of vision and strategy,” citing his highly decorated career in the military, which culminated in his appointment as supreme allied commander of NATO and commander-in-chief of the U.S. European Command.

As a board member of the International Crisis Group (a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization with the goal of preventing world conflict), Clark had just returned from a meeting in Belgium where the group surveyed ongoing world crises—the situation in Iraq, the threat of nuclear weapons in Iran, Russian intolerance of democracy, violence in Africa, among others—and summarized, “We’re in a very, very difficult period of transition in the world community.”

It is a transition, he said, that started in 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell. Clark spoke of the shock and disbelief but also the jubilance he and his colleagues felt upon hearing the news that the Cold War had ended. He stressed the enormity of the event, quoting George H.W. Bush’s reference to the period as a “new world order.”

“When we won the Cold War, and we lost our adversary, we lost the strategy for America’s role in the world,” he said. “We didn’t have any more big principles to anchor around.”

Clark said the desire to contain communism spurred America to build alliances with other countries and promote collaborations, such as student exchanges and programs for American businesses to expand abroad. He said the National Defense Education Act was passed with the goal of competing with the Soviets in science and engineering.

In contrast, Clark referred to the war in Iraq as a “major strategic blunder of American leadership,” drawing resources and attention away from bigger threats. He said the greatest threat is not terrorism but the fact that the United States is losing ground in the global economy, and he advocated a return to past values.

“A new strategy starts by rebuilding our ties with our allies in Europe and, secondly, by strengthening our relationships with the United Nations and the role of international law,” Clark said. “Then we really need to turn our attention to problems at home—we’ve got to fix the American educational system.”

Ashcroft, on the other hand, spoke on the importance of fighting for freedom and against terrorism. After 9/11, Ashcroft said he was ordered by his commander-in-chief: “Don’t ever let this happen again.”

Since then, Ashcroft said the administration, along with intelligence and military officials, have worked to ensure that America does not experience a “horror greater by far than Pearl Harbor.”

Ashcroft defended the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism strategy, saying 9/11 demanded the United States change its policies. While the country had previously relied on prosecution to battle crime, Ashcroft said 9/11 made it clear that the government should not only find those responsible but also stop future acts of terror.

“We had to shift our focus, our energy and our priority from prosecution to prevention—not re-creation of the past, but anticipation of the future,” he said.

Ashcroft said the current and controversial warrantless wiretapping program is one such method of prevention and a “modest program of selective surveillance.” He said the government monitors only communications of al Qaeda members or suspected supporters for the purposes of preventing future 9/11s.

“We have a priority on prevention and can’t hold back,” he said. “We needed to learn that, if we did not change the way we collected intelligence, we would have a really hard time [achieving] avoidance.”

Ashcroft concluded his lecture by saying the current strategy of prevention has worked. “Leadership is more than telling people what to do; it’s doing what needs to be done,” he said. “I’m grateful to God… that we remain safe in the years following 9/11.”

While both Clark and Ashcroft touched on the United States’ role as a world leader, they varied in their approaches to what type of leadership the nation should demonstrate.

Said Clark, “If we set as our challenge not to kill terrorists, but to lift up mankind and to help bring developing nations into a world community in which disputes and challenges are resolved by law rather than by force—then that kind of leadership will make America safe. It will preserve our prosperity, and it will make [countries like] Saudi Arabia and Russia able to be friends with America. That is the kind of strategy we need for this country.”

Ashcroft highlighted America’s responsibility to set an example as a “haven of freedom,” saying terrorism must be fought not only to prevent another 9/11, but also because terrorists go against the fundamental value of freedom. He said that the rest of the world seeks and finds liberty within U.S. borders, quoting from Emma Lazarus’ poem “The New Colossus,” engraved at the foot of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free… I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

“I think there’s only one country in the world that can really say that,” he said. “[Because of that] liberty is worth fighting for, worth protecting.”