Former President Bill Clinton condemned the United States’ military effort in Afghanistan yesterday in a lecture at Tufts University, arguing the country should instead provide foreign assistance to struggling nations.
Clinton, speaking before a crowd of several hundred students, faculty and community members at the Tufts University Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies, called on students to rise as political leaders in achieving international peace and stability.
“The biggest threat to modern security is not terrorism, but the marriage of modern weapons to old ideas,” Clinton said. He said it is ironic the old ideas of hate and racism still cause problems in the modern world.
Clinton said terrorists could only achieve victory in two ways: if the U.S. responded poorly to attacks — which he added would not happen — or if the public wavers in its intolerance of terrorism.
During a question and answer period following his speech, Clinton said the United States would not forever remain the dominating power in the world, as it has since the advent of the Cold War. He said he knows of “no serious person” who believes the country’s power will be everlasting.
“In the sweep of history, no country has held dominance forever,” he said. “It shouldn’t bother us. We won’t have dominance forever, and we will be judged when this moment comes on how we’ve helped people.”
He said there needed to be a larger global community that understands and recognizes the differences between each ethnic group and nation. Terrorists, he said, are extreme examples because they want to wipe out all people not like them.
“We can build a larger community where we believe everyone counts,” he said.
Clinton urged students in the audience to step up to the challenge of these times, which he compared to his days as an undergraduate when Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., were killed “because they wanted peace.”
“This is a time when we need our greatest universities and our idealistic young people,” he said.
Clinton said the United States, in order to achieve peace, needs to follow in the footsteps of former Secretary of State George Marshall and President Harry Truman, whom he said avoided a third world war with their economic recovery plans of the late 1940s.
“We grew up in a very different world because George Marshall and Harry Truman had a vision,” he said. “We obviously need to spend more on money assistance. Americans believe we spend far more than we do on foreign assistance.”
Clinton said most Americans believe foreign assistance accounts for about 10 to 15 percent of the budget, while in actuality foreign assistance only accounts for 1 percent of the total budget.
“In other words, of the 22 most developed countries, America rates 22, dead last, in the amount we assist,” he said. Denmark gives, proportionally to their budget, 10 times the amount the United States gives, according to Clinton.
“I guess we could see this as sort of a bribe not to terrorize the U.S.,” he said. “That’s nonsense. That’s the biggest amount of hooey I’ve ever heard in my life.”
He said last year, nine out of 10 Americans said they believed the reason people don’t like the United States is because of its power. This same poll also showed that a majority of non-Americans don’t like the United States because they believe it does not do enough.
“They’re wrong on both accounts,” he said.
Clinton said he believes there are very few people within the Muslim world who agree with Osama bin Laden, but there are many Muslims that hold a grudge against Americans, he said.
“But there are many who believe we’re responsible for the misery of the region,” he said.
Clinton said the government should allocate money to foreign nations through such methods as foreign education programs in Honduras and Uganda and by sending more children to schools in Brazil and Pakistan. These initiatives, he said, are preferable to spending more on the military.
“I don’t know about you, but I think that’s money well spent,” he said of the programs. “By giving help to countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, we have made some friends.”
Clinton said most people don’t know how foreign assistance money is spent.
“Anybody who tells you about foreign assistance that we don’t know how to spend it — that is absolutely not right,” he said. “We know how to do this.”
Clinton said the cost of six weeks in the Afghan war would be enough to put every child in school.
“It works, and it’s a whole lot cheaper than going to war,” he said.
The last time the United States used military power was to protect Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo, and the insurrection in Somalia was to feed the starving people there, he said.
Clinton said the United States is doing a “lousy job getting the story out there” about U.S. foreign missions.
He also said he believes there are problems within the administration of Saddam Hussein, whom he described as a threat to world security because of the ideas he spreads.
Clinton continued his speech by talking about the violence in the Middle East, which in the past year has reached its highest level since 1979. He said there can be no military solution in this conflict, adding violence has made the situation worse for both sides.
“If we expect people in the Middle East to learn the facts and let go of the hatred, then we as Americans need to know all the facts to bring peace,” he said. He said compromise needs to viewed as “a good, not a bad, word, and as a sign of strength, not weakness.”
He mentioned various times during his presidency when he believed peace was close in the Middle East, especially in 1995. He said one of the only obstacles to that peace agreement was the right of return laws.
Clinton said peace, such as the one achieved in Northern Ireland, will never occur in the Middle East. He called the peace in Northern Ireland a “marriage,” and a proposed solution in the Middle East would have to be a “divorce with a property settlement.”
Despite such problems throughout the world, Clinton said “the greatest time in human history still lies ahead of us.”
Clinton also joked with the students in the audience before the question and answer period, saying he’d “give them an excused absence for leaving.”
“I’m not president anymore, so there’s not anything I can do about it,” he added.
Tufts University sophomore Josh Belkin submitted a question to Clinton about the globalization of the world economy after Sept. 11.
Clinton said the global market needs to be continuously expanded. He said the policies in his administration were “not enough” to help all the people in the world. He said protesters of this system are both right and wrong.
Belkin said he thought Clinton did a good job presenting the current issues.
“I thought that Sept. 11 has been a topic that is pretty much hard to ignore, and I was very eager to hear his response to Sept. 11 and globalization,” Belkin said.
“All in all, it was a great speech,” he added.
Balkin’s question was one of only three questions pre-selected by the event coordinators to be asked during the event.
The Fares Lecture Series has had visitors ranging from former President George Bush to Colin Powell to Margaret Thatcher. According to a statement from the center, the purpose the lecture series is to encourage further understanding of the problems facing the Middle East.
The Associated Press reported Clinton visited Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate and former Massachusetts Democratic Party Chairman Steve Grossman before his speech. He did not, however, visit his former secretary of labor, Robert Reich, who is running against Grossman. Clinton told the AP he would support any Democratic governor of Massachusetts.