Former New York Congressman Rick Lazio spoke yesterday to a packed lecture hall, focusing primarily on foreign policy challenges in President George W. Bush's second term. A Republican who ran against Hillary R. Clinton (D) for the New York Senate seat in 2000, Lazio covered a vast range of current political issues in his hour-long lecture, describing his own take and predictions on American policy.
The lecture was sponsored by the Cornell Political Coalition.
Lazio began by acknowledging the tsunami disaster.
"The most affected country, Indonesia, also happens to be the world's largest Muslim country. Al Qaeda is known to operate in that country ... I'm glad to say that the American people and government have contributed enormously to the recovery efforts. Simple human compassion commands a response that is consistent with deeply held American values but the response also serves, I hope, American interests," Lazio said.
"We all know that American popularity has suffered over the last few years overseas, particularly in the Islamic world. Meaningful and long-standing American relief efforts hopefully can serve to burnish our image. ..."
As he continued, Lazio noted the initial success with the Iraqi elections, but quickly pointed out that despite the approximated 60 percent voter turnout, such an event was just the first step in a long journey to democracy and warned against possible pitfalls.
"More recently, our occupation in Germany and Japan created the conditions for two of the strongest, most dynamic and peaceful democracies in the world ... they are perhaps the greatest examples of pursuing hard-headed realism by promoting democracy and free markets," Lazio said.
"Other American expeditions have fallen far short of our founders' vision, and the hard truth is that we usually fail to vindicate our principles because we weren't really trying ... Our objective was stability, but the result was chaos."
Lazio then spoke about the administration itself.
"In some corners, there is great mistrust of the administration's policy in Iraq and Afghanistan; I do believe that the administration is acting out of sincerity and conviction, but I also believe that acknowledging past American mistakes is essential to getting it right," he said.
He then suggested, in a theme he referred to repeatedly throughout the lecture, that "the virtue and the vice of our time is that Wilsonian goals of democracy and free market are probably the best way to advance our foreign interests of security, prosperity and stability.
The key is seizing the best opportunities while recognizing the limits of American power." Lazio affirmed the effect of globalization on U.S. foreign policy, saying that "we are ever more dependent on the general welfare of domestic tranquility of distant nations, so much so that ... the difficult work of promoting democracy and free markets or the simple quest for stability and prosperity can lead us to neither."
Lazio covered topics including Iranian nuclear weapons, Saudi Arabian control over a significant portion of global oil, six-nation talks concerning North Korea's weapons program, and the emergence of China as a formidable economic force not only in Asia but in the world. He added that "Taiwan will be a big source of friction," pointing out that China is on the road to "political liberalism" but that the situation is on a "hair-trigger," with China's political future hanging in the balance.
Jim Shliferstein '06, president of the Cornell Political Coalition and Sun columnist, coordinated the event.
"[It was] spectacular ... I couldn't be happier with the turnout, and I think that his speech was terrifically substantive...easily one of the best I've seen at Cornell. He knows what he's talking about and that comes through really well. He's got a lot of clear ideas for what should be done," Shliferstein said.
Lazio concluded his visit by answering questions about his opinion on topics including when he will return to public service, relations between the European Union and the U.S., Social Security, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, tax cuts during a deficit, and the repositioning of political district lines.
"I think he has a pretty clear head for foreign policy...I disagreed a little bit with how he brought up the social security issue, at least his idea that there is only one solution. I think that there are other solutions," said RJ Meyers grad.
"Especially with the foreign policy ... he balanced idealism with pragmatism and took a realist stance on it ... it was very refreshing for that reason," said Ben Ware '08, secretary of the Cornell Political Coalition.