Former politician Rick Lazio spoke to approximately 80 people last night in Warren Hall, addressing issues as divergent as the war in Iraq and affirmative action. Currently, Lazio serves as the president and CEO of the Financial Services Forum, an organization of 20 CEOs from various financial institutions.
In 2000, Hillary Clinton defeated him in the Senate race for the position of New York state representative.
Lazio began with a short speech discussing two very different topics: public service and the war in Iraq.
“Public service has been part of my life for many years,” he said.
He strongly encouraged students to become involved in service.
“We need all of the energy … all of the ideas we can get,” he said. “In an era of great cynicism … it’s easy to get down about our public leaders.”
Lazio then expressed his support for the current campaign in Iraq and the future reconstruction effort.
“Saddam Hussein’s totalitarian chamber of horrors is coming to an end,” he said.
After emphasizing the importance of Iraqi participation in rebuilding their country, he explained his hesitation toward the United Nations (U.N.) taking a central role in the effort. He said he believes that some countries in the Security Council, particularly France and Germany, may interfere with the reconstruction plan out of displeasure toward the United States.
“Paris is more interested in containing America and the U.K. than a … dictator,” he said.
He then discussed the future difficulties in rebuilding Iraq, acknowledging the problems inherent in establishing a representative government in a multiethnic society.
Lazio also addressed the obstacles that face the United States and its allies in recovering Iraq’s economy from the damage inflicted by economic sanctions and Hussein’s regime. In particular, he supports keeping information about oil production and distribution public and having money from oil production directly benefit the Iraqi people.
“We’ve got to make sure people in the Arab world know that the time we are there is temporary … that it’s not about protecting America’s economic interests,” he said. “I think transparency is incredibly important when we deal with the oil [revenue].”
A question-and-answer session followed his speech, during which audience members asked Lazio about a variety of topics ranging from his opinion of Hillary Clinton to the affirmative action case in the Supreme Court.
On the topic of affirmative action, he said, “I think a point system will probably run afoul of the law.”
Several of the questions addressed the issue of United States involvement in the Middle East and Iraq.
“We do have to be careful that we [are not] cultural imperialists,” he said, responding to a question about forcing Western values on Middle Eastern cultures.
With reconstruction, Lazio said, he believes that the United States must act quickly to rebuild and not necessarily depend on the U.N.’s support.
“I think it’s important to not look at the U.N. as a panacea,” he said. “This is a country that cannot be left to eternal debate. If we walk away from this situation … I think it will be to the great detriment of U.S. foreign policy.”
He thinks that the United States’ role as a world superpower obligates it to help other countries.
“America has got a special mission,” he said. “It’s also got a moral responsibility to relieve human suffering.”
The audience appeared interested in Lazio’s opinion, with some students returning to the microphone multiple times during the question-and-answer session.
Ben Gianforti ’05 appreciated Lazio’s moderate opinion and bipartisan approach.
“He didn’t live up to any of the negative associations I had. I was expecting a little bit more of an extreme right-wing [opinion],” he said. “It was refreshing to hear someone affiliated with the [Republican] Party but willing to seek solutions that weren’t one-sided.”
Cayuga Heights resident Gerry Oberrender ’49 also respected Lazio’s style.
“I thought he answered the questions very well and in detail. I think he’s the kind of public-life person we need.”
Betsy Cooper ’04, president of the Cornell Political Coalition, the sponsoring organization, invited Lazio to speak as a counterpoint to previously presented opinions.
“We were involved in sponsoring [former U.N. chief weapons inspector] Scott Ritter, and we wanted to bring an event that helps to contrast that one,” she said.
Although she said she was disappointed that the University scheduled a teach-in concerning Iraq at the same time as the event, she hopes that Cornell will support similar activities in the future.
“I wish that the University had more opportunities for events where you … have the opportunity to interact with the politicians in an intimate setting,” Cooper said.
Unlike many speakers who come to Cornell, Lazio gave his talk for free.
At the beginning of the lecture, Lazio recounted Cooper asking him about his opinion on free speech.
He responded, “I’m in favor of it.”
Cooper then asked, “How about giving one?”
Archived article by Shannon Brescher