October 21, 2004

Kristof Speaks On American Foreign Policy

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During his distinguished career, journalist Nicholas D. Kristof has traveled to many remote places. All told, he has visited more than 100 countries around the world. Yesterday, Kristof journeyed to yet another far-flung location: Ithaca.

Under the auspices of the LaFeber-Sibley Endowment in American History, established by Martha and David F. Maisel ’68, Kristof, a columnist for The New York Times, spoke to a crowded Bache Auditorium audience.

In his lecture, “A More Dangerous World,” Kristof analyzed the United States’ decision to intervene militarily in Iraq, offered his thoughts on American foreign policy and included several anecdotes about his reporting assignments abroad. He also acknowledged the early influence Walter F. LaFeber, the Andrew H. and James S. Tisch Distinguished University Professor, had on him; Kristof read the professor’s work as an undergraduate student in the late 1970s.

According to LaFeber, the well-traveled Kristof brings a unique perspective to the Times’ editorial pages.

“He is a very unusual journalist, marked not only by high intelligence, but also by his first-person experience and his ability to draw historic, very broad, very instructive conclusions,” LaFeber said in his introductory remarks.

Kristof addressed three changes which he believes have made the world less safe: growing international hatred of the United States, technological innovations that give terrorists more inexpensive opportunities to attack the peoples and countries with whom they disagree and Americans’ perceptible disengagement with other cultures around the world.

“We don’t understand the dynamics that are going on in the world abroad,” Kristof said. He suggested that academic institutions can act as instructive links to a more globally focused America.

“[Universities] can be a bridge between where we are now and a much more internationalist society down the road,” Kristof said.

Citing the American recovery and reconstruction efforts in Iraq, Kristof stressed the need for politicians on both sides of the political spectrum to understand the implications of their international policy initiatives.

“At the moment, we’re paying the price for this Neocon hubris, but there have been times when the left has been guilty of assumptions about how the world works without actually testing them on the ground abroad,” Kristof said.

He used Pakistan, a country he recently visited, to illustrate his point further.

“Right now, the most popular person in Pakistan, according to public opinion polls, is Osama bin Laden,” Kristof said. “Fifty-five percent approval rating. President Bush had a 7 percent approval rating. We know we’re in real trouble when Osama bin Laden has a greater interest in a full democracy emerging in Pakistan than we do.”

According to Kristof, terrorists’ tools have evolved since the 1960s and 1970s, when radical groups claimed relatively few lives with each attack. In the 1980s and 1990s, technological developments gave terrorists a new ability to kill hundreds of people in a single assault. Kristof fears that terrorists may soon use a nuclear device to attack an American city; by most estimates, one weapon could kill upwards of 500,000 individuals immediately. He stressed that the government must continue to support the Department of Defense’s Cooperative Threat Reduction Project.

Kristof urged students to study and travel abroad. He recalled how a graduate-school trip through Europe and Morocco was at once frightening and exhilarating.

“I think it is going to be increasingly important for a student, when he has a college degree, or especially a graduate degree, to have actually spent some time immersed in a foreign society,” Kristof said.

Following his lecture, Kristof invited questions from the audience.

Alumni, faculty and students asked Kristof to comment on a range of issues, including the ongoing genocide in Sudan, the nature of America’s enemies and his earlier work as a bureau chief for The Times.

“I was impressed by the diversity of the questions and [the students’] enthusiasm,” Mr. Maisel said. “I think he got a pretty good response.”

As an undergraduate student at Harvard University, Kristof wrote regularly for the school’s newspaper, The Harvard Crimson. After three years of study in Cambridge, he graduated with honors, accepted a Rhodes Scholarship and read law at the University of Oxford.

Following intensive language study in Cairo and Taipei, Kristof began to explore the world. Freelance journalism financed his travels. In 1984, he joined The Times as a business reporter.

Later, as the newspaper’s Beijing bureau chief, Kristof covered the 1989 democracy movement in Tiananmen Square with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn ’81. The following year, the couple shared a Pulitzer Prize for their work. Kristof and WuDunn have authored several books.

President Emeritus Hunter R. Rawlings III praised Kristof’s writing and lecture. “Nicholas Kristof is terribly engaging and personal in his columns and in his talk today,” Rawlings said. “I think that makes him accessible and lively, as opposed to stiff and formal.”

Archived article by David Gura
Sun Staff Writer