Dear Secretary of State Madeleine Albright:
Knowing your busy spring schedule, The Minnesota Daily’s editorial board drafted a speech that would be appropriate for your June 14 commencement address at the University.
“On my way here today I saw some students demonstrating against my visit. They said I represent American imperialism. They said that American foreign policy dictates and subverts the affairs of the rest of the world. The United States, the picketers said, holds the destinies of Iraq, Indonesia, Mexico, Cuba and every other nation less prosperous. If only I could dictate the course of events from my office in Foggy Bottom. If only we did govern the world as ancient Rome ran its empire.
“That I do no such thing, that this government is not responsible for the rest of the world, is clear from a glance at any newspaper. If the United States was responsible for Indonesia, Suharto would have been gone 10 years ago, when he outlived his Cold War usefulness. The United States has done everything possible to aid the people of Iraq — short of killing Saddam Hussein or giving in to him. And still the people suffer. For almost a decade, Europe has unravelled at the fringes. Those who preach hate and war in the former Yugoslavia ought to face trial and, frankly, execution. And yet those men still hold power; they still whip themselves into blood fury and kill innocents.
“If I could pull the levers of imperial power and draw India and Pakistan back from the brink of nuclear war, I would do so. The world would be a better place for an American empire. But we have neither the right nor the ability to make it such. Even Canada and Mexico, our two national neighbors, top trading partners and closest allies, face internal strife that might split both nations. Graduating seniors, you face a darker, more dangerous world than your parents encountered. There was a time when the United States could save the world. This nation did it three times since 1898. But the American Century is gone.
“The era of foreign policy is also over. What happens overseas today affects all aspects of life at home. When China grows richer, your grocery bill rises. When Indonesia grows poorer, your credit card rates go down. When India deploys nuclear missiles, your safety shrinks. There is little that I or any of your representatives can do about any of this. And too often our inability to solve all the world’s problems is seen as unwillingness to act. Terrorists threaten Americans because they think we don’t care about their particular struggle. We do care; Americans are always on the side of the oppressed, the underdogs and the unfree. We simply lack the power to free the world from its bondage.
“This is the world into which you graduate. One hundred years after the United States took its place at the world table by defeating Spain and freeing its empire, the century of America’s primacy is over. By the time one of you takes my place, no misguided students will harbor illusions of America’s imperial power. If only I could hand the mantle of world empire from my generation to yours. Then you would be safer. Instead you face the frightening prospect of having to get along, as equals, with the other nations of the world. It is up to you, in your private and public lives, to fashion a new empire of free people.”