Dropping the change bomb

President-elect Barack Obama has a mandate in hand, but will it be enough to overcome eight years in the Bush? George Mitchell reports.

George Mitchell says the world needs “aggressive American leadership.”

George Mitchell says the world needs “aggressive American leadership.”

In 10 weeks, Barack Obama will be a president with a go-ahead to enact change. And in 10 weeks, he will face various conflicts on myriad fronts.

George Mitchell knows this scenario all too well: He was Senate majority leader in 1993 when Bill Clinton began his presidency, who’d earned a similar mandate after whooping another unpopular Republican. Mitchell also knows conflict, both global and domestic. In the late ’90s, he negotiated a hard-fought peace accord in Northern Ireland. Just last year, he investigated the illegal use of performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball—and named names.

This week, Mitchell will speak in Davis on Obama, the election, the economy and global conflict.

Obama’s challenges will be manifold. First, as already announced, he will attempt to resuscitate a troubled economy. But while helping the market and middle class is a top priority, there are numerous other pressing needs—which some argue are even tantamount to economic relief. Alternative energy, the wars, defense spending, health care, climate change, the mortgage crisis, the Holy Land, Russia, the Congo, China—throw a dart at a world map and inevitably you’ll hit a hot spot.

As Mitchell summed up in a phone conversation with SN&R last week, “I don’t think [Obama] will have any shortage of conflicts to deal with.” Here’s a report from the interview:

On global conflict awaiting Obama come January 20:

“Well, of course, we already have widespread conflict in the Middle East. It’s in Iraq. It’s in Afghanistan. It’s in Pakistan. There is, fortunately, a period of truce now between Israelis and Palestinians, but I think that could erupt at any time, so that has to be regarded as a high priority.

“You also have an ongoing conflict in a variety of places in Africa: in the Congo; in Somalia, between Ethiopia and Somalia.”

On Arab nations negotiating with Fatah and Hamas:

“Well, they’re making an effort. Those negotiations also involved the Israelis, of course, in Egypt. The Israelis and Hamas have been talking through the Egyptians. And of course the Israelis and the Syrians have been talking through Turkish diplomacy in Istanbul.

“I don’t think that there can or will be a complete resolution of the conflict, or implementation of an agreement, without active and aggressive American leadership. I think there has to be a new initiative by [Obama] to try to bring about a resolution to that conflict. And I’m reasonably optimistic something positive could emerge.

“But I go there a lot. I’ll be there in December. I was there in the summer. And I think there remains, in spite of all the violence, a strong desire on both sides to try and bring it to a resolution.”

On steroids in baseball:

“Nobody hit 60 homers. Nobody hit 50 homers.”

On the art of negotiation:

“If you wait until everybody involved agrees that the fighting should stop, you’ll never get started. In Northern Ireland, we spent years and years negotiating while people were being assassinated and bombs were going off—people trying to disrupt the process. In fact, one of the weaknesses of the [Bush] administration’s approach in Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that President Bush has sent several different representatives over there for varying periods of time, and whenever there was an outbreak in violence, we withdraw our representative. Well, basically, that sends a message to those engaged in violence that you can disrupt the process by engaging in an act of violence.”

On diplomacy vs. military action in Afghanistan:

“I think that the two are not mutually exclusive, and I don’t believe it should be regarded as such, and I think both are necessary. And let’s hope that that combination, and other factors, work as well. I do think [diplomacy] will be needed, additional American military support and nonmilitary, but I do think an effort to reach agreement among the warring parties directly is also an approach that ought to be taken.”

On the economy:

“In the eight Democratic years [under Clinton], more than 22-and-a-half million jobs were created in the United States. In the eight Republican years [under Bush], you’ve had fewer than 5 million new jobs created, and in fact it will be less than that because we’re losing jobs rapidly. We’ve already lost [more than] 760,000 jobs this year, and they’ll exceed a million by the end of the year. …

“And most astonishing of all is what’s happened to the federal debt. The amount that the debt has increased under Bush—one president—is equal to the total debt incurred by all previous 42 presidents, over 212 years of American history.”

On working for Obama:

“No, no. I don’t want a job. I’ve already retired three times.”