Yale Bulletin and Calendar

October 15, 2004|Volume 33, Number 7















Tom Lantos

Congressman addresses U.S.
relations with Libya, Egypt, Syria

In the mind of Congressman Tom Lantos (D-California), the outcome of the U.S.-led war in Iraq and against terrorism is a foregone conclusion: America and its allies will win.

In his talk in Luce Hall on Oct. 4, where he delivered the George Herbert Walker Jr. Lecture in International Studies, Lantos urged his audience to believe the same.

"The reason for my equanimity and optimism is that there is not the slightest doubt in my mind, nor in the mind of any rational being, that Osama bin Laden, the ayatollahs in Tehran or the leader of North Korea will not prevail over the civilized world," Lantos told his audience.

Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor ever to serve in Congress, drew parallels between the current U.S.-led war and World War II, saying that it was difficult at the start of that earlier conflict to be confident about its outcome.

"In the first few years of that war, things didn't look so good," he recalled, noting that the Nazis were sweeping across Europe and the Japanese were enlarging their sphere in the Pacific.

In America's current war, Lantos, said, "Our task is to minimize the number of innocent people who will be lost."

The congressman, who is the ranking member of the House of Representatives' International Relations Committee, spoke on the topic "Libya, Egypt and Syria: Three Challenges to U.S. Foreign Policy." He focused his talk on these three states because he believes they "represent the complexity of defining U.S. foreign policy and of dealing with the ever-changing kaleidoscope of local situations," he said. He recently visited all three countries.

Lantos was the first U.S. government official to visit Libya since the country's leader, Colonel Muammar Qadhafi, announced last December that it was dismantling all of its weapons of mass destruction programs. Travel to Libya by U.S. citizens had previously been banned for more than two decades.

"Whatever bad you could say about a country you could say about Libya prior to Dec. 19, 2003," he said.

Lantos said he believes that Qadhafi will stay the course of his dismantling program, and noted that the leader's decision has resulted in a major shift in American policy toward that nation: restrictions on travel between the two countries have been lifted, American companies are now able to conduct business in Libya, and plans are underway for a new American embassy in the country.

"I don't think [Qadhafi] will undo the course," Lantos said. "I can't say with certainty why he made this 180-degree switch" in his policy with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He said he suspects that Qadhafi -- whose public announcement regarding ridding the country of its weapons came just days after the capture of Saddam Hussein -- might have been influenced by the capture but he believes the Libyan leader had already come to the conclusion that "in this confrontation between the civilized world and rogue states, you don't want to be on the side of the rogue states, because they will lose."

The congressman praised the Bush administration for its "skill and diplomacy" with regard to its reaction to the changes in Libya, saying, "The President, Secretary of State [Colin] Powell, Condoleeza Rice and others in the entourage have my kudos for how it was handled." He also urged for further normalization of relations, especially the opening up of American universities to Libyan students.

"While not everyone who studies here becomes a friend of the West, it is a way to build a person-to-person experience," Lantos asserted.

Lantos was not as optimistic about U.S. relations with Syria. He recounted a visit he made to the country in the spring of 2003, in which he met with President Bashar Assad and proposed a "road map" for stabilizing relations with the United States. Lantos urged Assad to close down terrorist offices in the country, withdraw its 17,000 troops from Lebanon, quell "vicious" anti-American propaganda in Syria and close down its border with Iraq.

"He was shown evidence of Syrians supplying everything anti-American forces need," Lantos said.

Unfortunately, said Lantos, "Assad has chosen not to follow the path of Libya." Hence, he told his audience, he is recommending that U.S. policy toward the country be "the exact opposite course" of what he proposed for Libya.

He added that Syria is now the third poorest country in the region, behind only the Sudan and Yemen, and that its economy is "desperately" in need of foreign investment. "What Syria has is disinvestment," Lantos said. "Any Syrian with money gets it out of the country."

Anti-American propaganda is also rampant in Egypt, Lantos told his audience, even though the country "claims to be friends with us." He said this is unacceptable in a nation that receives $1.3 billion per year in military aid from the United States. Lantos noted that he further objects to such costly assistance because he doesn't believe that Egypt is likely to be attacked by any of its neighboring states.

The congressman said he has proposed that the United States give Egypt the same monetary amount of aid but earmark more than half a million of it to programs that would benefit civilians. He called the country's educational system "a disgrace" and its health system "an abomination."

"I think it's nonsensical to be protecting Egypt to the tune of $1.3 billion against a military threat that is non-existent and allowing the country to rot," Lantos declared.

On issues of foreign policy, Lantos said that President George Bush and presidential candidate John Kerry agree on many issues, and he remarked that certain international issues will be at the forefront of the agenda regardless of who wins the election. Noting that the American system of government -- unlike the systems of Libya, Syria and Egypt -- allows its populace to choose its leader in national elections, Lantos said that American citizens then must accept the outcome of that vote.

"This country is at war," he commented. "When a country is at war, we need unity."

-- By Susan Gonzalez


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Campus Notes

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