Mitchell: America’s greatest strength its ideals

Published 8:35 am Wednesday, March 17, 2004

By By JOHN EBY / Niles Daily Star
BENTON HARBOR -- Military might can be right, but power should always be employed in service to such fundamental American ideals as equal justice or opportunity for all.
Mitchell said documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, "especially the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to our Constitution, are the most eloquent and concise statements of individual liberty ever written and adopted by human beings at any time or place in history."
Still, it took 75 years "and the bloodiest war in our history to extend the right to vote to all men. It took 60 years and a bitter political struggle over fierce opposition to extend the right to vote to women. And it's just over a decade ago that Americans with disabilities were given their full legal rights. To this very moment, the struggle goes on in our society to expand our definition of citizenship of the human and civil rights which every American should enjoy. You can look at that and say it's a painful record. I look at it and say it's inspiring evidence of what's great about this country," Mitchell said. "A never-ending effort to right the wrongs of the past and to enable each generation to be more free and prosperous than Americans have ever been."
Mitchell said history "time after time" teaches that "the dominant military power overextends itself. History's clear that power is more effective when exercised sparingly, with restraint and when used decisively. When conflict does come, ideals will do more. In the end, that is America's greatest strength -- the ideals with which this nation was born and the ideals which have created the nation we know today."
Discussing "America's Role in the World," the former Senate majority leader, a Maine Democrat, said people around the world are inspired by and drawn to "what they've come to know as American values. They're not easy to summarize, but surely they include the privacy of individual liberty, the concept of equal justice under law and the aspiration that we have of opportunity for every member of society."
At the same time, "as is increasingly evident," many around the globe disagree vehemently with U.S. policies.
As Senate majority leader for six years until 1995, Mitchell met with political and business leaders of every European country.
With the Soviet Union ceasing to exist and Russian military forces withdrawn to their own soil, these leaders were emphatic "without hesitation" that the United States not follow suit.
U.S. opposition to Israeli settlements has been consistent through the Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush administrations, Mitchell said. "Just as consistent is Israel's unwillingness to halt these settlements in the occupied territories."
Mitchell chaired negotiations, "which lasted for years. We had more than 700 days of failure and one day of success … in the last months of the talks there was a surge of violence and a series of assassinations and bombings. Political leaders came under great pressure from some of their constituents. They knew their political futures, their lives and the safety of their families were on the line."
The expedient course would have been to walk away from the process, blame the other side and point to the violence as proof that the other side was not serious. A few of them did that, but most did not.