The Woodrow Wilson Center
When I returned to Washington from Europe ten years ago, I thought the world had exhausted, at least for a time, the possibilities of incomprehensible change. During my four years as United States (US) Ambassador to Switzerland, the Berlin Wall had come tumbling down, bringing the totalitarian dominion over half a continent with it; Communism had gone from being an “ism” to a “wasm”; in the Middle East, the United States had responded to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait with a vigor and steadiness of purpose that would have been hard to imagine only a few years earlier. I vividly remember Secretary of State James Baker’s ringing declaration that we stood on the verge of a “new world order,” based on democratic ideals and principles.
Today I fear that we are entering a period that could be called a “new world disorder.” Conflict seems to be the order of the day, and it has been left to the United States to lead the rest of the world in putting out fires, whether in Ireland, the Balkans, Afghanistan, or the Middle East. Now the fire is in Iraq, and again America must lead. How we should lead is a constant topic of conversation and debate in the halls and meeting rooms of the Wilson Center. My own view is that Saddam Hussein is a threat to the lives and interests of Americans and the people of other nations. One must hope that United Nations inspectors will be able to carry out thorough, unfettered investigations of Iraq’s military capabilities. If military action proves to be warranted, a joint effort by the United States and others would certainly be more desirable than unilateral action, but to rule out the latter option would just as certainly be irresponsible.
These are my own views, of course, and not those of the Wilson Center. One of the Center’s distinguishing features is that it’s congenial to a variety of views—indeed, that it seeks out competing ideas. In a city filled with think tanks and other institutions that reliably hew to fixed partisan or ideological viewpoints, the Center is a precious patch of common ground where scholars, policymakers, and others can reasonably and civilly debate public questions, bring scholarly knowledge to bear, and work toward pragmatic solutions to some of the challenges facing our society.
Because I am so aware of the uniqueness of the Center, I feel especially honored that President George W. Bush has appointed me chair of its Board of Trustees. The Center is constantly stirring with interesting people and ideas, and I look forward to joining informed discussions and assisting the staff in bringing dedicated and perceptive individuals from academia and public life to the Center. I was proud to escort former President Bill Clinton to the podium when he spoke about the problems confronting Africa and its peoples at a Wilson Center Director’s Forum last fall. More recently, in December, I had the honor of greeting former President George H. W. Bush, former President Carlos Salinas of Mexico and former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney when they came to the Center to mark the tenth anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
With a distinguished President, Lee Hamilton, at the helm, the Woodrow Wilson Center heads toward a bright future. After a long career as a leading figure in Congress, Lee has brought a vast store of experience and knowledge, along with great credibility and visibility, to this institution. I look forward to working with him and with the Center’s exceptional staff to ensure that this valuable piece of common ground in our nation’s capital continues to excel and to grow from strength to strength.*
* Editor’s Note: Reprinted with permission from The Wilson Quarterly, Winter 2003, published by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Chairman, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars