On Oct. 27, William S. Cohen, the former United States Secretary of Defense, led the 2015 Cohen Lecture, presented by the Cohen Institute for Leadership and Public Service. The lecture, held in the Collins Center for the Arts, was free and open to the public.
The Cohen Lecture is the 10th in a series of lectures, with this particular forum happening once every two years. Cohen was joined by two guests, General Joseph W. Ralston, former Supreme Allied Commander of Europe, and former ambassador to Greece, Nicholas Burns, who also served as the Undersecretary of State for Political Affair.
University of Maine President Susan Hunter opened proceedings, introducing the lecture and its participants. The lecture was moderated by Felicia Knight, president of The Knight Canney group, a government and public relations firm based in Portland, Maine.
The lecture, titled “America’s Response to Global Instability,” focused on America’s international relations. The speakers spoke about how the nation, in terms of diplomacy and military, found itself in the middle of the world’s biggest problems. All three of the speakers were critical of the lack of action by American leadership.
“We’re facing a multiplicity of overlapping crises,” Ralston said. “We can’t fight every battle, but we have to be engaged. Our political influence cannot be matched.”
The Syrian refugee crisis was also on the docket for the speakers. Cohen believed that the United States is more concerned within its own borders. Cohen voiced his disappointment, saying that America is quick to say that it was not our problem.
“We’ve become desensitized to human suffering,” Cohen said. “It may not be our problem, but it is overwhelming those states in Europe.”
Ralston was critical of the change in policy from the past regarding America’s acceptance of refugees. Ralston said that there are more refugees presently than any other time period after 1945, at the end of the second World War. Ralston explained that America was quick to accept refugees then, but will only accept 10,000 of a proposed 100,000 refugees now.
“We are a country of refugees,” Ralston said. “I believe that we have the structure to do so.”
Cohen said that the younger generations, particularly those studying at UMaine, have a responsibility to pay attention to these problems, while the Congress debates domestic issues, like the debt ceiling, and turns a blind eye.
“Other countries see us as not being leaders,” Cohen said. “The loss of American leadership will have dividends to to be paid by later generations.”