Congressman Tom Lantos addressed about 100 audience members in Luce Hall Monday on the unique challenges Libya, Syria and Egypt presented to American foreign policy.
Lantos, born in Hungary and first elected to Congress in 1980, focused on his personal experiences as a congressman specializing in foreign policy and his ambassadorial visits to Syria, Libya and Egypt. Based on his extensive experience, Lantos, a California Democrat, said he is convinced the United States will not be defeated by rouge states.
“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 Iran, or the leader in North Korea will not prevail over the civilized world,” Lantos said.
He said the task of the United States was to minimize the number of innocent people lost in the process.
Lantos said Libya was one of the success stories of the current administration.
“Whatever bad you could say about a country, you could say about Libya prior to December 19, 2003,” he said.
On that date, Col. Muammar Qaddafi announced he would turn over his nuclear weapons to the United States because American retaliation would be so overwhelming, beginning friendly relations between the two countries. Lantos was the first American allowed to enter Libya after this announcement.
In Syria, Lantos said his meeting with President Bashar Assad was not so successful. Lantos offered his personal support of Syria in Congress if the country closed down its terrorist offices, withdrew its troops and personnel from Lebanon, stopped its anti-American propaganda and closed the border with Iraq.
Assad refused, and Lantos advised the United States to “tighten the screws” on Iraq and to look at Syria as a pariah state.
If Syria is a failure for U.S. foreign policy and Libya a success, then Egypt lies somewhere in between, Lantos said.
“Egypt claims to be friends with us, but they allow the most violent and vicious anti-American campaign anywhere in the Arab world,” he said.
The United States spends over a billion dollars annually on military aid in Egypt, he said.
“It is nonsensical that we are protecting Egypt to the tune of $1.3 billion against a military threat that is non-existent and allowing the country to rot,” he said.
Despite the situations in countries such as Egypt and Syria, Lantos said he is optimistic for the future.
Several students, including Emily Phillips ’08, said they left the auditorium impressed with his oratory.
“The talk was terrific,” Phillips said. “I liked his take on the humanitarian side of human relations especially.”
Mark Hanin ’07 said he was particularly influenced by Lantos’ knowledge of history.
“Congressman Lantos had a unique combination of broad historical perspective and personal knowledge of the leaders of the Arab world,” he said.