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   from the issue of November 16, 2006

McGovern delivers message of peace


After fielding 45 minutes of pointed questions about the Iraq war and partisan politics, E.N. Thompson Forum speaker Sen. George McGovern was finally able to talk about his passion - providing food for the world's 800 million chronically hungry people.

ON CAMPUS - Sen. George McGovern responds to a question during the E.N. Thompson Forum, Nov. 9 at the Lied Center...
ON CAMPUS - Sen. George McGovern responds to a question during the E.N. Thompson Forum, Nov. 9 at the Lied Center for Performing Arts. Photo by Tom Slocum/University Communications.

"They are more afraid of hunger than they are of terrorism," he said.

It was a noteworthy departure in topic, as questions for McGovern - at an afternoon news conference at the College of Journalism and Mass Communications and the evening forum at the Lied Center for Performing Arts, both Nov. 9 - had revolved around the week's national elections and McGovern's new book, "Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now," which proposes a systematic approach for a the United States' exit from Iraq.

For decades, McGovern, 84, has been one of the country's highest profile activists. He has been an outspoken critic of corruption, political dishonesty and international conflict since the Vietnam era. Though he served as a decorated army pilot in Europe during WWII, he noted that he hasn't "been very enthusiastic about the United States' involvement in any wars since then."

McGovern told an enthusiastic Lied Center audience that it's time for America to withdraw from Iraq. Whether we stay or leave, he asserted, we cannot control the ethnic or religious conflicts in that country. He believes there will not be a decisive victory in Iraq.

"The war is no longer a military contest," he said. "It has become a complex political, economic and social problem that will require solutions other than machine guns."

McGovern proposes the withdrawal of U.S. troops and paid mercenaries over the next six months, to be replaced with a transitional security force made up of soldiers and police from Muslim and Arab nations. Under his plan, the United States would help cover some of the costs of maintaining this security presence, and would also assist with costs of rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure. He believes that the violence of insurgency will abate soon after Americans begin leaving.

"I don't want a pell-mell, humiliating exit to take place," he said. "That's why I say give us six months and we can remove every American soldier, and do it safely. "Everything we propose in terms of assistance would cost 3 percent of what it would cost us to continue with two more years of war."

The forum's other recurring theme was the recent elections, and the transfer of power in both houses of Congress to Democrats. McGovern, who was the 1972 Democratic presidential candidate, had good things to say about the current party leadership, but also offered a caution.

"If the Democrats don't take concrete steps rather soon to terminate our involvement in Iraq, they're not going to stay in power very long. (The Iraq war) was the issue that drove voters to the polls. We can never let this new class of Democrats forget that they are in Washington in considerable part because of a war that the American public no longer supports."

McGovern will meet with this week with the House Progressive Caucus in Washington, to elaborate on his suggestions for exiting from Iraq.

In recent years, McGovern has also spent a good deal of time on Capitol Hill addressing the issue of global poverty and hunger. He partnered with former Sen. Bob Dole - his close friend despite their political differences - to author the George McGovern and Robert Dole Food for Education and Nutrition bill, which provides meals made of United States farm commodities to school children in the world's poorest countries.

McGovern has been actively involved in efforts to combat global hunger for nearly a decade. In 1998, President Clinton appointed him ambassador to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. In 2001, he was appointed the United Nations Global Ambassador on Hunger.

"You have to have some passion in your life, and this is my current one," he said. Activism on behalf of those less fortunate has motivated McGovern's entire political career, and he is as patriotic today as when he ran for president 35 years ago.

"We are inheritors of the greatest democracy in the world," he said. "We must treasure it."



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