The state of world affairs will continue to be challenging for the United States to deal with, but the United States shouldn’t shy away from active participation, said Christopher Hill, former ambassador to Iraq and assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.
Hill explained that although the United States and its allies have largely succeeded in incorporating Russia into the framework of international affairs over the 23 years since the Soviet Union’s collapse, that participation is a double-edged sword in the case of the West’s reliance on Russian oil and gas.
He added that Russia’s invasion of Crimea is broader than the aspirations of the Ukrainian people, which the American media commonly portrays as reason for concern, but instead extends to the question of Russia’s future role in the international community.
Sanctions may not be the best approach to resolving the crisis, he said.
“I remember we used to put [smart sanctions] on Milosevic, denying him a visa to go visit Disneyland and somehow change future of Kosovo,” Hill said jokingly.
Hill then turned his attention to Syria, saying that the crisis in Syria is one of the most pernicious crises the world faces.
Secretary of State John Kerry should not get hung up on the issue of removing Bashar al-Assad, president of Syria, Hill said. Rather, as with the so-called Contact Group during the Bosnian War, the primary emphasis should be on establishing a political framework for the country’s future.
Hill said elections were unlikely to be constructive at this point in the conflict and pointed to the success of the work the Contact Group did, leading to the Dayton Peace Accords. Little violence occurred after those accords were signed, Hill noted, explaining that in the absence of such action, the present situation in Syria is difficult.
“I’m not sure there are that many Ewok villages, though I think there’s simply a number of Darth Vaders out there,” Hill said jokingly, referring to some members of the forces of light and darkness, respectively, in the Star Wars trilogy.
Hill also briefly addressed the situation in Iraq, saying Sunni jihadist fighters from Syria have begun to concentrate in Iraq and destabilize that country and that Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki, who has frustrated attempts at more and better elections, has served for too long and needs to step down.
Hill said the Obama administration has negotiated effectively with Iran over its nuclear program. Iran and the United States agreed to a six-month deal in November in which Iran would restrict its uranium enrichment program in exchange for the loosening of sanctions. However, Hill added that applying even more severe sanctions in an effort to completely dismantle the program may not be wise.
“Iran is in a domestic struggle,” Hill said. “I think there are a lot of people who want to see that country move westward, and then there are a lot of people who want to keep it where it is.”
Finally, in regards to North Korea, the primary concern of the United States should be making China come to the realization that the survival of North Korea is not in its long-term interests, Hill said. He added, however, that China has been struggling with domestic unrest and has diverted much of its efforts to dealing with these problems rather than ones such as North Korea.
“I think one of the problems is that we haven’t been able to develop those personal ties that are the basis of diplomacy,” Hill said. “After all, what are you doing in diplomacy? You’re asking people to do things they don’t want to do.”
Hill spoke to a crowded Dodds Auditorium at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday in a lecture titled “Global Hot Spots: A Diplomat’s View.”