Retired Sen. George Mitchell Discusses Conflict Resolution

Created: April 10, 2014
Last Updated: January 17, 2020

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WASHINGTON, Pa. (Nov. 8, 2013)—Retired Sen. George Mitchell (D-Maine)—former senate majority leader; U.S. special envoy for the Middle East; and lead investigator in Major League Baseball’s steroid scandal—addressed in a public lecture Thursday at Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) conflict resolution, particularly his role in the peace negotiations in Northern Ireland and his views on the situation in the Middle East.

Mitchell’s lecture was part of W&J’s Integrated Semester on Conflict and Community and the J. Robert Maxwell ’43 Visiting Scholar Series.

Mitchell’s background gives him unique insights into the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, Ireland, diplomacy, conflict resolution, politics, and perspectives on the business of baseball. After his retirement from the Senate, Mitchell was chairman of the peace negotiations in Northern Ireland. Under his leadership, the governments of Ireland and the United Kingdom agreed to the historic “Good Friday” peace accord.

“Learning to listen is one of the most important lessons of my life. I’ve never learned anything while I was speaking, but I’ve learned a lot while I was listening to others,” Mitchell said, referring to the peace process in Northern Ireland.

After graduating from high school at the age of 16, Mitchell attended college and then enrolled in the U.S. Army, where he rose to the rank of First Lieutenant. In 1960, he began practicing as a trial attorney for the antitrust division of the Department of Justice, after graduating from Georgetown University Law Center. Appointed U.S. Attorney for Maine by President Jimmy Carter in 1977, Mitchell served in that capacity for two years, and he was later appointed to the U.S. District Court. He served as a federal judge until he entered the Senate in 1980.

Mitchell served in the Senate for 15 years, six of which were as Senate majority leader.

He acted as deputy president pro tempore from 1987 to 1988 and remains one of only two senators to have held the post. In 1994, he turned down an appointment by President Bill Clinton to the Supreme Court.

He later served as chairman of an international fact-finding committee on violence between Israel and Palestine.

“The key to a solution is easy to state but very difficult to achieve,” he said. “It’s the mutual commitment of Israel and the Palestinians and the active participation of the United States government and the support and assistance of other governments and institutions that can and want to help.”

Mitchell served as the chairman of the board of the Walt Disney Company and as chairman of the International Crisis Group, the National Health Care Commission, and the commission investigating allegations of impropriety in the Olympic Games’ bidding process. He was also the overseer of the American Red Cross Liberty Disaster Relief Fund, which helped victims of the 9/11 attacks.

“I believe that (U.S.) power must be deployed in service to our ideals, not in contradiction of them because it is those ideals that have been, and our today, the primary basis of American influence in the world,” Mitchell said.

In 2006, Mitchell investigated steroid use in baseball, the results of which were outlined in the second report known as The Mitchell Report.

Mitchell has received numerous awards and honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor the U.S. government can bestow; the Philadelphia Liberty Medal; the Truman Institute Peace Prize; the German (Hesse) Peace Prize; and the United Nations (UNESCO) Peace Prize.

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