The United States’ evolving role in the Middle East and its national security policies were the focus of this year’s Tresolini Lecture, which was given last week by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh.
Before a packed audience in Baker Hall in the Zoellner Arts Center, Hersh delivered “A Report from Washington on the Obama/Bush-Cheney Foreign Policy,” delineating his views on American foreign policy over the past two presidential administrations. Hersh also fielded questions from the audience.
Hersh, who is in the final stages of an as-yet untitled book on national security, has expressed strong views on the Obama Administration’s foreign policy decisions. His comments echoed a recent interview he granted The Guardian, throughout which he suggests that President Barack Obama’s foreign policy strategy mirrors that of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
Hersh said American foreign policy decisions are often made in the absence of moral imperative, suggesting that the situations in countries where the United States has intervened—Iraq Afghanistan and Libya—are more unstable than ever before.
“There isn’t much control in Libya in particular. It’s been an experiment gone wrong. Anybody who says that the intervention in Libya was a good idea is lying,” said Hersh, who also explained the importance of investigation and challenging the government in his remarks.
“You’ve got to hold the most powerful people to the highest standard,” he said.
Prior to his talk, Hersh met for more than an hour with a small group of mostly journalism and political science students for a discussion on the state of journalism and to field questions. Hersh regaled them with stories about his early days as a police reporter in Chicago, his experiences as a speech writer for former presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy, and his life as an investigative journalist.
He said that a core principle that sustained him through a career that spanned more than six decades was a belief that a journalist’s role is to challenge assumptions.
“That the central point of a university experience,” he said. “If you come out of here with critical thinking skills, boy, you’ve really learned something here.”
He also offered young journalists time-tested advice: Always have more information than you use, get out of the way of the story, and read before you write.
“You have to know stuff,” he said. “You have to educate yourself because you can’t b.s. the smart guys.”
Throughout his career, Hersh has focused his efforts on the abuse of power, particularly as it applies to national security. He has uncovered civilian massacres, military abuses, fabricated evidence used to justify wars, illegal wiretapping and CIA scandals. He is perhaps best known for uncovering the My Lai massacre and Abu Ghraib prison abuse.
Established in honor of Rocco J. Tresolini (1920-1967), a former professor and chair of the department of government, the Tresolini lecture series aims to explore the various relationships between government and politics. Brian Pinaire, associate professor of political science and organizer of the annual lecture series, thanked the Tresolini family and Class of 1961 fund for sponsoring the talk.
Photos by Christa Neu