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Release: Top U.S. Diplomat to Speak at Midland University Commencement

Release: Top U.S. Diplomat to Speak at Midland University Commencement

May 12th , 2011

Midland University proudly announces The Honorable James B. Steinberg, Deputy Secretary of State, as the honored speaker for the Class of 2011 commencement ceremony. 

Appointed by President Obama and quickly confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Secretary Steinberg is the second highest ranking official in the U.S. State Department.  He plays a central role in the formulation and execution of U.S. foreign policy at one of the most critical moments in the last decade for U.S. foreign relations.

“At any time, the Midland community would be honored to welcome such a distinguished guest to our campus.  But given the State Department’s important role in bringing Osama Bin Laden to justice in Pakistan in recent weeks, we are particularly excited to give our students such a timely glimpse of history in the making through Secretary Steinberg’s eyes,” remarked President Ben Sasse.

In addition to the momentous events of the past month, the State Department also oversaw the U.S. response to a new democratic awakening in the Middle East.  These popular uprisings represent, in the view of many observers, the greatest ideological power shift since the end of the Cold War.  The human, political, and economic implications of these changes will reshape the world in ways few yet understand.  Secretary Steinberg’s leadership role at the State Department gives him a unique perspective on these events, and to reactions to them by the world’s leadership.

President Sasse noted the relevance of his visit by saying, “I can think of no more fitting commencement – as a group of young adults enter a world that is being reshaped before them at a pace unlike any other moment in their adult lives.  Our students have the opportunity to have that change put into context by one of the key figures directly shaping it.”

Deputy Secretary Steinberg describes the key tools used to frame American diplomacy as a strong commitment to cooperation with global partners, coupled with a recognition of the United States’ unique position to lead and support emerging democracies in their pursuit of universal ideals.  These pillars of American diplomacy currently support our efforts on, the Deputy Secretary says, “issues like extremist terrorism exploiting the name of Islam, climate change, cyber security, and of course, the dramatic popular movements that are now sweeping the Arab and Islamic world.”

Secretary Steinberg, in a recent speech at Duke University, went on to put these challenges in the context of systemic forces that bring opportunities and challenges to the United States:  “the twin phenomena of increasing globalization and interdependence fueled by a technological revolution of communications and information have changed the face of our world bringing people closer together, fueling economic growth and human opportunity even in remote corners of the planet, but also enabl[e] the dangerous forces that threaten our well-being and even our survival.”

Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida was one example of a byproduct of these forces, where non-state actors could exploit peaceful technologies to unleash new challenges on the world.  On the other side of the coin, “[we] have been enormously inspired to see civil society across the Middle East laying claim nonviolently to human rights, human dignity, and democratic reform,” Steinberg says.  “One in five Arabs is an Egyptian. If Egypt’s transition is orderly and democratic, it can strike a major blow against al-Qaida’s narrative that violence and extremism are the only path to change in the Middle East.” While these remarks were given in February, they echoed powerfully in months since as uprisings spread to Libya, Syria, Bahrain, and elsewhere throughout the Arab world.

While the future of the developments in the Middle East, as well as the economic and political developments around the world – and America’s place in it – are far from determined, Secretary Steinberg reminds us that, amid all the uncertainty, this is, first and foremost, a time of opportunity for the United States in global engagement.

Secretary Steinberg’s deep experience in national security and international relations arenas extend far beyond his current service at the State Department.  He has previously served in academia, as vice president and director of Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. and as the deputy national security advisor to President Bill Clinton.  His official State Department bio is available here.

Midland University, a private liberal arts institution located just outside Omaha, will hold commencement exercises on the afternoon of Saturday, May 21, 2011.