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Retired Gen. Wesley Clark stresses global, domestic threats to future of US at OU Presidential Speakers Series dinner

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Wesley Clark

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark greets attendees at the President's Speaker Series dinner on Sep. 20. 

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark presented “The Future of America” speech during the OU Presidential Speakers Series dinner Tuesday evening and discussed the current state of the U.S and its future.

OU President Joseph Harroz Jr. opened the event, which was held in the Oklahoma Memorial Union, by discussing the state of the university and the progress that has been made. The class of 2026, he said, is the most diverse class in university history. Harroz said 25.4 percent of students enrolled in the freshmen class are first-generation students, a statistic he believes reflects the university’s mission to “change lives.”

Harroz discussed the university's strategic plan, Lead On, University, and how "The Future of America" talk will focus on Pillar 2, which aims to prepare students for a life of success.

"Every one of our students that graduates here, whatever their major, whatever they study, is going to be a leader in their communities," Harroz said. "How we prepare them, how we provide the ability in a deeply divided society to understand the other, whoever the other is, and work with them, and not dehumanize them and understand how they feel even if you don't agree with them is absolutely critical."

Harroz introduced Clark, saying he brings a unique perspective to complex issues that are transforming our world and impacting the course of our future.

"The country's in a difficult position," Clark said. "The world is at an inflection point." 

Clark discussed current challenges across the globe, including the ongoing war in Ukraine and the intense political and economic climates in China, Pakistan, India and Eastern Europe. 

"All over the world, democracies are threatened by the combination of the rise of autocracy, the difficulties of bureaucracy (and) the difficulties of economics,” Clark said. “How did we get here? How did this happen to us?"

Clark described moments in U.S. history over the past 75 years and how the U.S. was, at many times, “divided.” Clark explained how in 1991, Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the U.S House of Representatives, told him “politics are like war.” Clark disagreed, saying politics are not like war, but rather, they are a way to bring people and ideas together.

Clark said the U.S. was thriving until Sept. 11, 2001 and that this day changed America’s landscape. 

"We became a country in fear," Clark said. "We responded in fear." 

Clark said the U.S. government began planning an invasion of Iraq, but the reasoning was unclear as there was no evidence the country played a part in 9/11, and there was no change in the intelligence. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization commander at the time said nothing had changed. Clark said because the U.S. went to war with Iraq he decided to run for president. Clark won the Oklahoma primaries in the 2004 presidential election but later dropped out of the race. 

In the years that followed, Clark said, relations between the U.S. and China, and between the U.S. and Russia, were complicated and uncertain. Former President Donald Trump's administration wanted to “beat” China, but it would be "like a dog chasing a car," Clark said.

"We got to find a way to live with China. And that's what this (presidential) administration is struggling with right now," Clark said. "We are in a period of trouble with China.”

Clark said the U.S. is in "the age of breaking" and the future is unclear. Americans don't know what is going to happen and they are unsure how to navigate through this period, Clark said.

When asked about his expectations for the future, Clark said the U.S. needs to protect civil service, avoid regulatory capture and improve financial reform. Clark also said voter intimidation and gerrymandering are serious issues in the U.S.

"There's no one in charge," Clark concluded his speech. "You need to be listening to your hearts. You need to be reading and studying and thinking because you are in charge. Not anybody else. If you let it go, it's gone. You will not recreate the United States of America if you let it go. … If you lose the voting and the democratic principles in the U.S. Constitution … in ten years, we may not have democracy in this country."

news reporter

Maddy Keyes is a journalism junior a news reporter at the Daily. She started at the Daily in the fall of 2022. She is originally from Norman, Oklahoma.

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