CEDAR FALLS, Iowa --- A Cedar Falls native and former U.S. ambassador sees recent events as a crossroads for the United States.

Ronald McMullen was born in Cedar Falls and raised in Northwood before traveling the world during a 29-year career in the U.S. State Department. Now he serves as a diplomat-in-residence at the University of Texas at Austin. He spoke Monday at the University of Northern Iowa as part of a new speakers series focusing on diplomacy.

McMullen said his diplomacy career was marked by two major crossroads --- the end of the Cold War as the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991 and the start of the war on terror after 9/11.

Now with Osama Bin Laden dead, troops leaving Iraq and the U.S. economy struggling and hamstrung by debt, McMullen sees a new watershed moment.

He acknowledges the U.S. needs to make budget cuts and whittle away at the deficit, but he fears calls to focus on the home front could lead to unwelcome international events.

"If we are indeed at a new crossroads there will be no clear-cut best way to promote America's interests and values abroad. Things are apt to be pretty messy, murky and uncertain," McMullen.

McMullen said Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida misjudged the U.S. when it decided to launch the 9/11 attacks. He said bin Laden thought America would either shrink back if it suffered a major attack or strike out against all Muslims around the world. Either way, it would help further his aim to spread his archaic form of militant Islam.

"President Bush and the American people didn't pick that war, didn't pick the fight with Osama bin Laden, it was brought to us," McMullen said. He went on to say that while the Iraq war may be debatable, the war in Afghanistan and rooting out the Taliban and Al-Qaeda was unquestionably justified.

He was responding to a question from a student about whether the war on terror had helped or hurt America's image and influence around the world.

"We need to maintain our counterterrorism efforts because the world is a dangerous place and there are really bad guys out to get us," McMullen said. "You can't play defense all the time, every place; we need to take the fight to them and we need to do it in a way that doesn't alienate potential allies and partners as well."

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