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The United States and its neighbors, Mexico and Canada, together are better positioned than any other geopolitical region in the world to dominate the next decades of the 21st century, retired four-star Gen. David H. Petraeus told two sold-out audiences at the Ringling College Library Association’s last Town Hall programs of the season Tuesday.

Petraeus, who commanded the U.S. and international assistance forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and who then served as CIA director for two years until his resignation in 2011, spent most of his lecture discussing not those historic wars, but rather what he dubs “the North American Decades”—the 21st century continuation of the “American Century” of the latter half of the 20th century. He credited that economic domination to the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and revolutionary advances in energy production, manufacturing, life sciences and information technology.

In the press conference preceding the morning talk, Petraeus was asked about the alleged affair with biographer Paula Broadwell that led to him resigning as CIA director and pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified materials. “Life is not without setbacks,” he said. “I think when you encounter a setback, what you do is what we do in the military, which is conduct an after-action review, strive to learn from it, pick up your rucksack and drive on.” Petraeus is now chairman of the Global Institute of the investment firm KKR, and teaches at both the City College of New York and the University of Southern California, and is a senior fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

Also Tuesday, next year’s Town Hall speakers were announced: former Vice President Dick Cheney; former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan; actress and activist Geena Davis; social media pioneer Jared Cohen; climate change photographer and author James Balog; and Platinum Dinner speaker Liz Murray, who inspired the television film, Homeless to Harvard, about her journey from a homeless teen to graduating from the Ivy League school.

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