Secretary of State Madeleine Albright – by Deborah Levine

Reprinted in honor of Madeleine Albright R.I.P. 1937-2022

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is a petite woman who can fill large university auditorium with her presence. These days, Dr. Albright teaches, lectures and writes. She frequently speaks to university audiences land enjoys telling young people that they can be anything they want to be with hard work. Her audiences listen enthusiastically and a recent crowd at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga was no exception. A packed house and 2 overflow rooms with video feeds were arranged for the presentation by our 64th Secretary of State. She was the highest ranking woman in government from 1997-2001 and the first female Secretary of State.

Dr. Albright began her talk with a few personal notes which I thoroughly enjoyed. She and I both grew up outside of the United States and came to this country speaking English as opposed to American. I believe that people who come to this country as children acquire communication and diplomatic skills that are ingrained in them as they grow older. However, that doesn’t happen without a struggle and Dr. Albright spoke of her struggle to fit in by reading comic books and attending sleep-over parties. I laughed because I have always considered both somewhat bizarre and concentrated on learning how to swear instead. Swearing fascinated me as a very popular American pastime. Perhaps I would have gone farther if I’d stuck with the comic books.

Dr. Albright attended Wellesley College at a time when young women were making the transition to careers as opposed to marriage and part-time jobs. Yet, Dr. Albright was thirty-nine years old, married with children, before she had her first post-child professional job working for Senator Muskie. She notes that it is still not easy for young woman to get international work. An ambitious young woman can’t have a chip on her shoulder and must be better trained than men. Mentoring these young women is particularly important and she emphatically declared, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t mentor other women.”

Today’s diplomats have training in many areas including science and economics. However, they must understand the religion of the countries where they’re going. She encouraged the young people in the audience to consider going into the field of international relations. Dr. Albright referred to as international relations as a growth industry.

Her investment in educating young people to work in a global environment was clear. If were ever going to build a global environment where true understanding takes place then foreign places must become real places. Real leadership demands international literacy. Wisdom is the ability to believe in ideas while respecting the beliefs of others.

Dr. Albright discussed the international moments that were most memorable. These were the moments that she spent visiting safe havens for trafficked women and girls, refugee camps and health centers for AIDS patients. She spoke movingly of how education and social workers saved lives where Aids ravaged communities. Of how medical teams and volunteers celebrated life as best they could in camps for children who had lost limbs in Sierra Leones civil war. She described extreme poverty as . . . a jail where fellow human beings are sentenced for life and urged the audience to confront the misery of Poverty, Ignorance and Disease.

Individuality counts is the heart of democracy and that principle will allow us to prevail in securing a just future. She expressed concern that the threat of terror will make it easy to lose sight of the principles that guide human relationships. We are entitled to have our basic rights respected but we also have responsibility to protect rights; to reward those who protect them and punish them who don’t. Our leaders have many tools to deal with those who don’t protect human rights ranging from words to missiles. Diplomacy is the art of finding the right combination of tools and that combination has escaped us. Since 9/11 our understanding of global events are in competition with other world views. We are seen as overbearing, keeping others down and dominated by our own self interest. We need to do much better in understanding others and supporting an international brand of community involvement.

The most riveting part of Madeleine Albright’s presentation was the question and answer period. Ms. Albright answered candidly the many questions submitted by audience members. When asked about the changing role of the United Nations, she talked about the evolution of the United Nations. Only after the Cold War could it become a real forum. Yet, the bureaucracy that had grown in the Cold War remained. The United States owed a lot of money and paid late due to our fiscal year which didn’t give us much leverage to reform the organization. For example, the membership and process of membership of Security Council is problematic. When the United States wanted Germany and Japan in the Council, we were blocked by protests from Italy. She hopes that this president finds the UN useful and the next present even more so. Responding to questions about why people don’t like the United Nations, she jokingly responded, “Some people don’t like the UN because it’s full of foreigners which can’t be helped.”

When asked what she would do about Iraq if she were Secretary of State, she prefaced her answer by saying, If I were Secretary of State, we wouldn’t have been in Iraq. There was no, none, zero connection between Iraq and 9/11. She did not consider Weapons of Mass Destruction a threat and asked, What are we fighting for? The goals keep changing and the present disaster we created. Her recommendation is to find a responsible, not chaotic end saying, The Iraq War is the greatest disaster ion American foreign policy and we have to end it.

When the issue of Iran and nuclear power came up, Ms. Albright explained that nuclear energy was originally to be used for peaceful purposes. The transfer of nuclear technology included Iran. If Iran is empowered with nuclear weapons its very dangerous especially given that Iran is the winning party in the war in Iraq. You make peace with your enemies. We think dialogue is nice but it is necessary for diplomacy. We should talk to Iran and Syria.

In the Middle East, the appointment of Tony Blair has limited value. , Blair seems to be involved in economic issues, not peace negotiations. Further, it is unclear how much this administration is invested in resolving the conflict. Secretary Rice has announced a conference this fall but there is some doubt whether the Saudi Arabia will attend. They are saying that if Israel withdraws to its 1967 borders, the Arabs would accept. Negotiations over such sensitive issues need a full time commitment by Washington

The situation that caused the most regret was Rwanda. Ms. Albright was at the United Nations Security Council during the violence but information was scarce. The volcanic explosion of genocide probably meant that it couldn’t be helped. The present situation in Darfur is different from Rwanda in that it is a rolling genocide. The problem is that we are dealing with issues of sovereignty. Sudan doesn’t want foreign forces and there is slaughter that can’t be prevented without invading the country. How do we force Sudan to act? In her opinion, the key is China, a growing trade partner with Sudan.

Wrapping up her presentation, Ms. Albright said, “We have to have some humility about how difficult it is to control terrorism.” She described how the profile of terrorists changes with time and place adding that “The phrase ‘war on terror’ doesn’t work. We need to understand Islam and have a very nuanced policy. We cannot undercut what is this country is about in the process. We cannot lose our rights and we need to close Guantanamo. We have to be very vigilant and route out terrorism but in doing it, we cannot make more terrorists which is what happened in Iraq.”

Ms. Albright received a standing ovation and many of the students in the audience showed their appreciation loudly. She was speaking to a group that was largely in agreement with her, many of whom were too young to remember when she served as Secretary of State.


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