Friday, November 12, 2010

Madeleine Albright

On International Food Day the teacher in the children's book, "Yoko," tells her students to, "Try everything!" Friday I thought I would do just that by attending a talk by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. As I made my way through Michigan Road's construction traffic, though, I wondered if I should bail. Maybe the hassle getting there was a sign. I'm embarrassed to admit that I'm not politically savvy, and I wondered if I would get anything out of hearing an ex-politico expound about foreign policy.

When Albright walked on stage I immediately knew that I made the right decision by not bailing. Now in her 70s, Albright had a gracious, erudite air about her. She opened with a funny, self-effacing anecdote that set the tone for a casual discussion. Throughout the talk Albright was accessible, witty and engaging. She approached all questions with candor, handling even difficult ones with aplomb.

When asked if she thought women brought a different sensibility to the job of Secretary of State, Albright replied that although women may bring more consensus building to the task, both men and women want the same thing: to defend the interests of their state. When asked about her thoughts about the results of the mid-term election, she explained how important it is for elected officials to work across party lines, recounting her work in expanding the role of NATO and how she found an unexpected and unlikely partner in Jesse Helms. When asked how she would rate the Obama administration so far, she said that although they had the added task of trying to overcome the legacy of the Bush administration's heavy-hand, she would give them a B+, praising in particular Obama's trip to India.

When Albright was asked about the subject of her newest book, "Read My Pins," she told the story of how she began to wear brooches. She recounted that Saddam Hussein printed a poem about her, comparing her to a serpent. In response she wore a broach in the shape of a snake. Thus the start of a tradition of wearing brooches whose designs matched the task at hand.

Albright seemed to enjoy discussing her close relationship with Condoleesa Rice (Albright's father taught Rice) and affectionately retold the story of the conversation in which Rice admitted to her that she was a Republican.

Albright was asked about her now infamous statement on the show 60 Minutes. In response to a leading question by Lesley Stahl, Albright had said that she stood by the sanctions against Iraq -- even though they resulted in the death of half a million Iraqi children. In a moment of refreshing candor, she admitted she misspoke and that she wishes she would have framed her answer differently. She reminded us that no one goes through life without saying something he or she later regrets. Then, in her own defense, she went on to dispute Stahl's figures. She added that Iraq was never denied food or medicine, explaining that ultimately it was Hussein who was responsible for the deaths because he used his country's resources to build palaces when the citizens of his country were in need.

Albright said that as a girl she began international relations clubs in the schools she attended and then made herself president. Now, in her role as teacher at Georgetown University, her goal is to make foreign policy less foreign. She defined foreign policy in simple terms: getting a country to do something you want. It was in these simple terms that Albright shared her stories, and she did it with style, grace and an open heart. I learned a lot listening to Madeleine Albright. I may not be well-versed in foreign policy but I do know that it's always a good idea to try something new; you never know what it will bring. I had no idea that in Madeleine Albright I would find an amazing role model, a woman with integrity who just happened to be our first female Secretary of State.

No comments:

Post a Comment