Madeleine Albright, former secretary of state and ambassador to the United Nations, presented her take on foreign policy and the war on terror to a full house in Chapin Hall last Thursday. Hedrick Smith ’55, Pulitzer Prize winner and former Williams trustee, interviewed Albright for almost an hour before she took questions from students in the audience.
Albright, a former trustee of the College and mother of two graduates, is no stranger to Williamstown and was met with uproarious applause by the audience of over 800. Albright served under President Bill Clinton as the 64th Secretary of State and was the first woman to hold the position. She is the highest-ranking female in the history of the United States government.
Earlier in the day, Albright met with students in “America and the Cold War,” a course taught by James McAllister, assistant professor of political science. Albright fielded student questions in a more casual setting, speaking about her childhood in Czechoslovakia and how her family fled to the United States when the Communists invaded in 1948.
Of particular relevance to the class, Albright said that “having always seen things through the prism of the Cold War,” American foreign policy had to make a dramatic re-adjustment following the fall of the Soviet Union, particularly in the realm of foreign aid. She added that in terms of foreign policy and military use, “the Cold War was simple,” saying that a known enemy, negotiated treaties and clear military objectives were easier to understand than in the post-Cold War world where “trying to decide what’s in your country’s best interest is very hard to do when you have to do it.” She then responded to students’ questions concerning the crisis in the Middle East, terrorism, Iraq and the administration’s China policy, many of which were also addressed in the evening forum.
Smith began the evening’s event by inviting Albright to “indulge in a bit of make-believe,” asking the former secretary to imagine herself as President George W. Bush’s Secretary of State during the Israeli incursions into the West Bank last month.
“I would never have let it go so long,” said Albright. She emphasized the need for a third party to mediate between the two sides. “[We] cannot alleviate the situation in the Middle East without American help,” said Albright in McAllister’s class, later adding, “when the U.S. stands aside . . . I think that bad things happen.”
Albright came out heavily against the current administration’s strategy towards the Mideast conflict, claiming that it has distanced itself from the problem. “They left the peace process with no adult supervision,” said Albright, who explained the recent peace failures as the result of a lack of U.S. involvement.
While criticizing Bush’s policy, she had even stronger words for both Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. “You don’t have the luxury of choosing someone else’s leader,” said Albright, referring to the difficulty of diplomacy. “[In this case] two stubborn old men are leading their people down the wrong path.”
Responding to further questioning from Smith, Albright said that the situation has never been worse, adding, “We may not have yet hit bottom.” In McAllister’s class, she took a stance on the issue, saying, “it is Arafat’s fault, there’s no question.”
“Both President Clinton and I were … disappointed [more than] any single thing we did that the [Mideast] peace process didn’t work,” Albright said. As for the role of the president in the peace process, Albright said, “there is nobody stronger on this subject than a president who knows the issues.” She hesitated to criticize Bush for publicly asking Sharon to withdraw troops. “Sometimes friends tell each other what they don’t want to hear,” she said.
Smith then shifted the topic of the interview towards terrorism and Iraq. Albright stated that she “supported President Bush in what he did in Afghanistan,” but refused to support an invasion of Iraq.
“While Saddam Hussein is dreadful and a threat to the region,” said Albright, “for us to be planning a ground force invasion would be taking our eye off the ball.”
In McAllister’s class, she questioned whether the United States has the resources to simultaneously complete the job in Afghanistan and be successful in Iraq. Albright does not agree that terrorism should be the driving point behind an invasion in Iraq, saying that the United States needs to “separate the issue.” Albright sees the suffering of the Iraqi people and the development of weapons of mass destruction as more direct concerns to the United States.
Smith then asked the former secretary if the war on terror is “a war waged and won with military means?” Albright responded that this is a war the likes of which the United States has never before seen. Undefined, geographically scattered, and mobile targets require a different kind of warfare involving a heavy reliance on intelligence and other means of battle. “Military solutions are a part of [the solution] but not the only part,” she said.
Albright also received questions about
terrorism in McAllister’s class. In response to a query by Ryan Moore ’03 about the threat of terror ending with the capture of Osama Bin Laden, Albright addressed the entire class.
“I lived with a nuclear threat,” she said. “We didn’t even think about terrorism, you’re going to have to. You’re going to have to live with terrorism. It won’t just go away.” Nearing the end of the evening event, Albright spoke out against Bush’s plans for a missile defense system. While she acknowledged the existence of threats, she thought that the Sept. 11 attacks rendered a missile defense system unnecessary.
After criticizing the administration’s policy, she said, “What bothers me most of all is that it is considered unpatriotic these days to question our direction.” Smith later reiterated the same sentiment, saying that being able to question the former secretary of state and her policies “is the essence of American democracy.”
The end of the interview shifted to a more personal conversation about Albright’s position as the highest-ranking woman in the history of the United States government. While she was sure her gender never hindered her ability as a diplomat, it rarely enhanced her persuasive power. “The power I had was because I arrived on an airplane that said ‘United States of America’ on the side,” she said. “I had less problems with men in foreign governments than I did with those in my own.”
Albright fielded questions from students ranging in scope from her stance on the unrest in Venezuela to the AIDS epidemic in Africa.
She also justified her stance on economic sanctions in Iraq and called for a clearly stated energy policy.
For students looking toward a career in the Foreign Service, she boiled the job down to one task, “foreign policy, in a simple sense, is trying to get another country to do what you wa
The event was sponsored by the Schuman Foundation, (founded by W. Ford Schuman ’50) whose charter is “to promote and stimulate civil engagement.”