Albright Addresses Global Tensions
Madeleine Albright traveled over 100 million miles to more than 100 different countries while serving as secretary of state under former-President Clinton.
The highest-ranking female government official in American history traveled to UB Thursday night, presenting her view on the current global situation and offering her ear to the eager university crowd.
Albright, the second guest in this year's Distinguished Speakers' Series, addressed faculty, students, alumni and community members in the packed Alumni Arena with a talk often punctuated by applause and sometimes by laughter.
After noting that "distinguished" was often equated with "incredibly old," Albright praised UB's dedication to research and international education. She spoke of her days as a student at Wellesley College when the fervent clicking now emanating from laptops came from the knitting needles of young women making socks for their boyfriends and college entrants were required to pose semi-nude for "posture pictures."
Normally, Albright said, she would speak of her experiences as secretary of state and ruminate on the challenge of being a woman working among so many men.
"But this is not the right time for ordinary speaking or for any of us to dwell too much on our own personal experiences," she said. Rather, Albright addressed the "perils we face as a nation," particularly the attacks perpetrated against the United States via air and mail.
Albright went on to list explanations often given for Sept. 11: that the attacks were a punishment for our sins, a response to U.S. cultural imperialism, a result of American policy in the Middle East, or simply the act of lunatics - all reasons she dismissed as "balderdash."
The destruction of the Twin Towers was "pure evil, wholly unjustified by any reasons of politics, culture or faith," Albright proclaimed.
Albright applauded the Bush administration's campaign of carefully targeted military strikes, adding the "United States is doing everything possible to minimize harm to civilians," by combining bombing with humanitarian aid and assistance to Afghan refugees.
Albright compared the current international situation to the Cold War when the world was divided between "red, white and blue" and simply "red" on the other side. In the 1950s, she said, we were the good guys and communists were the bad guys in what constituted a "zero-sum game."
At this time, she said, it is tempting but dangerous to replace communists with terrorists when playing the same old game.
"It gives the terrorists far too much credit to think that we are in a bipolar world and they are the other pole," Albright said. "That is precisely what Osama bin Laden wants. He claims we are in a clash of civilizations. In reality, it is between civilization itself and brutishness, between the rule of law and no law at all."
In stark contrast to recent calls for the United States to retreat into isolation, Albright made a case for increased American involvement beyond its borders. "The world today is interconnected and what matters anywhere, matters everywhere," she said.
Albright addressed the vast disparity in wealth among the world's population, a discrepancy often noted as a possible root cause of terrorism, by dividing the world's countries into three categories: those where the people work all day and still cannot earn enough to eat, those where families are able to scrape together just enough food to meet their basic needs, and those where diet books are bestsellers.
"Today there can be no doubt that if only we would so choose, we could produce enough food and build enough shelter and deliver enough medicine and share enough knowledge to allow people everywhere to live better and more productive lives."
The former secretary cited the economic and political empowerment of women as one means to the above end, decrying the Taliban's treatment of women.
"That regime had deprived them of everything except the right to be silent and uneducated, uniformed and unseen," she said.
Albright harkened back to her childhood when Nazi troops marched into her former home of Prague, Czechoslovakia.
"I learned early in life that there is great evil in this world, but I also learned early about a country across the sea where freedom is cherished," she said.
While Albright said terror can turn life to death and hope to sorrow, and can crash a plane or cause us to hold our breath when opening an envelope, there is much it cannot do.
"But it cannot alter the essential goodness of the American people, or diminish our loyalty to one another or cause our nation to retreat from the world," Albright said in conclusion.
Following her speech, the floor was opened to questions. Amidst booing, one audience member told Albright that he believes the terrorists are partially justified in their hatred toward Americans and their related criticism of the U.S. role in the Middle East.
"I think that the relationship the United States has had historically with Israel is appropriate. They are the only democracy in the region," she said. "The United States, proudly, was the first to recognize Israel. ... We have had, and I believe should continue to have, an indissoluble relationship with the state of Israel."
She told the audience that one of her regrets from her time as secretary of state was that she and President Bill Clinton did not succeed in "working out" a Middle East peace settlement, but said she believes peace will come eventually.
"On the question of the hate of America; first of all, I think it is a huge mistake to blame America for what has happened," Albright said. "Only if you dislike democracy and human rights would you think of blaming American foreign policy."
Albright was asked whether she thought the sanctions in Iraq were harming the target - i.e., Saddam Hussein - or the populace, pointing out that "Saddam's belly is still full."
She agreed that Hussein is starving his people, and said the United States should re-look at its "smart sanctions" policy that attempts to target leaders, rather than civilians.
"I sure wish that the first President Bush had finished the job and that we didn't have to continue to deal with it," Albright said.
The former secretary urged caution, however, arguing that "unless it were proven that [Hussein] is somehow involved with the tragedy, with the anthrax, then I think we should not broaden the war to Iraq, because we would lose huge portions of the coalition or coalitions that are now with us."
"Do you feel [President Clinton's] administration bears any responsibility for the failure to stop the World Trade Center attacks?" asked one of the audience members, citing cutbacks in the foreign intelligence service.
No, said Albright, denying the "large cutbacks" to which the woman referred.
"In fact, we tried to expand some of the funding for the CIA as well as the FBI," she said. "... I believe during the Clinton administration we did everything we could to deal with the situation as we had it at the time and with all the means that we had at the time."
Another attendee asked what Albright thought of President Bush's move to allow the FBI and CIA to listen to conversations between lawyers and people suspected of terrorism.
"I think that while this administration has in large part handled the international aspect of this tragedy very well, I think the domestic part has not been handled well," she said.
She called the lawyer-client privilege violation "a very large step too far ... it's troubling the way it was announced, troubling there was not any consultation with Congress, and so I'm concerned about it, but I think we have to look a little bit further as to whether it's a way to expedite procedures."
The general mood in Alumni following Albright's speech was positive, as evidenced by the thunderous applause during and at the conclusion of her speech.
"I was impressed. She knew her stuff," said Tom Farley, a freshman undecided major. "I expected more of a reflective speech, but I was happy with the review of the current situation of Afghanistan."
"She played politics, which I didn't like," said Joel Kleinberg, a graduate student studying urban planning. "She was critical of Bush and [praised] the Clinton administration, and neither of them are perfect."
"She handled herself well," he added. "I'm glad UB [saw her]."
About 25 students from the UB Peace Coalition, organized in the wake of Sept. 11, gathered silently and solemnly with representatives from the Women in Black, an international peace movement, outside Alumi prior to Albright's speech, protesting the war in Afghanistan.
Dino Lawrence, a UB graduate student in education, called Albright "a representative of U.S. aggression and U.S. domination in the world."
"I'm for peace, but I'm not a pacifist," Albright said in a press conference prior to the event. "I think it is preferable to use diplomacy but often diplomacy requires the support of either the threat of force, or ultimately the use of force."