Albright defends policies

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright combined reflection, humor and diplomacy in an address that received an enthusiastic response from a capacity crowd in Irvine Auditorium April 3.

Reflecting on women’s changing role in the world and on her own life and career, Albright noted that as a student at Wellesley College in the 1950s, she was told that a woman’s highest duty was to get married and raise smart children. “There were limits to the horizons of any young woman,” she said — and then talked about her sky’s-the-limit career as an academic and then as a diplomat.

As to whether being a woman in the male-dominated diplomatic world made a difference, she quipped, “I could not say, because I have never been a male Secretary of State.”

But she also made some serious points, particularly in defense of her administration’s foreign policy. While most American diplomats, including her successor Colin Powell, view world problems through the prism of Vietnam, the events leading up to World War II shaped Albright’s view. “The West stood by and did nothing, burying its head in the sand, waiting until the aggressor” — Nazi Germany — “was satisfied, which it never was,” she said. The result of this do-nothing policy was a devastating war and the spread of Communism across Eastern Europe, which she and her family fled.

This led her to conclude that “evil must be opposed and not appeased,” a principle underlying Clinton’s policy in the Balkans.

However, she refrained from criticizing Powell or the Bush administration in both her speech and the question-and-answer session that followed. In her speech, she described the transition from her to Powell as smooth, adding, “It says something right about America that the first female Secretary of State was succeeded by the first African-American Secretary of State.”

During the question-and-answer period, she criticized those who would recast Russia as the enemy, lamented the current Israeli-Palestinian impasse, and defended her approaches to China and North Korea. As the audience started to leave, a protester approached her with a question about sanctions against Iraq. She answered the question, defending the sanctions, noting that they did not apply to food and medicine. “The Iraqi people are not suffering because of the embargo; they are suffering because of [Saddam] Hussein,” she said.


Originally published on April 19, 2001