The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs

Monday, May 1, 2006

Council on Foreign Relations

GEORGE RUPP: I’d like to welcome all of you. Delighted that all of you are here for this meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations. As is our custom, I ask you to make sure that your cell phones and all wireless devices are turned off—there’s no need to worry about having to be wired because this meeting is going to be webcast so it will be immediately available around the world, but we don’t need to have that—in addition to your wireless devices. This is a meeting that is on the record, as is implied by having it go around the world.

All of us are well-acquainted with the author we are honoring tonight, Madeleine Albright. We know her well from her very high-profile role as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and as secretary of State.

I will mention only three other distinctions: first, that she is now the Mortara endowed distinguished professor at Georgetown University, where she has also taught previously; secondly, that she has an earned Ph.D. from Columbia University, a great distinction—(laughter)—and third, that she has three daughters and six grandchildren.

This is a conversation about a book that all of you I hope will be reading very soon, The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs. We will begin, as is our custom, with a brief conversation that Madeleine and I will have, and then we will open for the second half of our meeting to questions from all of you.

Secretary Albright signing books.

Secretary Albright signing books
with Linda Porkin and Robin Chandler Duke.

Madeleine, in your book you reflect on two divides that all of us have become increasingly aware of. One is a divide within the United States between what I’ll call—although you may not use quite the same language—secular liberals and, on the one hand, and those that are religiously engaged on that other. That’s the first divide. The second is between the West and Islam.

I think it’s fair to say, at least in my reading of your book, that over the course of exploring those two divides, your own views on the relationship between religion and public affairs evolve; come into a sharper focus. And I think it would be of interest to all of us, especially in the bastion of secular liberalism, to hear how your views evolved.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Thank you. Well, I’m very glad to be here, and it’s really the most fantastic audience, mostly combined of people that I’ve known all my life who might think I’ve lost my mind. (Laughter.)

I have to state right up front I’m not a theologian, and I have not turned into a religious mystic. I continue to be a problem solver, and it is from that perspective that I decided to write this book. And I think you’re absolutely right in terms of the divides, and I would put myself into the secular liberal tradition as somebody who has looked at foreign policy from—while I have never liked the idealist-realist division—but from a basically problem-solving approach. And when I was a policy maker who would say things like, “This is complicated enough; let’s not bring God and religion into it.” But it has become clearer to me—one, already while I was secretary, but then since, primarily since 9/11—that we need to understand the role that God and religion plays—play as a force in international affairs.

On the other divide, I am not one that has bought into the clash of civilizations, but I do think that as one studies the evolution of the relationship between the so-called West and the Islamic world, there is major misunderstanding. And I—as I was working on my memoirs, I found notes and scribbled at various places in margins it would say “learn more about Islam.” And I think that that is something that is truly lacking.

We have a sense that we know about Islam. We had created certain characteristics and typologies which I think are not accurate. And so, in order to solve what are increasingly difficult problems, I am actually advocating something that I think will probably surprise a lot of people, which is that I think that religion needs to be used as a way to try to solve problems, and that we do need to include religious leaders in some of our conflict resolution—not necessarily to sit at the table with the negotiators, but to be there in order to offer suggestions, to be validators, and to present some of their ideas. And I think that that is one way to try to find some unifying factors in religion rather than just the divisive ones.

George Rupp with Secretary Madeleine K. Albright

International Rescue Committee President
George Rupp with Secretary Madeleine K.
Albright discussing her new book at the Council.

But this was not an easy book to write. You know, my last book was about me, and I knew more about that than anybody else. (Laughter.) There are many, many people who obviously know much more about the theological aspects and the readings of the holy books than I ever will. But I do think that it is useful for a practical policymaker to see how we can fit into a world where religion and God are playing a major force.

RUPP: A religiously committed person might respond to your last comment by saying to reduce religion to an instrumentality for solving problems that are really other sorts of problems is to—is to make it less than what religion for committed people is. How would you respond to that?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I’m not saying to reduce religion. I am in no way arguing that there is—I happen to—I really do believe in God. I clearly think that there are a variety of aspects of God and religion that are much larger. But I am—and I don’t want to talk about—I teach a course called “The National Security Toolbox.” I don’t want to see religion just as a tool, but I think that we are losing opportunities if we don’t understand the religious dimension of problems.

For instance, if Jerusalem were only a real estate problem, we would have solved it some time ago. I don’t want to see religion just as a tool, but I think that we are losing opportunities if we don’t understand the religious dimension of problems. For instance, if Jerusalem were only a real estate problem, we would have solved it some time ago. But if you are working with two groups of people who believe that God gave them that piece of land, it is very important to take that dimension into consideration. And that’s what I’m arguing.

And, for instance, a secretary of State has many different kinds of advisers. There are economic advisers and arms control advisers and environmental advisers and—and what I’m arguing for is to have religious advisers. I did have, as a result, or in conjunction with the International Religious Toleration—Liberty Act, an ambassador, Ambassador Bob Seiple, who became part of our discussion. What has happened is that as a result of that legislation, it is now necessary for officers that are out in the countries to report on the religious state in a particular country. So people are becoming more trained, and I just think it is very much worth taking that into consideration.

RUPP: The central portion of the book deals with current challenges ahead of us. And you are, I think—you stretch to be as positive as you can about the policies of the current administration, and you—those places where you agree. But you also mince no words in your criticisms. Maybe you can give people a sense of the book’s approach to assessing the post-9/11 policies of the Bush administration.

ALBRIGHT: Well, let me say this. I have to admit that as I started my book I thought about the fact that George Bush was an anomaly in terms of his religious fervor and his calling upon God. And I’m—obviously, I learned American history the way most people do, and probably—maybe with a little bit more admiration than many, because I was an immigrant and really did see this as—and still do—as an exceptional country. But what I—as I re-looked at religion, it became actually more and more evident to me that George Bush is—will be in the main stream in many ways: American presidents calling upon God mentioning God in a variety of ways, invoking God, and the city on the hill, and various rhetoric that we all know. And, in fact, President McKinley felt that it was our duty to Christianize the Philippines. However, despite the fact that I have been able to fit George Bush more into that regular kind of channel, there is something different about him. I have a quote in which he says God wanted him to be president. Not a—not a lot of—

RUPP: It’s even the title of one of your chapters.

ALBRIGHT: Right. And, you know, there’s more to the quote, because he does then say, well, if I don’t become president, that’s okay, too. (Light laughter.) But I think that there is much more of a sense that he gets out of his religion and his beliefs than other presidents, such as certainty that what he is doing is absolutely right, the certainty of it. And what has troubled me about that is that—and I think he did a very good—had a very good reaction to post-9/11.

I think that what he did in Afghanistan was absolutely right. His rallying of the people was totally correct and very—you know, sustaining to people at a time of incredible crisis. And what—at that stage he was able to invoke the idea that everybody who is against those who fly airplanes into buildings is on our side. And therefore, the choice of who is with us was really very broad. And then, as he began to engage in policies such as the war in Iraq, which then had other repercussions of Abu Ghraib, or how he dealt or didn’t deal with the Middle East peace process, he then really wanted people to agree with that—in other words, changing the choice to a much more difficult one by broadening what people had to agree with, and thereby narrowing the number of people who would support us. That is where I have more and more criticism of him, because I think he has worked to isolate America, the way that there has been the good and evil. And I’ve said something that may irritate some people.

I do know that there is evil. There is no question in my mind that there is evil. But I think it is much harder to define “good”. And whether America is always “good” is a very difficult—I think we try to be good. But sometimes we’re good enough, or pretty good. And even Jesus Christ said that he was not always good. So that—the good and evil issue I have found very difficult to deal with.

And I have to say there is no other way to say this, but I think Iraq may well turn out to be the greatest disaster in American foreign policy and worse than Vietnam because—and this is where I go out on a limb, I think, to some extent. And that is, obviously, more people died in Vietnam, both Americans and Vietnamese. But without denigrating Southeast Asia and its strategic importance, there is no question that the Middle East is a cauldron of strategically important issues and problems, and he has set loose a whole series of reverberations. And I think the unintended consequences from the Iraq war are immeasurable, the first one being that Iran seems to have—be the one that has gained the most out of it, and that is the basis of a lot of my criticism.

I have also, I have to say—I agree totally with President Bush about democracy. I personally am chairman of the National Democratic Institute. Many of you have heard me on this. I’m also promoting democracy. I’m not for imposing democracy. And when we had this rather ludicrous meeting at the White House of the former people, and it was very short, as we were moving—the president talked about the importance of democracy, and as we were moving from the Roosevelt Room to the Oval Office, I said, “You know, Mr. President, I really do agree with what you said about democracy; I just have a bone to pick with you. You act as if you invented democracy, when actually, I did.” (Laughter.) Because we spent a great deal of time on that, and I’m very proud of the community of democracies in various other parts.

RUPP: In talking about the divide in the United States between secular liberals and religiously committed people, you characterized yourself as a problem-solving secular liberal who nonetheless feels it’s important to take the views of religiously committed people seriously. If we transpose that into Iraq, the most direct translation would be the one that the Bush administration made early in its Iraq policy; namely, to identify secular Muslims who were interested in a kind of large-tent, pluralistic polity that incorporated people from many different Muslim traditions into a single government.

It seems to me from what you have said so far that would also be your preference in the Islamic situation—in the situation in Iraq. It has one difficulty; namely, it’s unacceptable to the vast majority of Iraqis. So what would you counsel as the alternative to a secular Muslim state?

ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, I think the terminology gets very complicated, because basically, I’m not sure that there are secular Muslims. Many of—

RUPP: Well, Chalabi is—

ALBRIGHT:—them are much more religious and there is less of a separation between church and state.

What I think there are are more moderate Muslims. And I must say that I have the hardest time with trying to find the definitions of what’s a fundamentalist and what’s an extremist. But I think that what has to happen, with great difficulty, is how to see the Muslim religion as well as the power structure change from within, because the more that we agitate about choosing a leader, the less likely that leader is to be acceptable. It’s the kiss of death in many ways. And so I think that is the very complex part about this, to try to find leaders who are tolerant of other people’s views and are willing to engage in something that had been a part of Islam, which is the ability to have reasoned debate and to elaborate on what they think the current beliefs are. And that is what I would like to see, but it’s very hard.

I mean, I think Iraq is a mess. That is a diplomatic term of art. And I think that any number of things at the moment are harder and harder to effectuate. And there is a greater divide rather than a lesser divide. And I think that it’s very difficult to impose solutions, but I would hope that—I mean, the interesting part is that one of the most influential people, and sometimes in ways of moderation, is Ayatollah Sistani, who I don’t think could be described as a moderate anything, but who has an ability, I think, in some way to see more solutions than some of the more radical people.

RUPP: Well, your approach to both of these divides is impressively consistent. If we look at the closing chapters of your book—namely, the way you see to move forward—one ingredient that you clearly value very highly is a kind of self-criticism, an ability or willingness to recognize that one doesn’t see the whole truth. Here you quote Bill Clinton as having focused on that particular need. Maybe you could say a little more about that, both in the way in which it works on the U.S. divide as well as the international divide.

ALBRIGHT: Yeah, Bill Clinton quoted the Apostle Paul, and I think that is one of the key aspects, which is that in this life, we see through a glass darkly. In other words, we do not know the whole truth. And that requires, I think, a certain amount of learning about what other people’s views are. Knowing your own faith and knowing enough about the other to respect it, I think, is a basic aspect of it.

The point that I make towards the end of the book—and it has a lot to do with my own personal experience. By the way, I figure I had some right to write this book. I was raised a Catholic, married an Episcopalian, and found out I was Jewish. (Laughter.) So it kind allows for a large variety of views.

But I think I’ve taught something—I write about the fact that we think more and more of ourselves as being part of a group, And in my own case, as a result of the fact that my parents left Czechoslovakia when the Nazis invaded, I was raised the way I was. And so, you know, but for some other reason, I might have been going to a synagogue. Instead, I became the most religious member of our family. Or, had it not been for the communist takeover, I might have ended up as a professor at Charles University.

So when you think about groups, people change groups by choice or by necessity. And therefore to me, the singlemost important aspect is to think about the role of the individual, and whether you see it in terms of the power of certain people or recognizing the individual traits, I think that’s one of the things we have to look at. And for people who think that that’s just a Western cultural thing, it isn’t. I went up—looked up every single part of the world, and every religion does have as a central tenet respect for the individual.

RUPP: I will resist the temptation to get into a discussion of that particular point. (Soft laughter.) I—

ALBRIGHT: Or faith. (Laughter.)

RUPP: I was impressed with—again, with your consistency when you talked about American fundamentalists. You said—I’m paraphrasing here—I don’t have the exact words, but you said that to be consistent, I cannot say I’m absolutely certain that they are wrong, but I am quite certain they are not completely right. And I think that again expresses the kind of level of skepticism that is a very attractive feature of this book.

You—toward the end of the book, you talk about seven ideas for going forward, and you say in a disarmingly modest way, if not pillars of wisdom, at least cautions against foolish mistakes. Again, thinking of some foolish mistakes that have been recently.

Let me just read you the seventh of those ideas because I found it really very intriguing. I would like you to say a little more about it.

For those of you who are going to buy the book, it’s on page 281. You can look it up.

“This is the seventh and last of my suggestions,” you say. “Al Qaeda’s leaders do not speak factually; but neither do they speak trivially. They concern themselves with transcendent issues of history, identity and faith. To be heard, the rest of us must address matters equally profound.”

That seems to me a sentence that really captures what you’re arguing for in this book, and I would welcome your elaborating it for us.

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think it’s very easy for most of us, as we listen to Osama bin Laden’s latest tape is, or some of the rants that have gone on is to dismiss what they’re saying as something that there’s no relationship. But I do think they are talking about some—or dealing with some very basic and complicated issues, and therefore, we have to examine much more what we stand for, what are the basic human rights that this country has accepted, what our relationships are with other people, how do we feel about poverty, how do we deal with the issues that create such unhappiness that people are willing to go out and kill themselves.

So I think that it requires a very deep debate. And one of the things that I do point out in the book—and this came to me as a result of some of the work that I had done as secretary. When I was secretary, I got visited by some children from a Christian school who knew more about Sudan than a large number of people that I dealt with in Washington, and they really had the sense that something had to be done about Sudan. And what I know—and also this comes from the history of the missionary movement—is that many religious people actually have a very great understanding of international relations in a different form. The missionaries were the first people who actually spoke foreign languages and were interested.

And so I think what is important at this time is to examine what some of the deepest thoughts are, but also, you know—you’re not in Washington at the moment. It’s a horrible place, and—(laughter)—it is totally toxic—

RUPP: I was there this morning.

ALBRIGHT: Well, but it’s just—(laughter)—it’s toxic. And I have loved Washington, and it’s not a particularly attractive place to be at this time.

But I do think that one of the ways to look at issues is to try to get secular liberals and the fundamentalists together, working on certain issues that this particular audience might be interested in, which is international relations. And I had a very interesting conference at Georgetown with a most unlikely partner, Senator Sam Brownback. And we in fact found four issues on which there was agreement from right and left: stopping genocide, stopping trafficking, helping refugees and religious tolerance. And the rallies yesterday in Washington are a very good example of right and left working together.

So I think it is worth looking at what the large issues are, and because I continue to try to be a problem-solver is look at coalition building from these two segments that you see as a divide.

RUPP: Well, I think that both that response and also this seventh idea really capture very nicely the way in which—to go back to my earlier question to you—you’re not treating these other religious positions, whether fundamentalist Christian or Muslim or others, as simply instrumental ways of trying to solve problems. Because I think that many—and I think this is certainly true of Muslims around the world—are most deeply offended precisely because they are convinced that the secular West doesn’t take them seriously at all; that they are simply misguided, they’re simply terrorists, they’re simply suicidally inclined. And they, in turn, are convinced that our society has deep flaws to which we are completely blind. And a very important first step is for us to be able to set out some ground where we’re willing to look at deficiencies in our society as well as inadequacies in theirs. And too much of the time we come across as completely incapable of doing that. And as I read your criticism of the Bush administration, it’s in significant part that opacity, that incapacity that you subject to criticism.

You mention the religious people who came to your office from Sudan, and that religious people often have a knowledge of the rest of the world.

I can’t help but tell one quick story before we open up to questions. The International Rescue Committee, the organization with which I work, has offices in 24 cities in this country where we settle refugees. They range from New York, Boston and Atlanta, to Phoenix and Dallas and Tucson, to San Diego, Sacramento, Seattle. One of them is in Salt Lake City. I have now visited all of these resettlement offices. And I was stunned when I went to Salt Lake City how much everyone there, not only our staff, but also the refugees who were being resettled, talked about how friendly Salt Lake City was to refugees. And in fact, we have come to have a policy, when refugee families have difficulty in one of our communities—there are a couple of cases that I can think of where resettling in Phoenix was a problem; we send them to Salt Lake City and there are no problems at all. And the more obscure the culture—if they’re Somali refugees from Sudan who are not literate yet, the better the experience is in Salt Lake City compared to most other American cities.

And I was just mystified when I first heard this, until I remembered that the population of Salt Lake City is about 45 percent Mormon. It’s much less Mormon than the rest of Utah, but it’s still 45 percent. And all of those Mormons, virtually all of them, had spent at least two years abroad, and they came back, and it was like having a city in which half the population were return Peace Corps volunteers. Not surprisingly, they had a kind of empathy and understanding for these people who came from all over the world that is hard to duplicate in places that don’t have 45 percent of people who have lived abroad for several years.

So I think your point on that is true, and it’s an illustration of one more way that if we get over our secular liberal hang-ups, there may be something to be learned from religious folk.

ALBRIGHT: And let me say, I in no way have—want to move away from the concept of separation of church and state, or many of the aspects of liberal philosophy that I fully agree with and always will.

But I think the problem here is we are looking at a world that is in the worst turmoil that I can—I mean, I’ve spent my life studying this, as have you, and as have most of the people in this room. And I think we need to figure out some other methods for trying to resolve problems that are worse and worse. And because of all the information, we know what is going on. And so I personally think that we have to look at other ways, and this is one way to try to get some understanding of issues and move beyond what is a cataclysmic set of events that may—I’m not into Armageddon, but—I haven’t gone that far. But I do think that there are very serious problems, and this is one way to look at them, from somebody that at one stage tried.

RUPP: Well, thank you very much.

I think you will thoroughly enjoy the book. It’s addressed to a very broad audience, and certainly includes everyone who’s interested in Council on Foreign Relations programs.

We now have half an hour left for questions from all of you. We’ll get a mike to you. When you get it, please stand, say your name and affiliation, and ask a question.

Now, we all know that—Fritz Perls reminded us that every question is in fact a statement. But at least preserve the form of the interrogative—(laughter)—and try to keep it to one question rather than a long speech.

There’s a question right there in the middle.

QUESTIONER: Hi, Madeleine. Thank you very much. Congratulations on the book.

RUPP: Did I—

QUESTIONER: I’m sorry. I’m Gary Sick from Columbia University. I also have a—

ALBRIGHT: A very good friend.

RUPP: Yes.


RUPP: I meant to say that the only questions allowed today will be from people associated with Columbia—(laughter)—

QUESTIONER: I assumed as much!

I haven’t read the book, obviously. And you, in your discussion about faith—and I really understand this—you wouldn’t be writing this book if it weren’t because of the Middle East. I mean, that is where the origin of these problems comes from. That’s where the clash of civilizations suddenly became popularized and so forth. I mean, it’s all about that.

And my experience has been, when we deal with the issue of the Middle East, and you begin talking about faith or bringing in people who have opinions on the subject, it immediately comes back to U.S. policy; that that is you can’t get away from it and that the—whether it’s religious people or other people, they are expressing a view about what they don’t like, usually, about U.S. policy in this field.

This is something you’ve had a lot of experience with, and I wonder how you deal with that divide. Because it’s one thing to say, you know, we take their faith seriously; it’s another thing to say that we’re prepared to change the policies that we have not been willing to change up until now.

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think, Gary, that the problem is that our policies are based on—to a great extent, if I may say so, a lack of understanding of what is motivating in a lot of these countries. And I speak to some extent about something that we did wrong. People often ask me, what is it about Camp David—why it didn’t work, and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it; a lot of other people have too. And there are a lot of people who think we went to Camp David because President Clinton wanted a legacy, but that is not what happened. It was because Ehud Barak felt that the last months of President Clinton’s presidency was a good time to put forward some bold ideas.

Arafat didn’t want to come. I actually dragged him there. And I think the thing that were not—first of all, I think that he was incapable of making a decision—but the thing that we didn’t do right was not to—not give enough weight to the fact that he was not the sole keeper of the holy places, that he could not make that decision by himself; because he said to me, you know, I’ll make this decision, and the next time you’ll see me will be in my coffin. And part of the problem was that because Ehud Barak was so—he was bold, but not the world’s greatest politician—he kept everything to himself—we were not able to get support from other Arab or Muslim leaders for something, and so we did not fully take into recognition all the religious forces that are at play.

I do think that we need to be more—really better informed about the various religious parts of what’s going on, but we’re not going to change our policy in terms of supporting Israel. We will not. And so there has to be a sense of how to marry the objectives of understanding what the legitimate needs of Palestinians or Muslims are, and at the same time try to get some understanding of our policy of Israel—but it is the U.S. or the lack of playing by the U.S. at certain times. But I only use that as an example because I think we could done better, and I think there are other examples like that.

RUPP: Don?

QUESTIONER: I’m Donald Shriver, Union Theological Seminary. I am associated with Columbia. (Laughter.) Yesterday’s New York Times had what I thought was a magnificent article on The New York Times Magazine, on what liberals need to learn sometimes from religion. Religion has this mixed reputation of summoning up arrogance on the one hand and humility on the other. That article pled for the humility.

I’d like to know from you and your long experience, is your humility a no-brainer in international relations, or does it in fact have some strength in it?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that—it’s interesting the way you put it. I do think humility is something that if you can have it, it’s good; if you can pretend you have it, that’s also useful. What I do know is that arrogance does not work, and if one can say that arrogance is the opposite of humility, that—I think it’s something that you said, George—which is, basically, that we have this concept that we have the answers to things. And I must say that I take some blame for claiming a term—saying that the United States is the indispensable nation, regarded by some as arrogant. I didn’t mean it that way. I basically meant it because I felt that the U.S.—whether you read the Bible or Batman—to whom much is given, much is expected, and that in order to rally the American people, I had to say that we were indispensable in terms of what we could do for the rest of the world.

But when you look at polling data—and I’ve been involved with the Pew polling—what comes out of that is that people—all the other countries in the world think that we do not take their national interests in mind in making up our own national interests. Now, you know, I’ve defined for my students foreign policy—is just trying to get some other country to do what you want. But nevertheless, in order to have that happen, I think you can’t go around saying that you are the one, the country that has all the answers.

And humility, I think, is a very important element.

RUPP: Yes?

QUESTIONER: Thank you. My name is Roland Paul. I’m a lawyer from Greenwich, a graduate of Yale and Harvard. (Laughter.) And in keeping with the religious theme, Madame Secretary—and also, welcome back to the council—there’s been a lot to do recently about the Israeli lobby. And without going—refuting the extreme elements in that article, do you think from your vantage point that the Israeli lobby has had too much influence in Washington?

ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, let me say that this whole concept was born at the Chapel at Yale—sorry, at Yale Divinity, which is where I gave the original speech, The Mighty and the Almighty. And it made me realize something, which is—I told you I was the most religious person in my family. I used to actually want to be a priest, even though I was a Catholic. And standing in a pulpit that is way up there with everybody kind of looking at you, you could understand where a lot of the power of the clergy comes from.

I think that the article, I know, has been very controversial, I think, highly overstated and a genuine problem in some of the things that it says. I do think that we have a very special relationship with Israel. Israel has no other friends. It is a country in a very difficult neighborhood, and clearly the U.S. has linked itself to Israel in many ways.

There is no doubt that there is a very strong Israeli lobby. It is very strong. Gary actually—he and I worked together at the NSC when we did the arms sales—the first Middle East arms sales in 1978. And it wasn’t easy, because that was a real question as to whether we would sell any airplanes to Saudi Arabia. And there was a lot of gnashing of teeth and people who did not want that to happen.

What I find interesting that’s happened, to fit in with this religious aspect of this, is the linkage between the Christian evangelicals and a lot of part of the Jewish lobby, if you want to call it that, because the Christian evangelicals in reading the Bible believe that Israel has to be—the people of Israel have to be free so that the Messiah can come back. And so I think what has been interesting is that particular linkage.

But I think the problems that—or the difficulties in dealing with the Middle East process is the fact not so much of any lobby, but that it is a very difficult issue that involves the division of land, religion. You know, Jerusalem’s so complicated that God sent three different messengers.

So I think it’s very easy to get on this tack all of a sudden that it’s some kind of an overly powerful Jewish lobby. There are other lobbies that are very strong, and Washington is full of lobbyists. So I would not, in fact, stress that as much as I would stress the fact that the U.S. does have an indissoluble relationship with Israel that is based on history and culture.

RUPP: I note that at least so far, only men have raised their hands. Ah. Yes?

QUESTIONER: I’m Raghida Dergham of Al-Hayat. Hello. So let’s take this one step further, if you would. You spoke about the national interests of the United States and how others in different parts of the world say to us, “Well, we don’t understand it. How do you put your national interests at the mercy of your policy vis-a-vis Israel?” So what do you propose can be done now? If it is even a misconception that the policies of the different administrations have been at the mercy of this special relationship with Israel, including the clash of religions, what do you propose to do now? How can we take this further to tell the Muslims that, no, this is not an alliance of policies against their political interests and the necessary recognition of the policies?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I personally have believed for a long time, and even when we were in office, that one had to do more to recognize the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. And this is a very personal issue for me—I’ll never forget this—is when I came on my first trip into the region as secretary, I went to a school of Palestinian high school students that were actually in a Quaker school. And they were asking me about what their future was going to be, and I had no answers to the questions. And I made it, I think, more and more of a point to try to—well, you were with me at the U.N. There there was not a lot of discussion; there was just voting and arguing. And if there’s one thing that is—we tried very hard to make the U.N. slightly more Israeli friendly, but with difficulty, and this was after the Declaration of Principles in September 1993. So we were trying.

But I really do feel that there has to be much greater understanding of what the Palestinian as well as other Muslim countries are about, what their needs are, and that there has to be a way not to be solely Israel focused, but to understand that we have this relationship, but that it is very important for Americans to understand better what the legitimate rights are and push for some kind of a resolution.

And, you know, there’s been a lot of discussion about Hamas. I can understand how Hamas got elected. Democracy has to deliver, and Fatah did not perform constituent services and Hamas did. What is interesting, though, now ,is one town in the West Bank where Hamas won the municipal elections, they didn’t deliver, they didn’t get the parliamentary election. So I do believe in democracy and making that move forward, and I actually think that Muslims, Palestinians, et cetera, are also interested in democracy.

RUPP: We have a question from our Web listeners. This is from Barbara Crossette of UNA USA.

ALBRIGHT: We know her well.

RUPP: During the Clinton years, the administration did not seem interested in hearing out the Taliban in Afghanistan, or apparently factoring in what recent Afghan history had contributed to the formation of their movement and the initial acceptance of it by the Afghan people. There are those who argue that this total isolation and blanket rejection made the intrusion of al Qaeda easier in Afghanistan. Have you ever rethought that absolutist policy?

ALBRIGHT: I’ve obviously thought about it, but I don’t think we made a mistake. I think what is interesting—and I always talk about this—some day I’m going to teach a course on the unintended consequences of foreign policy decisions. And there are some people in this room that we all served together on the Carter NSC—Don and Guy and Rudd (sp). And when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, I’ll never forget this, you know, Brzezinski, who was my professor at Columbia, and I think had more understanding of the evolution of the Soviet Union than anybody I know, really did see it as a major crossing of a red line that had to be—the Soviets couldn’t be stopped, but they could be punished. And so there was all the aspect of how to deal with Afghanistan, the support—the going up to the Khyber Pass—and I have a quote, again, in my book, and I verified it with him, where he’s there with them and he says, “God is on your side.” And then the Reagan administration supporting the mujaheddin more and arming them. And Osama bin Laden was among them. So this is not a new story.

The Taliban, when they came in, I think were viewed as those with very radical policies. I went to a camp in Pakistan and met with a lot of women who had been raped and tortured and exiled as a result of Taliban policies. And I happen to think that the way a society treats women is an indicator of how they treat each other. And, you know, in some ways the treatment of women are like parakeets in a mine, I mean the way—if you treat women badly, it is a bad society. And so I don’t regret anything that we did vis-a-vis the Taliban.

Clearly there were various periods in our history with Afghanistan that were not handled particularly well. But I do not think that that part—you know, I mean, we got the Soviets out, then people kind of forgot about it, and we did not think that Taliban should be the legitimate representative of Afghanistan in the U.N.

RUPP: Okay. John Brademas.

QUESTIONER: New York University, which is located on Washington Square park, and is the largest private university in the United States, described last month by the Princeton Review as the most popular university in the country. (Laughter.)

I have an anecdote paralleling what our distinguished speaker has said before I put my question.

Forty years ago in the House of Representatives we were debating the Elementary Secondary Education Bill—LBJ’s proud accomplishment. I was on the committee that wrote it. And as we were debating it in the House of Representatives, the late Charlie Gedell (sp) on the committee, attacked the bill on grounds we didn’t permit money to go to religious schools—separation of church and state. And the chairman of the committee, Carl Perkins of Kentucky, said, “John, answer him.” I said, “Mr. Speaker, I’m the best qualified member of this body to address this issue. My father is Greek Orthodox, my mother belongs to the Disciples of Christ Church, I’m a Methodist. Before coming to Congress, I was a professor at a Roman Catholic college. And as one of the remaining bachelors in this place”—which I then was—“if I can just find myself a nice Jewish girl, I’ll be the finest flower in the ecumenical movement.”

We beat the Gedell (sp) proposal. And a week later I had a letter on Sachs Fifth Avenue stationery: “Dear Congressman, I have read with interest your advertisement in the Congressional Record.” (Laughter.) “I am five-feet-four, green-eyed, blonde, single and Jewish. Your attention will be appreciated.” So I took her to dinner. And from that point on, whenever I spoke to Adasa group, I told that story.

My question—you’ve made allusion to it—but given the rise in recent years of the political power of evangelical Christians in the United States, have you any suggestions, Madame Secretary, for how evangelical Christians can be encouraged to play a more constructive role in the conduct of American foreign policy?

I yield back the balance of my time. (Laughter.)

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that—first of all, John, I think more and more, as I mentioned early—I got into this—there’s so many definitional aspects of what is a real evangelical Christian, born-again, various other parts.

But I think that the more—what I think needs to be done is to harness that energy, particularly in the area that we’re all interested in, and that has to do with support for international programs. And I do think in terms of funding for foreign—I refuse to call it foreign assistance anymore; putting “foreign” and “assistance” together is like selling fleas, and so I call it “national security support.” But I think that what is essential is to motivate people who seem to understand, for some reason—some that may be misguided, but they have a sense of the interest of funding international solutions and understanding and get them motivated to support understanding internationally and exchanges. I mean, you’ve done a lot of that yourself in terms of having international exchanges. Alan Goodman sitting behind you as to the international education; I think that is the answer on a lot of issues.

And I would love to see, and more and more, I think, is that we have to start way back in education in terms of getting at lower levels, people to look at the textbooks and begin to change some of the things that we read about each other’s religions as well as customs and culture. So that is where I’d like to see it.

RUPP: Yes?

QUESTIONER: I’m Adrienne Germain from the International Women’s Health Coalition.

Ambassador Albright, I’d like to ask you to follow on the answer to the last question, which in my interpretation is speaking to the broad middle in this country; that is, not the extremist among our religious groups, but more to those who can be rallied, even, perhaps as Senator Brownback might be, to look at where we have common interest, but to reflect on that broad middle.

In Muslim countries overseas, it’s been 35 years of my life in living and working in Muslim countries, and I’ve learned in that process about the range within countries and across countries of the interpretation of Islam, which, after all, is an interpretative religion. And to the extent that you would seek counsel from leaders or practicers of the Islamic faith in order to solve some of these really challenging foreign policy/national security issues that we are facing, how would you choose among them in Muslim countries, knowing that leadership is defined in a different way in the Muslim religion? How would you find a broad middle, which I know is there. It doesn’t come from these extremists. And Islam, in many ways, is a religion of great humanitarianism and concern for people, and that it takes a reflection, as it has done in the hands of some extremists, whom I would argue are really more concerned about power and exerting power and control over others than they are accessing their own religious conviction. I’m interested more to hear, whom would you consult and how would you find those people?

ALBRIGHT: Well, it’s a very good question.

I think the way I would actually begin is by getting some Islamic friends in the United States to help, and not to have me find the designation. I have found—first of all, this is a pitch for the council—I love working on task forces with the Council on Foreign Relations, and we just had a very interesting one on supporting democracy in the Middle East. One of the really remarkable people on that task force was Iman Fizel (sp), a man who was born in Kuwait that is here who has done a great deal of thinking about these issues, and is somebody I would engage those who already are part of it rather than my saying, “You, you, you and you.”

What is most interesting to me as I learn about Islam is how unhierarchical it really is. And the question is, how do you find the people that have the influence and not be swayed by the demagogic imams or whomever?

I also think—and this may irritate some people—is I think we don’t quite understand how Islam generally treats women. I think that—Mohammed was married to a businesswoman. I think there are many aspects of the Koran which speaks quite tolerantly and lovingly of women and what they can do and should do. And I think we just sort of—as I say, what I’m trying to do is get away from just generalizations that people mount all the time.

I have found that—I’ve spent quite a lot of time recently in the Middle East, and the assumption is that if a woman is totally in black, that she can’t think. And I went to a women’s university in Dubai in the Emirates, and I got more difficult questions there from these women than I had in many other places. And the troubling thing—this goes back to, I think, a point made over here, which is, I kind of generally said, you know, the Middle East is the most dangerous place in the world, and one of these women stood up and said, “Not until you got here.” (Laughter.) And it just kind of, you know, blew me back.

And so I would try to find leaders within the communities and use them, rather than designate them myself.

RUPP: Well, there—along with all the other virtues of the book, there’s a primer on Islam in here, so that if you really know nothing about Islam, you can start with this book, though you’ll probably want to go quicker—

ALBRIGHT: But the way that started, which is interesting, because I really—as I said, I scribbled in all kinds of marginalia, “Learn about Islam.” And so one of the things we’ve started to do—I was the first secretary to have iftaar dinners. We were in the process of publishing a booklet about Islam. And a lot of that comes out of there, because we thought people didn’t know anything. And I think more people really do need to know. And it is a beginning. There are others, but mine is.

RUPP: Well, thank you very much.

ALBRIGHT: Thank you all.

RUPP: The book is available now. Pick it up! (Applause.)

ALBRIGHT: Thank you.








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