Albright speaks at OU

By Rory McCarty

Senior Reporter

One of the most influential global diplomats of the last 15 years made an appearance at Oakland University, without the cumbersome burden of espousing a political cause.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright appeared at the O’Rena Tuesday night to give a speech about her life and career, her views on foreign policy, and the direction she feels the international community is taking.

“Because I’m no longer secretary of state, I’ll actually be able to answer your questions,” Albright joked.

Albright was born in Czechoslovakia in 1937 to Josef and Marie Jane Korbel. Her family was Jewish but converted to Roman Catholicism to escape persecution during the Holocaust, something Albright would not learn for 60 years. Her family moved to Serbia and England during the war before returning to Czechoslovakia, and then eventually moved to America in 1948 to avoid communist rule.

“Among my first memories were gathering in a bomb shelter with my English friends, singing songs during the air raids,” Albright said.

Albright first served as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations from 1993 to 1997. She gained a reputation for making blunt and concise statements in her diplomacy.

One of her most notorious remarks was her “no cajones” comment directed at Fidel Castro after he destroyed two civilian aircraft with air-to-air missiles.

She was appointed secretary of state by Bill Clinton in 1997. She had influence in U.S. military operations in Kosovo and Bosnia, and would be one of the highest-ranking diplomats to meet with Kim Jong-il.

“Kim Jong-il was probably the most interesting person, because no one knew what to expect from him, and he turned out to be very smart,” she said.

Shortly after becoming secretary of state, Albright learned that her grandparents had been Jewish rather than Roman Catholic, and that three of them had been killed in concentration camps during the Holocaust. Although Albright’s Jewish background had been rumored in the media for some time, the revelation came as a shock to Albright.

“I compared it to being asked to represent the United States in the Olympics in the marathon,” Albright said. “Being given a very heavy package when I started, and I have to unwrap it as I run, I had to prove I could be secretary of state and also have this complicated personal problem to deal with.”

Albright said she felt that while the discovery of her grandparents’ heritage certainly affected her, it did not change her worldview or affect her actions in office.

Albright talked about the kinds of actions she believes the next president will need to undertake and the kind of political climate either Sen. John McCain or Sen. Barack Obama will be entering when he takes office this January.

“What I find missing from this administration is people who disagree with the president,” Albright said.

Albright said that a Cabinet should not be a group of people who all agree with each other, but rather made up of all different views and headed by a president confident enough to listen to all of them.

Albright supported Hillary Clinton during the primary elections, but has since supported Obama. She expressed her discontent with being misquoted by Sarah Palin, who said that there is a special place in Hell for women who don’t support other women.

“I was talking about it in a non-political way,” Albright said. Albright has long been a vocal supporter of equal rights for women.

She also spoke about the situation in Iraq, and said that the next president will need to cooperate with the Bush administration to make a policy in Iraq.

“If Obama is the winner, I think he’ll do something about Iraq on day One,” Albright said.

Even though she says Iraq must be a top priority for the next commander in chief, Albright

believes the final  judgement for the war will not be positive.

“I’ve said that I think Iraq will go down as the worst foreign policy disaster in American history,” Albright said. She said that the U.S.’s reputation has been deeply damaged by the war. “We’ve already been in Iraq longer than WWII, and yet Afghanistan will probably last longer.”

With regards to Russia, Albright talked about its changing role in the global community. She said that she had hoped that after she left office, Russia would evolve into a democratic state, having met many times with Boris Yeltsin during his presidency. Albright spoke about how the behavior of Russia’s current president, Vladimir Putin, concerns her.

“What I do not want to see is a return to Cold War rhetoric. We need to work with them on a host of issues, but we need to push back when they push against independent countries,” Albright said.

Albright said that she believed the United States should pay less attention to detractors in Cuba and Venezuela and suggested that the U.S. should try to create a friendly atmosphere with Cuba, should a change in power occur.

“With Cuba I’ve predicted only one thing, and it will happen: Castro will die,” Albright joked.

As for North Korea, Albright said that they had made progress towards disarming the authoritarian state, but the Bush administration went in the opposite direction following their “anything but Clinton” policy.

“I regretted that the Bush administration did not pick up the cards we left on the table,” Albright said.

As she concluded her speech, Albright said that, “We are about to turn over power peacefully for the 44th time in our history, and that is unique.”

Since being secretary of state, Albright has worked on the board of directors of the New York Stock Exchange, as chair of the Council of Women World Leaders and as chairperson of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. She has also written three books: “Madam Secretary: A memoir”; “The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs”; and “Memo to the President Elect: How We Can Restore America’s Reputation and Leadership.”