Yesterday former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright took part in a wide-ranging conversation with Ambassador Daniel Benjamin, Director of the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. The conversation took place before an audience of students, faculty and the general public.
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Secretary Albright , who will be 77 next month, discussed her service as Secretary of State and as US Ambassador to the United Nations and gave insights into some of the critical issues of today, including the crisis in Ukraine, the Arab Spring, and transatlantic relations.
She also addressed her work around the world as a lifelong champion of democracy promotion, and, as the nation’s first female Secretary of State, discussed her advocacy for involving more women in international affairs as well as the challenges for women of balancing life and work in the high-pressure arena of politics and policy.
Displaying energy, candor and humor in fielding 90 minutes of questions Albright said events in Crimea and Ukraine represent a “game changer” in Russia’s relations with the United States and the west.
“The situation is truly serious, ” she continued. “I spent most of my (diplomatic) life as a Soviet expert. After the fall of communism, we worked very hard on the problem of how to devolve power of an adversary in a respectful way. They lost; we didn’t win. We tried to bring them into the international system … Eastern Europe as well as Russia. But, Putin has a different view of history. He makes up facts, that’s what they are trained to do in the KGB. This is not the kind of behavior we expect from leaders in the 21st century.”
Albright had served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations for four years and was then appointed Secretary of State by President Clinton, a job which she performed with great distinction from 1997 until 2001.
When asked what to do about Russia, Albright emphasized the need for the United States and Western European nations to work together, and to use, “Economic tools from the diplomatic tool kit – trade and aid are the carrots and sanctions are the sticks. The problem with sanctions is that they take a long time to take effect and there may be pain involved for those countries (applying the sanctions).”
“Will they be able to suck it up?” she asked rhetorically, not entirely convinced, perhaps, that the Europeans are up for it. Albright then related a story about visiting Putin in the Kremlin with President Clinton.
“At one point, Putin told Clinton that he could read the likely mood of a meeting by looking at my left shoulder, ” she recalled. “I love pins and one I had with three monkeys I wore when discussing Chechnya to send a message that Russia took a ‘hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil’ position on its actions in that country.”
Albright has since published a book, called “Read My Pins”, about the art of using pins and jewelry as diplomatic tools.
For last night’s conversation, she wore a circular gold pin that she called: “America. It has an eagle in the middle with four little pearls, symbolizing justice, equality, prosperity and security. It was given to me by Gen. John Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”
Albright also pointed out there are other diplomatic problems on which Russia and United States may be able to find some accommodation.
“For example, it is in Russia’s interest that Iran not develop nuclear weapons, ” she said. “In Syria, they don’t want chemical weapons from that country going to Russia. There are other areas – climate change, the Arctic, terrorism.”
Madeleine Albright was born in Prague Czechoslovakia, in 1937, to diplomatic parents Josef Korbel and Anna Spieglova. Today she is very much a linguistic polyglot; Albright is fluent in English, French, Russian and Czech. She can read and converse in Polish and even Servo-Croatian as well. This facility eventually served her well as the United States’ most senior diplomat.
After the Munich Agreement in 1938, her parents fled to England where she spent the war years. Madeleine Albright was brought up in the Christian faith, and discovered only later after she grew up that both her parents were Jewish, who had converted to Christianity to help secure their escape from central Europe before the war.
Albright spent her teenage years in Denver and became a US citizen finally in 1957. After graduating from Wellesley College in Massachusetts, and marrying Joseph Albright in 1959, she studied International Relations, Russian and Esatern European affairs at a number of places including Georgetown University in Washington and Columbia University in New York.
She finally joined the academic staff of Georgetown University in 1982, and became an external adviser to the Democratic Party before being appointed to become Ambassador to the UN in 1992 by President Clinton.