Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright criticized President George W. Bush’s handling of the war on terror in a speech at Georgetown University Monday night.
Albright was the guest of honor at the fourth annual Snowdon Lecture, a speech by a public figure addressing the intersection of faith and social justice in the world. In the speech sponsored by the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, Albright attacked Bush’s policies in Iraq and in third world countries.
“I hope I’m wrong, but I’m afraid that Iraq is going to go down in history as the greatest disaster in American foreign policy,” she said. “We took our eye off the ball.”
Bush’s practice of calling terrorist organizations and governments haroboring them “evil” was challenged by Albright, who said that human nature does not lend itself to the absolutes Bush emphasizes.
“Evil depends on different perspectives,” said Albright, who was the country’s first female secretary of state. “This does not imply moral relativism, as critics may suggest, but instead acknowledgement that with great evil often comes a conviction of doing great good.”
Albright urged listeners to win over the poorer nations of the world with kindness.
“The extremists appeal to fear,” she said. “The moderates must appeal to hope.”
Albright, the U.S. representative to the United Nations in the mid-1990s, recognized that it is easy to forget about the world’s poor and sick because they do not directly benefit the United States by giving us money or oil.
“We cannot survive long as an island of prosperity in a sea of poverty and desperation,” Albright said. “We will not have peace of mind if the world has not a piece of bread.”
Albright began the lecture saying she would give her opinion “from a policy-maker’s point of view.” She said her observations are drawn from her experiences as the secretary of state during President Bill Clinton’s second term and the many other public-service positions she has held.
Albright quoted seven different religious texts to emphasize the lecture’s stated theme of religious tolerance. The works emphasized the fundamental rule of “do only to others what you would have them do to you.”
“We must strive to make religious faith not a sword to wield against others, but a platform to live on together,” Albright said in closing, which prompted a standing ovation.
During a question-and-answer session following the lecture, a Georgetown graduate student asked Albright about her work in Serbia during her term as Secretary of State.
“I think I am proudest of what we did in Kosovo because we stopped the killing,” Albright said. “I believe in peace, but I’m not a pacifist. When genocidal killing is taking place, the international community has a responsibility to stop it.”
Several ambassadors and representatives from 25 embassies were present at the speech, an event organizer said.
The Rev. John Langan of Georgetown University introduced Albright and said why she was chosen for the event.
“She serves as a reflective practitioner who draws upon her vast experience to reflect upon the emergence of religion as the major concern in international affairs.” he said. “We need to give this cause a priority – a central priority – for the well-being of our religious communities, our countries and our world.”
The InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, an organization whose goals are world-wide community building and justice through religious tolerance, sponsored the lecture. Previous lecturers included World Bank President James Wolfensohn and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young.
This article appeared in the September 21, 2006 issue of the Hatchet.