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Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright

October 9, 2009

On Oct. 8th, the McCormick Freedom Project presented a sit down with Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. The program was moderated by Elizabeth Brackett from PBS’s NewsHour. Secretary Albright’s new book Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box has just been published and she was in town making several appearances to speak about it. This particular event, however, seemed to be more about discussing and answering questions posed by the moderator and the audience than just speaking to the topic of her book.

Oct. 8, 2009 Chicago Cultural Center - Madeleine AlbrightI have seen her speak one other time at the Chicago Council for Global Affairs in 2008 when Memo to the President: How We Can Restore America’s Reputation and Leadership was published, and found her very captivating both times, but the setting of this event was much more informal and intimate and I felt like I got a much broader view of the incredible woman that she is. We also got to see a little more of the humorous side of her.

Born in Czechoslovakia, Secretary Albright immigrated to the United States when she was only eleven. She is well beloved in her home country, but when asked by Ms. Brackett about the suggestion from the former Czech president that she should run for the presidency, Secretary Albright responded that she would never give up her US citizenship. She spoke very passionately about how her view of democracy is influenced by her childhood, and that coming to the US was the most important thing to ever happen to her. In her mind, she said, democracy and freedom are the same, but there are different kinds of democracy; we all want the right to self-determination, but our ideas of what that should be differ.

When speaking about Iraq, Ms. Brackett asked if her analysis of the war was the same now as when she wrote Memo to the President. Her response was yes, she still felt that it was one of our greatest disasters in foreign policy and that it hurt our image and it hurt democracy because democracy cannot be imposed. She mentioned the National Democratic Institute, for which she is the Chairman of the Board of Directors, and the work that they do on a couple of different occasions.

On Afghanistan she spoke more about our long history there rather than directly to the question of whether we should increase troops, but she did say that the question is not black and white, get out or stay. She does feel that if we are going to increase the troop numbers then the people are owed a discussion.

When the topic turned to her new book she told the story of how after the Gulf War there was a poem published that called her an “unparalleled serpent” and so she started wearing a snake pin. From there it evolved into wearing pins that fit the day and the mood. During peace talks she would wear a dove. Sometimes she would wear balloons if she was hopeful, which turned to turtles because the process was so slow, which turned to crabs because she was irritated at everyone. When asked about the fly pin that she was wearing that day she said that it was because she “was not a fly-by-night friend of Chicago.”

An audience member asked her what she would wear to meet President Ahmadinejad and she replied that she has a pin (though it is currently in a museum), designed by Bill Cohen’s wife, of a dove and an eagle. And of course she would also wear a green suit.

She had so much to say that I wish that I could write it all here, but let me just say that if you have a chance to hear her speak in the future – take advantage. She is a charming, poised, and accomplished woman who loves, as she apparently shared with Ms. Brackett before stepping up to the stage, to make complicated foreign policy issues make sense. And she is very good at it.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Radka permalink
    October 10, 2009 9:20 am

    It was a great discussion! Thanks for inviting me along. Wish I could have stayed for the entire thing.

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