Calling herself “an optimist who worries a lot,” former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright kept a capacity crowd in rapt attention Sunday as she discussed world affairs at the opening session of the GIA Symposium in San Diego.
A lot of her talk was on current events—particularly Iraq and the Middle East.
“I have written in my book, and I hope it doesn’t come true, that I think Iraq will go down in history as America’s greatest foreign policy disaster,” she said. “More than three years after the invasion, Iraq is divided and unstable, its future clouded by the threat of a full-fledged civil war.”
She noted that the war in Iraq has actually ended up strengthening Iran, “its longtime opponent.”
She recommended everyone read, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, by Thomas E. Ricks, for insight on the current situation.
She predicted eventually American troops will eventually have to leave Iraq, though “we shouldn’t set an actual deadline” for withdrawal.
But she didn’t think the answer was partitioning Iraq, noting this could lead to “unintended consequences,” although she noted that Iraq was artificially created by European powers after World War I.
She also discussed “conflict diamonds.”
She said that while she didn’t think “diamonds were responsible for what happened in Sierra Leone,” she also said companies have to be socially responsible in the countries they deal in.
“I went to Sierra Leone, and I was in a state of shock,” she said. “I went to this camp. People were divided according to what limbs they had lost. Whatever the industry can do through the Kimberley Process to make sure diamonds are not part of this problem is in the great tradition of [social responsibility.]”
She said that poor nations were still learning how to exploit their resources wisely.
“If you come into a windfall, you are more likely to go out and spend money than to feed your people,” she said. “The African country has been sucked out of its resources. First it was exploited by whites, now it’s being exploited by its own black leaders. The question is how you learn discipline and realize you need to feed your own people.”
Albright repeatedly discussed her love of broaches, the topic of a new book that should come out next year.
“I really have no sin except for buying jewelry, and I am grateful to GIA for showing me it’s not a sin but a sign of excellent character,” she said. “I have bought jewelry everywhere. If you travel around the world, you see my picture in a lot of stores.”
She added that she had “hundreds” of brooches and has had a “wonderful time collecting them.”
She noted that when she was Secretary of State, she often used her brooches “as a diplomatic tool.” So when the former government of Iraq called her a “snake,” she wore a snake pin when she met with its representatives. If she was in a patriotic mood, she wore an eagle. When she was meeting about the Middle East, she wore a dove pin given to her by Leah Rabin. And after the fall of Saddam Hussein, she got a new pin: A snake with a dagger through it.
Following her speech, Israel sightholder Steinmetz, the session’s sponsor, gave her a brooch designed like the sun.
“This is much better than the dentist’s convention,” she quipped.
Albright later sat for questions with GIA president Donna Baker. When someone from GIA asked what she should tell GIA’s many foreign students who are nervous about “the borders being closed,” Albright acknowledged that would be “hard.”
“This country was traumatized by 9-11,” she said. “And instead of being like FDR, ‘the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,’ we now have fear as a national policy.”
“I am an immigrant—a legal one. This country has been so enriched by people who come from other countries,” she added.
In response to another question, she said that she was proudest of “what we did to end ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.” And she said her greatest fear was of a widespread Sunni-Shiite war in the Middle East.
She declined to speculate on who will be the next Democratic Presidential nominee, but said “America is ready for a woman President.”
She said she hoped the Democrats run on security—and not just homeland security, but economic security and health security as well. “Democrats have a good record of defending this country,” she added.
And when another questioner suggested she run for president, she noted she was constitutionally ineligible since she wasn’t born in this country, and “I don’t think we should change the constitution just for Arnold Schwarzenegger.”
In conclusion, she said people have to learn “not to be afraid of someone who doesn’t look exactly like” themselves and learn to not settle their problems through violence.
“There can be no progress through violence,” she said. “The real choice isn’t between victory and defeat but between compromise and endless war.”
“For me the core principle is simply that every life is precious and every individual counts,” she added.
Albright’s talk was extremely well received, and when she was done there was an hour-long wait to buy an autographed copy of her book, Mighty and Almighty.