Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright takes questions from Bush School professor Gregory Gause. (Mark Guerrero/Texas A&M Marketing & Communications)
By Sam Peshek, Texas A&M University Division of Marketing & Communications
Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright may have left office 17 years ago optimistic about the state of global affairs, but she may have been too upbeat.
“What worries me most is that in almost every region of the world, democratic institutions and values are under attack,” Albright said. “It seems as if everywhere you look the euphoria that accompanied the end of the Cold War has been replaced by doubts of the capacity of democracy to deliver on its promises.”
Albright, who served as United Nations Ambassador from 1993 to 1997 and Secretary of State from 1997 to 2001 under President Bill Clinton, gave her diagnosis of democracy in the U.S. and abroad and offered remedies during a talk titled “Bipartisanship and Foreign Policy” Tuesday night at the Annenberg Presidential Conference Center on the campus of Texas A&M University.
She said her main sources of worry include tensions on the Korean Peninsula, humanitarian crises in Yemen and Syria and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assertion of influence in Europe and the Middle East. She said she is also troubled by the decline in faith in democracy domestically because Americans are “increasingly divided, angry with one another and immersed in a climate of fear.”
Albright pointed to sources of the sources of division, which include globalization and technology.
“The same forces that have brought the world closer together have made people cling more tightly to their ethnic, cultural and religious identities,” Albright said. “Technology has also caused a lot of good jobs to disappear and made it harder for people without specialized skills to earn a living wage. When people feel insecure about the future, they tend to look for someone to blame, someone who isn’t like them: the outsiders, the strangers, the different, the immigrants and the refugees.”
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright takes questions following a lecture at the Annenberg Presidential Conference Center. (Mark Guerrero/Texas A&M Marketing & Communications)
She also said social media has made governing difficult because it allows individuals on the extreme ends of the political spectrum to rapidly “build emotional bonfires out of fear.”
To reduce these negative trends, Albright delivered three imperatives: national security, education and the promotion of democracy globally.
“The basic reason for promoting democracy is if the United States were to lose our passion for liberty, we would no longer be American,” Albright said. “We would abandon our claim to leadership and shatter the cornerstone upon which our sense of identity is built.”
During her remarks she also commented on her time spent prior to the event with Bush School of Government & Public Service students, where she fielded questions about global affairs. She said she left inspired.
“I was very impressed with everyone connected with Texas A&M, and the Bush School should be very proud of the knowledge you’re conveying and the values you are teaching,” Albright said. “This institution is a fitting tribute to a leader who is rightfully considered one of our finest and most effective statesmen. Few leaders in our history have served the country in as many capacities and as much distinction as George H.W. Bush.”
While Albright opened her lecture by calling herself “an optimist who worries a lot,” she closed by saying that her faith in America and democracy is unshaken.
“Without underestimating the challenges, I still firmly believe in America,” she said. “Even before the Untied States was a country, it was an idea. We are the inheritors to a tradition that dates back not to the greedy ambitions of empire, but to the architects of human liberty.”