May 19, 2006

Albright tackles religion in foreign policy

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright spoke about her new book The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs on Wednesday evening in the Assembly Hall at International House.

Albright’s book explores how religion impacts diplomacy and domestic policy, as well as how religion can build consensus to solve important problems.

“I am not pretending to be a theologian,” Albright said. “I have not become a religious mystic. People are very worried…. [They are] listening to see if there are some answers out there.”

Susan Thistlethwaite of the Chicago Theological Seminary moderated the discussion, which was part of a “World Beyond the Headlines” series.

The discussion was presented as an informal chat between Albright and Thistlethwaite.

Thistlethwaite offered occasional praise of the book and asked questions. After mentioning Albright’s “pragmatism” and “idealism,” Thistlethwaite asked whether aspects of faith could help solve international problems.

“Using religious ideas is a realistic foreign policy,” Albright said.

Albright served under President Bill Clinton from 1997 to 2001, and she was the first female secretary of state in American history.

She suggested that the secretary of state hire religious advisors and include religious leaders in negotiations.

Speaking about the role of religion under the current administration, Albright said, “One of my hypotheses [was that] George W. Bush is an anomaly in American history.”

Her research, however, forced her to modify this view. She said the United States is a historically “religious country,” but that the “certainty” of Bush’s personal relationship with God sets him apart from prior presidents in American history.

Albright also criticized the war in Iraq, saying it “will go down as the worst foreign policy decision in American history.”

Iraq is a “very, very destabilizing situation that did not need to happen,” she said.

Albright said the controversies surrounding Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay have damaged America’s “reputation as a moral country.”

From the diplomatic perspective, “we have undermined our ability to create a set of international norms,” she said.

Questions from the audience brought up a variety of issues. In response to a critical question about her stance on the war on terrorism, Albright said, “We have to win in the battle of ideas.”

Albright compared the situation in Darfur to the genocide in Rwanda. She said the Rwanda tragedy was “a volcanic genocide” because of its sudden eruption, while she called the continuing crisis in Darfur a “rolling genocide.”

Albright said a NATO peacekeeping force would be counterproductive in Darfur because several members of NATO are former colonial powers. Instead, she suggested increasing support for a United Nations peacekeeping force.

In response to a question about how liberals should regard the rise of religion, Albright said Democrats need to learn how to speak to the public in religious terms.

“Not everybody on the left is an atheist,” she said.

The event was sponsored by International House, the Center for International Studies, the Global Voices Program, the Seminary Co-op Bookstores, the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, and the Chicago Theological Seminary.