The Sopris Sun

Madame Secretary’s latest visit to Carbondale

By Barbara Dills

Sopris Sun Correspondent

Madeleine Albright, who recently visited Carbondale, is the first woman to have served as U.S. Secretary of State.

Nominated by President Bill Clinton in December of 1996, she was unanimously confirmed by a Senate vote of 99-0 and held the post from 1997 until 2001, the end of Clinton’s term. Prior to becoming Secretary of State, Albright served for four years as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

She currently is professor of International Relations at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service and serves as a director on the board of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Speaking on Dec. 21 at Thunder River Theatre, one of several turns as a guest of the Roaring Fork Cultural Council, she was interviewed by local resident Jim Calaway before a packed house, describing her in his introduction as “one of the leading individuals in the world to help us understand better the mess we have in our foreign affairs.”

The following are excerpts from Albright’s wide-ranging comments.

On the Middle East:

“I’m so glad you started with an easy question. [Laughs] You said the world is a mess. That’s a diplomatic term. I have never seen it quite as complicated. A lot of it has to do with issues of religion, which are not easy for Americans to discuss because of our separation of church and state and our openness and diversity.”

“The thing that has made this complicated is that the differences between the Shia and Sunni also mirror differences between the Persians and the Arabs. And the Persians and the Arabs have been having arguments about who’s really in charge in the Middle East. So that combination — of the divisions between Shia/Sunni and Persian/Arab — is part of the issue.

Another part — and I can only put this in very broad lay terms — is that Islam hasn’t gone through a reformation. If people go back and look at the problems within the Christian religion, and Protestants versus Catholics … the Thirty Years’ War, and lots of other things that went on, I think Islam has not gone through that sort of change. There are questions about how you interpret the Koran.”

“The Old Testament is pretty violent if you really read it, and the Koran is too, and there are also examples of using swords and fighting in the New Testament. So it isn’t as if the holy books were as peaceful as we might think. And so what’s happened is that the Koran has been interpreted by some as being much more violent. It is not more violent than the Old Testament if you really go through and read it.”

“What has happened, at the moment, is that there has been a hijacking of Islam by those who have decided that they do not like us and the Western world. And that’s what makes this so difficult.”

On the legacy of the war in Iraq:

“I think the war in Iraq is one of the greatest disasters in American foreign policy. And the reason is that we undertook it as a result of the fear factor and based on lies, but also because it has damaged our reputation in the Middle East, militarized democracy, and left a huge vacuum that has allowed space for the most violent part, the radical jihadists, to in fact take up that space and hijack the religion of Islam.”

On recent progress in normalizing relations with Cuba:

“I think it is a big step forward. Castro was using the embargo as an excuse for not having things happen on the island. I think it’s the right direction and a big accomplishment for President Obama.”

On the U.S. relationship with China:

“I go to China often, and I find it endlessly fascinating. Despite our big discussion about the Middle East [this evening], I think our most important relationship of the 21st century is with China.”

On climate change and the recent

climate meetings in Paris:

“When I’m asked what is the greatest threat to national security, it’s climate change. The question is, how to make people focus on it, because it doesn’t seem as immediate as some of the other things.”

On the global immigration crisis:

“I am prejudiced on this. I am an immigrant.”

“If you put yourself in the shoes of the people who have trudged across deserts, carrying their children and all their worldly goods, gotten into some boat they are afraid is going to sink, and, I used to say, been treated like dogs — but dogs in America are treated better — and then they basically are told to disappear, it’s appalling. It’s the biggest humanitarian crisis that we’ve seen since the end of WW II, and I think that we need to step up.”  

“When people ask me what’s the most important thing that has ever happened to me in life, it’s becoming an American, there’s just no question. As I was handing out naturalization certificates to new citizens a couple of years ago, I said to them, ‘I have this very same piece of paper. It’s the most important piece of paper you will ever get. Guard it safely.’ And they said, ‘This is such an amazing country, where a refugee can get a piece of paper from a former Secretary of State.’ And I said, ‘What a country, where a refugee can become Secretary of State!’”

Published in The Sopris Sun on December 31, 2015.