Described as insightful, candid and humorous by Stanford political scienceprofessor Scott Sagan, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright took a packed Kresge Auditorium on an imaginary world tour last night, highlighting critical regions and offering strategic advice for the next president.
In a back and forth with Sagan, Albright largely followed the theme of her recent book, Memo to the President Elect, in which she outlines important geopolitical hot spots and policy dilemmas for the incoming executive.
Considering the challenges facing the future commander in chief, I think its a wonder that anyone wants to run for president, Albright said.
The first female secretary of state cited a dangerous lack of effective leadership across the globe for todays precarious international system.
Throughout the talk, which lasted nearly an hour and a half, Albright ventured between concrete proposals (the embargo on Cuba has outlived its usefulness) and election commentary (Sen. John McCains proposed league of democracies doesnt make sense to me).
Much of Albrights policy followed her indispensable nation concept from the Clinton years. America, she said, must confront our enemies without alienating our friends.
Albright, now a professor at Georgetown Universitys School of Foreign Service, mixed humor with analysis, offering rare behind the scenes glimpses from her travels around the world.
Our intelligence was not exactly correct, she said about North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il. They said he was crazy and a pervert. Hes not crazy.
On the rising power of China: First of all, I have only one prediction to make, and that is that the Chinese will win most of the medals because nobody else will be able to breathe, she deadpanned.
She further described relations between America and China as multifaceted before elaborating on the economics: Its like the relationship between a drug addict and pusher, but you dont know which is which.
Regarding India, Sagan pressed Albright on how to square the circle of accommodating the energy needs and security interests of the worlds largest democracy while maintaining the integrity of the nuclear non-proliferation regime.
Albright was candid in her response.
The non-proliferation regime is broken, she said.
Moving to Indias neighbor Pakistan, Albright rattled off a laundry list of problems including terrorism, poverty, religious extremism and weak government.
Pakistan contains every element that gives you an international migraine, she said.
While she often criticized the policies of the Bush administration, Albright rarely criticized the president by name. That changed, however, when she called for diplomacy with Iran.
It is absolutely essential to talk with your enemies, she said, condemning Bushs remarks equating talks with Iran with appeasement. Those remarks before the Israeli Knesset were largely interpreted as a jab at Sen. Barack Obama, who said at a presidential debate last year that he would meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
She cautioned against such high level talks without preconditions, however, offering the cautionary tale of President Kennedys talks with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, which she claimed led to Khrushchev interpreting Kennedy as weak.
Still, she said talking was the best way to read an adversary.
That is how you find out what is going on, that is how you deliver the tough messages, she said. I delivered some pretty tough messages.
I believe you, Sagan quipped.
On the heels of Mondays reprt from the International Atomic Energy Agency offering serious concerns about Irans development of nuclear weapons, Albright decried the uncertainty surrounding the situation.
As an average citizen, I dont have a clue about whats going on in Iran, she said, and I dont know who to believe.
Regarding Iraq, the former secretary echoed much-heard criticism, condemning the war as the worst foreign policy blunder in U.S. history but warning there are no good options.
She called for a responsible withdrawal of troops over time, and called on U.S. allies and Iraqs neighbors to do their part to stabilize the situation.
Instead of a surge in troops, we need a surge in diplomacy, she said. There is no military solution to Iraq.
Albright largely avoided the realm of domestic politics, but offered her prediction for the November election.
I happen to think the Democrats are going to control the whole thing, but that doesnt stop the fact there should be a bipartisan foreign policy, she said, calling for the winner of the election to include members of the opposite party in his or her cabinet.
At the end of her talk, Albright took questions from the audience. And since Im no longer secretary of state Ill be able to answer them, she quipped.
Asked by an audience member why America is not ready for a female president, Albright, who has endorsed and vocally supported Sen. Hillary Clinton, had a rare moment of exasperation.
I have no idea, she said. I honestly cant explain it. I find it depressing.