In one of my classes last semester, we watched Hotel Rwanda, a movie about Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager who housed more than 1,000 refugees at the height of the Rwandan genocide.
While few details remain etched in my mind, I recall the inability of the United Nations to intervene in the genocide. As someone who spent much of that class defending international organizations, this inaction was troubling.
As it turned out, UN ineffectiveness could be credited to the United States and one individual in particular: Madeleine Albright. In 1994, acting as the United States ambassador to the UN, Albright blocked military intervention in Rwanda, largely because we were still recovering from a disastrous mission in Somalia the year before. Nevertheless, her role in Rwanda and silence over the mass murder of Tutsis was singled out by an independent panel convened by the Organization of African Unity.
You can imagine my surprise, then, at the breathtaking coverage that Albright received in anticipation of her lecture at Indiana University. Many of my otherwise conscientious friends were in attendance at Fridays event, oblivious to her past. One even pointed out that her actions were not indicative of any pattern of bad behavior.
Except, they were.
Just two years after the Rwandan genocide, Albright was interviewed by Lesley Stahl for a 60 Minutes segment on U.S. sanctions against Iraq. Stahl asked about the half million Iraqi children who had died as a result of these sanctions and whether the price was worth it.
Albright responded, I think this is a very hard choice, but the price-- we think the price is worth it. She later apologized in her autobiography for this callous statement, but the notion that the lives of Muslims are less valuable than American lives continues to form the basis for American foreign policy.
Even as recently as 2007, Albright attempted to block Congressional legislation regarding the recognition of the Armenian genocide, citing concerns over the timing of the bill. In a strange turn of events, Albright is currently leading the Genocide Prevention Task Force. Not surprisingly, her hypocritical actions received little coverage from media outlets.
Considering her background and Obamas promise of a new set of foreign policy principles, it pains me that his campaign would actively recruit such surrogates. Indeed, it seems absurd to campaign on the theme of change and hope only to court the old and ineffective foreign policy establishment, an establishment characterized by Albright.
I dont doubt that Albright is an incredibly smart woman, perhaps even a role model for young women like me. But I dont appreciate the short-sightedness we reserve for leaders like her. Whether we believe it or not, public officials are expected to carry out their lives in accordance with certain professed values, and when these very officials violate such values, we must not look the other way.
It seems particularly strange that we would look to Albright as a foreign policy expert when she seems to have been such a failure at it.