By AUDREY FISCHER
President Warren G. Harding once said he wished there was an instruction manual for the presidency. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has published a manual of sorts for the next president.
Albright spoke about her new book, “Memo to the President Elect: How We Can Restore America’s Reputation and Leadership,” and afterwards answered questions from a standing-room-only audience at the Library. She also signed copies of her book.
Librarian of Congress James H. Billington introduced Albright at the May 6 event, sponsored by the Library’s Center for the Book as part of its Books & Beyond series.
Albright said her book is “meant to be read on election night” by the person facing “one of the most difficult presidencies we’ve seen in a long time.” But the book also provides the rest of us with the insights of the former foreign policy advisor to the leader of the free world (1997-2001).
“The world is a mess,” said Albright. “That’s a diplomatic ‘term of art,’” she quipped.
Given the complexity of the global situation, Albright emphasized, the next president should appoint people with diverse viewpoints to the Cabinet and be willing to listen to all opinions from “the team.”
“We need a confident but not a certain president,” she said. “Not one who doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.”
After taking a historical look back at past presidencies, Albright focused her “memo” on the concrete issues facing the next president. These she identifies as (1) how to fight terrorism without creating more terrorists; (2) how to deal with nuclear proliferation; (3) how to manage globalization; (4) how to address global warming and energy security; and (5) how to do all of the above while restoring the good name of American democracy.
“I love democracy,” said Albright, “I think it’s the best system in the world. But democracy has to deliver. People want to vote and eat. You can’t impose democracy. That’s an oxymoron.”
Born in Czechoslovakia, Albright is a naturalized U.S. citizen who feels fortunate and proud to have represented her country all over the world. But she is pained by what she perceives as a decline in America’s reputation.
“This isn’t high school. I don’t care if people like us. It’s a matter of protecting our national interest. We don’t want to be perceived as out of step or a legal pariah. It would behoove us to move within a legal system that has worked,” she said.
“America used to stand for the Marshall Plan. Now [for many] it stands for “Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib,” said Albright, referring to U.S. treatment of prisoners of war.
“America’s foreign policy needs to be moral, with a concern for human rights and the rule of law. I believe in the goodness of American power. That’s why I am so troubled by America’s reputation due to the mess we’ve made in Iraq,” she said.
“Iraq is the greatest disaster in American foreign policy—worse than Vietnam. We have the strongest military in the world. We owe them a great debt of gratitude. They are doing all we have asked and more. But the situation in Iraq requires a political solution, not a military one.”
Albright advocates a multilateral approach, which she defines simply as “doing things with others …”We can’t have solutions without listening.”
She is adamant that the U.S. must get out of Iraq. “We have to end the war. There are no good options in Iraq. Just the least-worst.”
Albright mentioned a few of the world’s “hot spots,” in addition to Iraq, that will have to be addressed by the next president—Afghanistan, and other “unintended consequences of our foreign policy” such as Pakistan and Iran.
“We need Pakistan,” said Albright. “We’ve closed our eyes too long to their coup against the rule of law.”
Albright expressed her deep concern about genocide in African nations such as Darfur and Congo. She also noted that more attention needs to be paid to Latin America.
In a question-and-answer period, Albright addressed some of the problems of the American presidency that are closer to home such as government bureaucracy and divisiveness between the executive and legislative branches of government. The basic question, according to Albright, is how to have “checks and balances without gridlock.”
Of the lengthy presidential nomination process, Albrights said she “we should applaud it as an exercise in democracy.” She hopes that people listen to the candidates directly rather than the through the filter of media sound bites.
And she hopes the next president will be mindful of the limitations of the Oval Office as well as its opportunities.
“I hope he or she reads my book.”