The question from the student was “What would you do about the political stalemate in Washington?” Madeleine Albright, secretary of state under Bill Clinton, first blurted out “I have no idea.” (That got a round of applause.) Then she thought for a moment (really half a moment; she’s quick on her feet) and told the large crowd assembled for this Union Board event in the IU Auditorium, about efforts to promote democracy overseas. “People agree that compromise and cooperation are part of the democratic process. It’s hard to go abroad and represent the values of democracy when we are setting such a bad example at home.”
Albright has been known for fiery and brutally frank speaking. For this event, she chose a more personal and heartening tone. Her speech was part of the Themester project, “Making War, Making Peace.” Her initial remarks asked the audience to consider what war and peace really are. “Peace is not just the space between wars, but something that needs to be worked at constantly.” She spoke of her direct experiences of war as a child in Czechoslovakia and then Britain during World War II. Conscious of her student audience, she traced how her family background and her college experiences led her inexorably to international affairs. She encouraged students not to limit their attention to those with whom they already agree and to make college “an adventure.” She assured students that if they did, they would be “surprised by the miracles they could achieve.”
In an earlier, private meeting with Patrick O’Meara, special advisor to President McRobbie, the two life-long internationalists shared their insider’s views of current world affairs. The tenor of that meeting was not as positive; they found much that is troubling in the direction events were going in Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere. And neither felt confident that solutions were near at hand.
Albright was interested in the international activities at IU. When the subject came up regarding one important project that had taken years to develop and was nearly—but not quite—ready to go, the immediate and startling response was, “What can I do to help?” Albright made it clear that this was not a polite or gratuitous offer. She stood ready to take action if that would help move the project forward.
Perhaps the former secretary and continuing international activist knows more than she admits in dealing with the stalemate in DC. The willingness and readiness to do something to make a positive difference might just be the solution.