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Albright Offers Diplomatic Advice to Obama

November 11, 2008 – Every new president inherits headaches, but President-elect Barack Obama will “inherit the whole emergency room,” Georgetown professor and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said during a Nov. 10 discussion in Gaston Hall.

Albright’s talk, sponsored by the Mortara Center for International Studies, offered insights into what the Obama administration should focus on as it transitions into leading the country.

Using material gleaned from her latest book, “Memo to the President: How We Can Restore America’s Reputation and Leadership” (Harper, 2008), Albright said Obama must strike a balance between the many issues confronting the country.

“President Obama will take office eager to get to work, but as he warned in his eloquent victory speech, he and we must be patient,” Albright, the Mortara Distinguished Professor in the Practice of Diplomacy, said. “We cannot expect to recover all of the ground we’ve lost in the first 100, or even in the first 1,000, days of the new administration.”

Albright took jabs at the Bush administration on issues from the economy to relations with Russia to the peace process between Israel and Palestine. She said it will “take time to reclaim our country’s reputation as a champion of human rights and international law, and to find the right identity for America in a world that has grown reluctant to follow the lead of any one nation.”

She peppered the talk with personal reminiscences and quips while leaving the audience with no doubt that Obama will face a trying presidency.

“As usual, Secretary Albright’s remarks were pertinent, insightful and witty -- and so timely,” said Carol Lancaster, Mortara Center director. “With her experience, her books and her presentations, she helps us think more deeply about the foreign policy challenges facing all of us.”

Rather than offer specific actions on many issues, the seasoned diplomat suggested that Obama approach foreign policy as a whole. The United States must strengthen its multilateral responses to international issues, Albright said, adding that Obama should end the “treaty allergic” era in America and endorse international guidelines such as the rights of children and the Kyoto protocol for global warming.

“We are better off being part of the international system rather than outside of it. I think that the U.S. is an exceptional country, but I don’t think that exceptions should be made for us,” Albright said.

The professor’s speech came on the eve of an important personal anniversary -- it has been 60 years since she entered the United States. Albright and her family fled what was once Czechoslovakia in the 1930s and came to America in 1948. Living in several countries, in addition to her wide travels, has turned Albright into a strong proponent of cultural diplomacy, which emphasizes cultural understanding in relations.

“People communicate through their cultures in different ways, and we have to see culture as a broad-based concept,” she noted.

Related Links

  • Mortara Center for International Studies

  • Walsh School of Foreign Service

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