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Madeleine Albright: The Promise of Peace

Lecture of the Honorable Madeleine K. Albright , 64th Secretary of State of the United States 
Delivered on the occasion of the 2007 Issam M. Fares Lecture


Mrs. Madeleine Albright taking the floor:  Ibelieve in the power of reason, the possibility of progress, and the promise of peace

Mr. Nijad Issam Fares: Our objective in supporting this lecture series is to promote understanding of and friendship toward the Middle East

Mrs.Madeleine  Albright surrounded by the Fares family& Mr. Bacow

Mrs. Madeleine Albright's speech:

I am delighted to be here at Tufts and honored to participate in this unique Lecture Series and so, I am very pleased to be here with distinguished guests and obviously with the students. I want to thank the Fares family for inviting me and also to congratulate everyone connected to the Fares Center and at Tufts for working on the very important project that the center is concerned with. The project is dedicated to increasing knowledge about the Eastern Mediterranean and to improving understanding among people throughout the Middle East. And it is hard to conceive of a more important goal or a more elusive one. Four years ago this Lecture Series had as its speaker the very distinguished former president of the USA George Herbert Walker Bush and his speech was entitled “Choose Hope Over Hate”.

Of course he may have been biased in favor of hope since he was about to go skydiving for his 80th birthday, but what I found most interesting about that speech is that it took place only three weeks before the US invasion of Iraq and instead of using his lecture to make the case for invasion, the former president stressed the wisdom of the choice he had made when he was in office: not to invade. He said that if he had tried to make regime change part of operation “Desert Storm” his international coalition would have shattered and America’s credibility as a force for Middle East peace would have been lost. There are two lessons to this: The first is that young people should listen to their parents. The second is that before making decisions that will affect our future, leaders should study carefully the lessons of the past.

To illustrate, consider the story of a superpower that decided to launch a pre-emptive strike. The time is 2,400 years ago; the superpower was Athens. The intended target was Sicily, and the alleged danger was that the people of that island might one day unite and take up arms. Athens’ leaders were so certain their invasion would succeed that they disregarded the warnings of their military, who said that the planned strike force was too small. “What if the Sicilians unite against us and we make no friends?” asked one general. “Besides,” he continued, “even if we conquer them they are so distant and numerous that we can hardly rule them.” But in the emotions of the moment such voices were drowned out.

According to Euripides, the excessive passion of the majority made the dissenters afraid of being thought unpatriotic and so they held their peace. Of course, the Athenians did appeal for guidance to soothsayers who, being on the official payroll, reported that the Empire was favored by the gods and would win simply because it deserved to. So, the expedition set forth. When it arrived in Sicily its leaders proclaimed to the local population that: “We came not to enslave you but to keep you from being enslaved.” But the Sicilians did not buy it. Although previously divided, they came together to defeat what they called the imperialist foe. The Athenian force was destroyed. In trying to conquer Sicily the Athenians overreached. In the process they transformed the containable risk into a major self-inflicted wound. The invasion exhausted their military, divided their citizenry, disillusioned their allies and squandered their prestige. It also opened the way for a much stronger adversary who would subjugate Athens within a decade. That adversary was Persia, or modern-day Iran.

The Athenian invasion reminds us of the danger that comes from being too sure we are right. When making a decision there is a vital distinction between confidence and certainty. Confidence comes from the effort to learn all we can. Certainty comes from believing we have learned all there is to know. A confident leader will reconsider views on the basis of new information. A morally certain leader will reject any advice that is not in accord with what he or she already thinks. For this reason I have developed the habit of putting my own beliefs to the test. You may not believe this, but I listen regularly to a radio broadcaster whose name you might recognize, Rush Limbaugh. I do not think I have ever agreed with Mr. Limbaugh, which is one reason that I listen. He makes me rethink my opinions. I may be yelling back at the radio but I am also realizing that some of my assumptions are easier to defend than others. And he prompts me to examine more closely the facts on which my opinions are based. For me, listening to talk radio is not usually a pleasant experience and it’s kind of amazing that I haven’t had some terrible accident since I do this while driving to work, but it does help to clarify my thinking.


A large crowd is attending the remarkable Lecture Serie at Tufts

In the same way, decision-makers can do a better job of being sure that the information they have is comprehensive and that they listen to many points of view. I think this is especially important now, when it’s clear that American policy in the Eastern Mediterranean and Persian Gulf has been less than perfect. Yes, the invasion of Iraq got rid of Saddam Hussein and opened the door for elections, both very good things. But in the Middle East almost every upside has a downside and this one has been a record-breaker. The invasion has cost thousand of lives, strained our alliances, strengthened al-Qaeda, enhanced the influence of Iran, created new incentives for states to develop nuclear arms, undermined US credibility, diverted attention and resources from other problems and caused many people to equate the legitimate promotion of democracy with the ill-advised efforts to impose democracy, thereby emboldening leaders from Hugo Chavez to Vladimir Putin. For years we have argued whether it was smart to invade Iraq in the manner and at the time that we did. That argument has been settled: leaders made a terrible choice. The question is, what can be salvaged? Today, some 150,000 American troops are on duty in Iraq. I desperately want them to succeed. They are the finest warriors in the world and will accomplish any mission that is within their power.

Unfortunately our troops are increasingly caught in the middle of a civil war with the impossible mission of trying to protect all sides against violence by all sides. If I were a soldier on patrol in Baghdad I wouldn’t know who to shoot at until I was shot at, which is untenable. To quote Sergeant First Class Marc Velinsky, while under sniper fire in the capital last month: “Who the hell is shooting at us? Who is shooting at us? Do we know who they are?” Or to quote Specialist

Terry Wilson, a soldier on that same patrol, “The thing is we wear uniforms and they don’t”.
I agree with the President that it would be a disaster for us to leave Iraq under the present circumstances. But it may also be a disaster for us to stay. If our troops are not in the position to make a decisive difference we have a overriding duty to bring them home sooner rather than later.

James Baker and Lee Hamilton recommended a more limited role for US troops with an emphasis on training, fighting al-Qaeda, and providing a rapid reaction capability. Their view, which I share, is that Iraqis must take responsibility for their own security because although we can assist, we cannot do the job for them. We don’t have enough people, we don’t speak the language, we don’t know the culture well enough, and quite frankly we don’t have the recognized legal and moral authority to go into Iraqi homes and compel obedience. Each time we do, we lose as much ground politically as we might hope to gain militarily.

This is crucial because if there is to be a solution in Iraq, it will come about through political means. This is been obvious for years. An arrangement must be worked out that will give each side more than they can obtain through continued violence. If Iraq’s leaders finally begin to move in this direction we would likely see progress on the security front and I think the American people would be more patient about the continued presence of our troops. Such a settlement must include an equitable sharing of oil, the protection of minority rights, and a balance of power between the central government in Baghdad and the various regions. It was encouraging therefore that Iraq’s cabinet was able to agree last week on a new oil law. If enacted, oil revenues will be controlled by the federal government and then allocated to Iraq’s 18 provinces on the basis of population. Many problems remain, including the fact that Iraq has never conducted a census, but the oil plan is still badly needed and a step in the right direction. Other steps are required. First, we should prevail upon Iraq’s neighbors and our allies to do more to create stability.

When I was secretary of state, we were confronted by sectarian strife in the Balkans. What had happened there historically is that each faction inside the region had an ally outside the region from which it received arms and other forms of support. We thought the solution might be to get all the countries with an interest in the Balkans to work together, so we created something called the Contact Group, with representatives from half a dozen nations, and made sure that our policies were coordinated on behalf of prosperity, justice, and peace. This approach worked and I’ve said for four years that something similar should be tried in Iraq. This weekend in Baghdad, a meeting will finally be held for precisely this purpose. The United States will participate, as will Iran and Syria. This meeting will generate no miracles but it has the potential to create at least small areas of common ground. The involvement of Iran is particularly significant. We sometimes forget that Iraq invaded Iran during the 1980s resulting in a war that killed more than a million people. Today, Iraq is divided and weak while Iran has more influence than at any time in centuries. The country’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has taken advantage of the regional turmoil to try to assert himself on the world stage by insisting on his country’s right to reprocess nuclear fuel, questioning Israel’s right to exist and challenging the morality of American actions. Ahmadinejad is trying to solidify his shaky domestic political base.

The Bush administration deserves support for its diplomatic efforts to persuade Iran to forego the option of developing nuclear arms. Those efforts are laborious but may, in time, succeed. The combination of economic sanctions and pressure on oil supplies may cause Iran to look for a face-saving way out if we’re patient and don’t lose our heads. Meanwhile the administration has accused Iran of arming Shiite militias inside Iraq and we’re right to protest and to present evidence supporting our allegations.We should not, however, do anything at this point to invite a wider war. Over the long term, we would benefit immensely from improved relations with Iran, a possibility that is intriguing because the country is in fact more open and democratic than many of its neighbors. There are no objective reasons why American and Iranian interests must clash. Our problems are ideological and at least potentially resolvable. I fear, however, that a war might open wounds that would never close, at great cost to us and to the world. In any case, America’s focus today should be on how to build peace, not on how to justify yet another war.

My second recommendation is that we should continue to support efforts to build democratic institutions in Iraq. It was always unrealistic to believe that a full-fledged democracy could be created in that country overnight. It is however equally unrealistic to believe that a stable Iraq will ever be created if democratic principles are not part of the equation. One of my great concerns is that our nation’s experience in Iraq will cause us to abandon efforts to build democracy over the long term and that would be a mistake. There are smart and not-so-smart ways to go about that task but the goal of supporting democracy is the right one. It is closely connected to America’s role in the world, both historically and in the future. If we give up on democracy we have to give up not only on Iraq but also on the United States.
My third and final recommendation is that we should look at the situation in the Persian Gulf as part of the larger strategy that includes the entire Middle East and we should begin by avoiding the temptation to take sides in the millennium-old Sunni- Shiites split. Some people say we should oppose the Sunnis because al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s loyalists are from that sect; others say we should oppose the Shiites because Iran, Hezbollah and some of Iraq’s most violent militias are Shiites. Still others claim to seek what they call a new strategic alignment in the region in which the Sunnis are friends except for the terrorists and the Shiites are enemies except for those who are not. I hope that’s clear.
The Middle East is not some simplistic morality play. It’s a place where fear, anger, hope, courage, powerlessness and confusion all swell about without ever settling into a completely coherent pattern. If the United States is to play a positive role, we must take into account the interest of all factions and be extremely careful in the messages we convey. We should pledge support to all Sunnis, Shiites, Christians, Druze, Jews, Arabs, Kurds, and Persians, provided they too are prepared to play a positive role.

Our goal should not be to find new ways to divide the region but rather to explore ways to persuade all folks to cooperate, if not out of love than out of a shared interest in survival and hope for a decent life for their people. In that spirit, it is vital that the United States return to the role of honest broker in pursuit of an Arab-Israeli peace. One of the great accomplishments of US diplomacy over the past half century has been to gain the acceptance of virtually every government in the Middle East, including the PLO, that Israel has the right to exist. We cannot retreat from that position now or ever, but with that principle clearly understood, we should do all we can to encourage the creation of a viable Palestinian partner with whom Israel can negotiate. I say that not because I think peace can easily be achieved; on the contrary, as I know from personal experience, peace is hard. There are elements within Islam, Christianity and Judaism alike who believe that wars in the Middle East have been foretold by scriptures and the decisive battle between good and evil will take place in that region. I’m not a theologian so this isn’t the point I’m qualified to argue, but I do know this: Armageddon is not a foreign policy. Those who believe God is directing events might begin by obeying God’s commandments instead of ignoring them, because there is nothing pre-ordained about murder and mayhem in the Middle East. To seize the sword instead of the olive branch: that’s a choice. To teach children to hate is a choice. To glorify murderers as martyrs is a choice.

To dehumanize and disrespect the dignity of others is a choice. These are all choices and when people have the capacity to choose, they have the ability to change. We can’t make choices for those who live in the Middle East but we can try to persuade all sides that they can be no progress for any side through violence. This will demand steady and determined diplomatic engagement by the United States. It will demand that Israeli leaders defend their country while leaving open the door to peace. It will demand that the Palestinians agree once and for all that the way to realize their rights is through negotiations, not violence, and it will demand help from the world community to rebuild Lebanon and to treat the Lebanese collectively as the sovereigns of their own land, not as pawns to be sacrificed in the service of others. Finally, it will demand from everyone a commitment to create a future for the Middle East in which young people can grow up without fear, instead of repeating cycles of violence that leave Jewish and Arab children alike drawing pictures of coffins.
About 3,000 years ago after the death of King David, his successor King Solomon prayed as a servant, or as a child might, not for glory and riches but for the ability to tell the difference between evil and good. The challenge can be complicated, which is why Solomon was praying. This leads me to my last point; none of us should be so sure we’re right that we close our minds to the possibility that on some matters at least, we are wrong. It’s always tempting especially for Americans to attach labels to people, groups, even nations, and to say that here are the good guys and there are the bad. But life is usually more complex than that. Good and evil generally don’t come in separate packages; more often, they’re mixed, and that’s true both outside us and within us.

When I was in the government, I fought hard against the idea that the world was headed toward the clash of civilizations, particularly between Islam and America. Of course since I left office, the world has experienced the trauma of 9/11 and many subsequent tragedies. I still don’t believe in the clash of civilizations but I do see a battle of ideas, a battle caused by people using religion as a club to hit one another over the head. More uncertainty has its place, as anyone who contemplates slavery or genocide must affirm. But in public life absolute certainty is not often a virtue. Virtue comes with the ability to believe in ideas while maintaining respects for the rights, beliefs, and doubts of others. As critics point out, this quality could sometimes lead to intellectual mash. As its best however, it can produce triumph that encompass both intellect and spirit. We celebrate the examples of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela because they believed deeply but also because they embraced broadly. They were compassionate extremists whose beliefs caused them to seek common bonds, even with their persecutors. The triumph’s pay-off was a victory not for some, but for all, and this is the kind of leadership and spirit we yearn for today.

Think how refreshing it would be if all the people in the Middle East and Iraq seriously committed themselves to victory for all. I’ve heard it said that the globe is divided between us and them. I was taught differently, to believe there is only one category, in which we all have a place, a category sometimes referred to as all creatures here below. With all that’s going on these days, I’m often asked whether I’m an optimist or a pessimist. I answer that I’m an optimist who worries a lot. I worry that hate and fear will draw new and even more deadly rounds of violence; there are leaders who lack the wisdom to reverse the trend. I am an optimist because I believe in the power of reason, the possibility of progress and the promise of piece and I believe people have the capacity to grow, to learn from the past, and to move beyond the differences that divide us to the common humanity that unites us. Each knew well from years ago that more and more, history is a race between education and catastrophe. Obviously this is a race we must win and nothing does more to support my optimism than institutions such as this, the Fares Center, the Fletcher School and the entire Tufts community. For all that you are doing to convey knowledge and promote intercultural understanding, I salute you. For all that you will do in the future, I applaud you. And for your kind attention and warm welcome this afternoon, I thank you very very much.

Thank you, thank you very much.

Mr. Nijad Issam Fares' speech
Secretary Albright,
President Bacow,
Distinguised Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a tremendous privilege for me to be with you today representing the Fares family at this great institution. I would like to take a moment on behalf of my father, Issam Fares, and the entire Fares family to thank all of our friends and colleagues at Tufts University who helped arrange this event. We are proud that the Issam M. Fares Lecture Series is able to attract high level international leaders in this open forum to address the important issues of our time. This level of success is not possible without the terrific support from the entire Tufts family.

The Fares family is staunch in its commitment to Tufts University, my brother Fares and sister Noor’s alma mater. We are grateful we have been able to support Tufts University through programs such as the Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies, the Fares Research Center, a program in the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and the Fares Equine Research Center at Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine.

As a Lebanese family, we are passionate about Lebanon and Middle East peace. Our objective in supporting this lecture series is to promote understanding of and friendship toward the Middle East. While this is an important goal in and of itself, its byproducts including justice, peace, and stability, are even more important. Through positive initiatives like this one and continuing dialogue, we hope Lebanon can once again resume its role as a liberal democratic voice in that turbulent part of the world.

When the Issam Fares Lecture Series was conceived, my father wanted to feature renowned statesmen who would lend their experience and breadth of vision towards providing direction for a Middle East, free of the conflicts and unrest that have plagued this region.

Towards that end, the first lecture on October 25, 1994 was given by former President George Bush. Other lectures included such notable speakers as Presidents Bill Clinton and Valery Giscard D’estaing, Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and George Mitchell, former Secretaries of State James Baker and Colin Powell, and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Today we continue this level of excellence with our distinguished speaker, Secretary Madelaine Albright.

Dr. Albright, welcome to Tufts and to the Issam Fares Lecture Series.

For those of you who are too young to remember, from 1987 until July of 1997, there was a travel ban preventing American citizens from using their U.S. passports to travel to Lebanon. This was an impediment to Lebanon’s sense of security and prevented the development of many positive relationships. I would like to acknowledge with gratitude that on July 30, 1997, Secretary Albright courageously lifted the “travel ban” on Lebanon. Her decision ushered in the longest period of stability and economic prosperity that Lebanon had known since the 70’s, and that ended only recently with the targeted violence in the country.

Lebanon is very much in the public eye now, as well it should be. Because of its geography, both religious and physical, Lebanon is a microcosm of the Middle East. Its well-being depends on the resolution of the regional issues that surround it. My father likes to say that there can be no peace in pieces. Peace must be comprehensive or there will be no peace. Unless all regional states are reasonably satisfied, there will always be disaffected communities or elements to wreak havoc.

Resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict is not a panacea for everything that ails the Middle East. However, because of its vast symbolic importance, it is the sine qua non for the United States to get whole-hearted Arab and Muslim cooperation on regional problems, such as the situation in Iraq. There may not necessarily be a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict with US involvement, as this problem has existed since 1948; however, there will be no resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict without American involvement.

Since September 11th, the main topic in American foreign policy has been the War on Terror. To address this issue, the Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies held a two day conference in January entitled “The War on Terrorism: Where Do We Stand?” This conference was the third annual conference of its type, bringing together policymakers, academics, and other experts to discuss such topics. The Fares Center will continue to host similar events on relevant and timely issues related to the Middle East. We hope that some suggestions for solutions will emerge from them.

We are fortunate to have as our speaker today a scholar and diplomat who served as the United States’ Ambassador to the United Nations during the Clinton Administration, and later as Secretary of State, Dr. Madeleine Albright. As a personal aside, I would like to mention that we both graduated from the same high school in Colorado, Kent Denver Country Day. With her vast range of experience in dealing with the region and its tensions, we hope that her insight can shed light on the situation in the Middle East and its broader implications for American relations therein.

Thank you, and welcome to the 2007 Issam Fares Lecture.