‘Terrible choice’ aside, Albright pushes political solution for Iraq
“There is a vital difference between competence and certainty,” former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright told a Tufts audience during the 2007 Issam M. Fares Lecture in March. “Competence comes from the effort to learn all we can. Certainty comes from believing we have learned all there is to know.
“A competent 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.”
And now that it has become clear that “our leaders made a terrible choice” in pursuing the U.S. invasion of Iraq, she said, those in power need to be willing to review their options anew; to look for a political solution to the situation in Iraq; to avoid another military incursion, this time in Iran, and not to take sides in the split between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims and other disputes in the region.
“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’re wrong,” Albright said. “It’s always tempting, especially for Americans, to attach labels to people, groups and even nations, and to say that here are the good guys, and there are the bad. Life is generally more complicated than that,” she said. “Good and evil generally don’t come in separate packages.”
‘What can be salvaged?’
Albright’s remarks were preceded by comments from Nijad I. Fares, an overseer to the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. He praised Albright’s 1997 action that lifted the U.S. travel ban to Lebanon, marking the beginning of “the longest period of stability and economic prosperity in Lebanon since the 1970s.”
Albright was appointed the first woman secretary of state in 1997, and she was the highest-ranking woman in U.S. history at that time. From 1993 to 1997, she was the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations. Currently, she holds an endowed chair at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service.
She began her speech by referring to a previous Fares speaker, former President George H.W. Bush, who delivered a talk in 2003 titled “Choose Hope Over Hate.” “What I found most interesting about that speech is that it took place only three weeks before the U.S. invasion of Iraq,” Albright said. “Instead of using his lecture to make the case for invasion, the former president stressed the wisdom of the choice he had made when in office not to invade.
“There are lessons in this,” she said. “The first is that young people should listen to their parents,” a comment that was met with applause from the audience. “The second is that before making decisions that will affect our future, leaders should study carefully the lessons of the past.”
The time has now passed, she said, for debate over the wisdom of military involvement in Iraq. “For years, we have argued about whether it was smart to invade Iraq in the manner and at the time that we did,” she said. “That argument has been settled. Our leaders made a terrible choice. The question is what can be salvaged?”
‘Sooner rather than later’
Among other points Albright made during the lecture:
Helene Ragovin is a senior writer in Tufts’ Office of Publications. She can be reached at email@example.com. This story ran in the Tufts Journal in April 2007.