Think twice about Madeleine Albright

Griffin Perrault, Senior Writer

aEarlier this month, the University’s Class of 2019 identified former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as its commencement speaker for their upcoming graduation ceremony on May 19. In an email addressed to all students, faculty, and staff, University President John Bravman called the choice “outstanding,” noting that, as the first female Secretary of State in American history, “[Albright] reinforced U.S. alliances, advocated for democracy and human rights, and promoted American trade, business, labor and environmental standards abroad.”

 

Obviously, the class’s decision to invite Albright as commencement speaker comes not without ample rationale; after her ardent and faithful service as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations caught the attention of former President Bill Clinton, Albright was invited to serve in Clinton’s cabinet during his second presidential term (1997-2001). Her tenure as Secretary of State was marked by radical realignment of American foreign policy in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, including the orchestration of limited aerial bombardment campaigns by the United States and its NATO allies during the Kosovo War. She represents the ideal commencement candidate on paper, with a profoundly impressive resume only matched by her oratory abilities.

 

Yet, I remain opposed to her invitation, not on grounds of any lack of sophistication or insipidity, but purely based off of the fact that Albright’s questionable regard for human rights makes her somewhat of a disagreeable choice. Take, for instance, the Secretary’s remarkable callousness towards Iraq and its citizens, supplemented by sustained endorsements of sanctions on the Iraqi government in opposition to the rule of President Saddam Hussein. In an infamous 1996 exchange regarding UN sanctions on Iraq, 60 Minutes reporter Lesley Stahl asked her, “We have heard that half a million children have died […] you know, is the price worth it?” Albright calmly replied, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price—we think the price is worth it.”

 

She expressed similarly dehumanizing sentiments towards Serbian individuals during a 2012 book signing in Prague, during which a series of Czech activists presented Albright with photographs of Serbians who died in the Kosovo War. Albright eventually lost her temper and was recorded shouting “Disgusting Serbs, get out!” at the protestors. The insult was compounded by the later revelation that Albright Capital Management, Albright’s investment firm, planned to bid on a majority stake in Kosovo’s state-owned telecom company PTK, a deal strongly opposed by the Serbian government.

 

As Secretary of State, Albright was also instrumental in perpetuating the farce of Iraqi possession of WMDs. She contributed to a series of public statements that suggested U.S. military intervention into Iraq was inevitable if the latter did not capitulate to American demands. Of the imaginary program, Albright said, “Iraq has a simple choice. Reverse course or face the consequences,” further claiming that “[The United States is] prepared to act […] That is our position. No further warnings are needed.”

 

It is certainly not the writer’s place to proscribe from the University any speaker who could introduce a new and exciting perspective to the student body (and appears to have garnered considerable popular support). Nonetheless, it is important to be cognizant that Albright is an individual with an–at best– problematic estimation of the world around her, which reflects itself in both her speech and actions.

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