Tufts University

'The Promise of Peace'

Madeleine AlbrightIn the 2007 Issam M. Fares Lecture, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright says that diplomacy depends on learning from history and valuing open dialogue.

When asked if she is an optimist or a pessimist, Madeleine Albright's response is, "I'm an optimist who worries a lot."

But the former secretary of state and United States ambassador to the United Nations, who delivered the 2007 Issam M. Fares Lecture at Tufts on March 7, said that while she is concerned about the spread of hate and fear around the world, she is confident that people can learn from the past and overcome their differences.

"I believe in the power of reason, the possibility of progress and the promise of peace," she said to thousands of members of the Tufts community assembled at the Gantcher Family Sports and Convocation Center.

Tufts President Lawrence S. Bacow praised the Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies, the organizer of the event, for facilitating the opportunity for people from different backgrounds to "disagree without being disagreeable."

"We need to model the behavior we would hope to see in the rest of the world," he said.

"When making a decision, there's 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."

— Madeleine Albright

In an address peppered with historical analogies and anecdotes from her experience as a diplomat, Albright evoked frequent applause and laughter while still levying serious criticism at the Bush administration's policy in the Middle East.

As one of many historical parallels she drew to the modern day situation in the region, Albright recounted how 2,400 years ago, Athens—then a superpower—invaded Sicily against military advice and popular sentiment, only to meet a great defeat. That loss paved the way just a decade later for Athens' fall to Persia—now modern-day Iran. Albright said that Athens' folly continues to serve as a warning against cockiness on the global stage.

"When making a decision, there's a vital distinction between confidence and certainty," she said. "Confidence comes from the effort to learn all we can. Certainty comes from believing we have learned all there is to know."

Albright, who served during President Bill Clinton's administration, takes this lesson to heart as a regular listener of conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh's radio program. "I may be yelling back at the radio, but I'm also realizing that some of my assumptions are easier to defend than others," she said.

Madeleine Albright

Albright criticized the Middle East policy of the current Bush administration, citing the invasion of Iraq as a "terrible choice" and emphasizing that the solutions to the problems in Iraq are not military, but political. Albright also expressed concern that American actions in Iraq could jeopardize the ability of the U.S. to be a force for democracy around the world.

"The goal of supporting democracy is the right one, closely connected to America's role in the world both historically and in the future," she explained. "If we give up on democracy, we give up not only on Iraq but also on the United States."

She did cite several examples of positive developments in the region, such as an upcoming meeting among the U.S., Syria and Iran to discuss Iraq and a recent oil profit-sharing agreement by the Iraqi cabinet. Albright also praised efforts by the White House to use diplomacy, rather than military action, to resolve its differences with Iran.

"There are no objective reasons why American and Iranian interests must clash," she said. "Our problems are ideological and at least potentially resolvable. I fear, however, that war would open wounds that would never close, at great cost to us and to the world." (continued)

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Profile written by Georgiana Cohen, with additional reporting by Molly Frizzell (A'09) and Bic Leu (A'07)

Photos by Joanie Tobin, Tufts University

This story originally ran on Mar. 8, 2007.