It is with a mixed sense of pride, amusement and disappointment that I can relate an encounter that I just had this evening with former Sec. of State Madeleine Albright. She was in town to promote her new book, Madam Secretary, and was engaged to give a talk at the Temple Judea in Coral Gables.
Although I am obviously not a huge fan of the State Department, and although I believe that the Clinton administration made some huge miscalculations in battling global Islamic terrorism, I had to admit that I admired Mdme. Albright's tough stance on the Balkans. Here was a diplomat who was giving real effect to some of the hard lessons of 20th century European history.
I also felt a certain personal kinship toward her, as my wife is Czech, and my daughter was born in Prague. As the father of a little Czech-American girl, I have often hoped that my daughter might have the same opportunities that Albright had.
I knew that I had to go. So I called in and got tickets to the event (which required purchasing her book).
The gathering in Coral Gables, as one might have predicted, turned out to be more akin to a rally for the Clinton wing of the Democratic party. Janet Reno, a Miami favorite daughter who got her own standing ovation (except from this blog), did the introduction.
When it came time for Q&A, Albright was blessed with one big, fat softball cream-puff question after another. Jabs at the Bush administration were enjoyed by nearly all. And, I swear to God, the man in front of me at the microphone asked, "Don't you worry that the war in Iraq is really about oil?"
It was a good thing that I was in the midst of five hundred people, in front of one of the most influential people in foreign affairs, and was forced to be on my best behavior. That, and the fact that I had left my umbrella at the door -- WHACK! But I digress...
I was one of the early questioners. I thought hard about what one question the Lizardoid Minions might wish for me to ask. So, after flattering Albright with a bit of Czech at the beginning, I said:
Although I am not Jewish, myself, I strongly support Israel as being the civilization that is in the vanguard of the global war on terrorism. Madam Secretary, in light of all that has happened since the beginning of the current Intifada in 2000, do you regret having had a role in inviting Yasir Arafat to the White House?
Her answer, which I am paraphrasing from memory, went something like this:
Let me first say that I spent far more time with Yasir Arafat than I ever imagined I would or wanted to. But do I regret it? No. And here's why. We had to show that we tried. We worked very hard and we offered Arafat the best deal that he will ever be offered, and he walked away from it. But nobody can ever say that we didn't try. The problem with Arafat is that he is simply not fit to be a courageous leader. He is more comfortable being a fighter, or what I call a "super victim." That is what makes him happy, being a super victim.
And this is why I think that what Israel is doing right now is wrong. When the Israeli government threatens to get rid of him, it allows him to step out in front of the cameras with his big smile, and blow kisses to the world press, all at a time when it seemed that he was being successfully marginalized.
Although I could understand her reasoning, I felt disappointed by her answer. It seemed to me to underscore the problem of just how do you win against Arafat? What are Israel's options? What's worse -- suffering a killer to remain in power while he hams it up for the world press, or putting an end to the murder of Israeli civilians? Her answer also failed to address the very real fact on the ground that suicide bombings have pretty much ceased since Israel threatened to kill Arafat. (Hey, maybe he can do something about Hamas, after all, eh?)
I was also disappointed by her views on the nature of terrorism. Several times, she alluded to the root causes of terrorism as being poverty, or possibly shame or frustration at the condition of one's society. Although she touched upon the subject of, as she put it, "how Islam has been hijacked by a radical fringe," she cushioned even that by remarking that "all religions have their extremists." As if radical Presbyterians could somehow be provoked by shame and humiliation into blowing up buses of schoolchildren, or flying jetliners into skyscrapers.
She was generous to the Saudis, saying that they more than any other government do more behind the scenes than they acknowledge in public. She prattled on about how it has always been in our national security interest to have "stability" in the Middle East.
Would that be the kind of "stability" in the Middle East that gave us 9/11? Oh, okay.
She also threw some gratuitous and intellectually dishonest accusations at the Bush administration. For example, she quipped that the administration recently denied that it had been saying that there was any connection between Saddam and al-Quaeda, "even though that's what they had been saying all along if I remember correctly." This simply misrepresents what the Bush administration has been saying. Before the war, it warned of increasing evidence of growing connections between Saddam's regime and al-Quaeda. That is a far cry from accusing Saddam of having had a role in 9/11, although most liberals seem unable to grasp the distinction, or simply don't want to because it's easier to distort and make things fit with your world view.
Of course, she was playing to the home crowd, which in this case had a strong showing from the women-in-comfortable-shoes wing of the Democratic party. Oh, did I say "Clinton wing?" Maybe they're the same thing. I could go on. (Did I mention that she was introduced by Janet Reno?) Anyway, the crowd lapped up the Bush bashing.
I left with the distinct impression that here was a woman of high intelligence, great wit, and enormous charm whose talents had nevertheless failed to bear fruit due to her willful blindness to the problem of Islam and terrorism, and perhaps due to an overdeveloped faith in multilateralism. Her apparent willingness to sacrifice intellectual rigor and insight on the altar of partisan politics did not sit well with me, either.