By David Pierce, courtesy of Broadside
Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright spoke at a foreign policy town hall meeting, sponsored by presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign, Saturday in Dewberry Hall. She was part of a three-person panel that included terrorism expert Richard Clarke and Rep. Jane Harman (D.-Calif.)
Albright, 71, introduced herself as a life-long scholar of national security policy and expressed her opinion about the current global scene. “I don’t think I have ever seen the world in such a mess and that is a diplomatic term,” Albrigh saidt.
Albright outlined major foreign policy issues that she felt the next president has to face once elected. She explained that the country needs to fight terrorism without creating more terrorists in the process, placing blame on the Bush administration. “Even former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said we were creating more terrorists,” Albright said, adding “not everybody who dislikes us is part of Al Qaeda.”
The former secretary of state claimed our nonproliferation system was broken. She said that the original agreement was that nations with nuclear arms should disarm, while those who do not have nuclear weapons should not acquire them. “Both sides of that bargain have been broken,” said Albright. She felt that the United States has not disarmed and that North Korea has exploded a nuclear weapon, both occurring while President Bush has been in office.
Albright also expressed concern regarding the negative aspects of globalization, especially the expanding gap between the rich and the poor. She felt that the recent financial crisis affecting the global stock market was of major concern to the next president, as well as the importance of talking to our enemies as a diplomatic tool.
“When President Obama suggests we talk to Iran, it is a sign of strength, not of weakness,” explained Albright. She had some advice for President Bush, “You don’t say to a country ‘I won’t talk to you until you do all of the things that we are actually going to talk about,’” said Albright, “which is what is going on now [in the Bush administration].”
Harman assured the audience of the capability of Senators Obama (D-Il.) and Joe Biden (D-Del.), if elected. “Democratic women and men understand security issues,” claimed Harman adding “It’s a slam dunk for Obama-Biden.” She also criticized the Bush administration’s handling of the September 11 terrorist attacks and the war in Iraq. “We’ve had seven years to capture, or kill, Osama bin Laden,” said Harman, “[Instead we] went into Iraq, and took our eye off the ball.”
Clark began his speech by emphasizing the importance of Virginia in the 2008 general election. “This is the battleground state,” exclaimed Clarke, “We could be the pivot of this election.” He expressed his support for Obama by saying that he was right for calling for a troop withdrawal timetable, an action that was opposed by the White House. “The Bush administration just agreed to a withdrawal timetable with the Iraqi government,” said Clarke.
Albright and Clarke both criticized Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain (R.-Ariz.) “I very much want to see a confident president, rather than a certain president,” said Albright. Richard Clarke questioned McCain’s judgment. “When McCain was singing about bombing Iran,” Clarke said, “Obama was suggesting that we use something called diplomacy first.”
Questions were briefly accepted from the audience as the event neared conclusion. When asked about Republican claims that Obama does not have the experience required to become President, Albright immediately replied “I’ll start by saying they are totally wrong.” She further explained that Obama is a person of incredible judgment and wisdom. “He knows the difference between the Sunnis and the Shias [in Iraq],” said Albright, adding “he has also served very well on the foreign relations committee.”
Immediate feedback from audience members after the speech concluded was varied. Ian Cook, a Vienna resident, said “I was more taken by Richard Clarke.” Cook also expressed criticism of Albright’s support of Obama, saying that the other panelists supported the Democratic presidential nominee more than she did.
Jim Pflieger, a Fairfax resident, was very pleased with Albright’s speech. “I wish I could’ve gotten a CD of [her] speech to use it to convert independents over to Obama… She had a very convincing argument.”
When Oscar Ramirez, the Virginia policy director for the Obama campaign, asked at the beginning of the event if there were any undecided voters in the audience, three hands were raised. By the conclusion of the event, one of those voters claimed to have decided to vote for Senator Obama.