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I-House Remembers Madeleine Albright

International House notes with sorrow the passing of Madeleine K. Albright, who in 2002 spent the better part of a day meeting and lunching with I-House residents and alumni as the 2002 George C. Marshall Visitor. In honor of Albright, we resurface this account of her visit as penned by staff writer Phuong Tran, who separately reported about Albright’s interaction with Alex Mitro ’03, then a Resident Fellow studying at Columbia Business School.

Madeleine Albright Engages in Lively Q&A With I-House Residents

Chairman Paul Volcker introduced the 2002 George C. Marshall Visitor, Madeleine Albright, to resident members and invited guests as someone who always spoke her mind. And this former Secretary of State lived up to the introduction in a Q&A moderated by International House Trustee Fareed Zakaria.

The first female US Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, addressed I-House in 2002.

Albright had no diplomatic filters on when addressing the Middle East peace process (“If Rabin was a lubricant to the process, Netanyahu was sandpaper.”), holding little back on her personal impressions of the leaders involved (“I’m really tired of these two bitter old men [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat] not being able to see the larger picture in terms of their own people.”).

From Iraq to Afghanistan, the Saudi government’s treatment of internal dissidents and unjustified uses of force, Albright answered resident members’ political and personal questions. What was it like to be a female diplomat in the Arab world? How does one become US Secretary of State? Is the rise in anti-American sentiments justified? How do you sell internationalism when there are some very strong reservoirs of skepticism in the United States?

Albright’s response to this last question forms one pillar of the International House mission: “You have to have leaders who believe in it and can talk about it in a sustained way.”

For Albright, as for International House, the quest for international understanding is often complicated by politics, miscommunication, and poor timing, but a necessary challenge to undertake for long-term change.

Albright shared moments of levity during otherwise somber situations, and her secret negotiating tactic.

“I had an advantage over every previous Secretary of State in the act of diplomatic kissing,” she said, to which moderator Zakaria commented, “The things you tried to do for peace.”


Residents Meet Madeleine Albright at I-House

It was the first time Alex Mitro was in the same room, at the same table, with a high-ranking government official. And what a more appropriate official than former US Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, who shared Alex Mitro’s birthplace: Czechoslovakia.

He had a chance to ask this former US government foreign policy advisor what she thought of Slovakia’s chances for admission to NATO, to which she replied, “I personally told Prime Minister Meciar that it was because of him that Slovakia did not get into NATO,” referring to Slovakia’s exclusion from the first NATO expansion in 1997, in part due to Meciar’s anti-democratic actions.

But seated at the head table with Albright and other resident members, Alex discovered a stark contrast between the government official who didn’t mince words in her meetings with international leaders, and the personable, relaxed lunch partner he was seated with.

Before the luncheon and her speech, Albright had also met with residents in small group setting. On both of these occasions, residents interacted with a former carpool mom, a wife who was advised against and didn’t pursue journalism in the early 1960s because it would not be good for her husband’s career if she worked at a competing newspaper.

The resident members found in Albright a mentor who advised them to take incremental steps in their professional lives, because one never knows where these steps can lead.

Read Alex Mitro’s blog post about this experience on LinkedIn.