Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was raised Catholic, but in her 50s she learned her parents were Jewish and that many of her relatives died in the Holocaust. Her family fled to England and narrowly escaped Nazi tanks when she was a toddler. In her new memoir, “Prague Winter,” Albright explores her family history and the story of the birth of Czechoslovakia.

Interview Highlights

On Syria

"The bottom line here is that our democratic processes may not be exactly the ones that suit them. I do think that people want to be able to make decisions about their own lives. I've always believed that we're all the same and everybody does what to make decisions about their own lives. I am very worried about what's going on in Syria, not only in terms of the number of Syrians that have been killed already but the refugee camps. That are in many ways a great burden on Jordan and on Turkey, and the danger of what's happening in Syria spreading to other parts — spreading to Jordan, Lebanon, and then the part that is most worrisome is the role of Iran in all of this.

According to some things I've read there are enough weapons in there, that isn't the issue, in terms of where I think we are doing the right thing, is providing non-lethal assistance, and the U.S. has been very generous on that, to the refugees and the opposition groups in terms of supporting them as they try to figure out how to make it clear to Assad that it's time for him to go."

On What Tools a President Can Use for National Security

"What is it that a president has in that toolbox that he or she can work with in order to change the behavior of a country? There's not a lot in the toolbox. There's diplomacy — bilateral and multilateral, which were about to try again in Kazakhstan next week, there are the economic tools, which are carrots like aid and trade and sticks like sanctions, there's the threat of the use of force, the use of force, law enforcement and intelligence. And the bottom line is that the president has made clear that containment is not a policy, and that all the options, i.e., all the tools are on the table [with Iran]."

On Hilary Clinton and Benghazi

"Well, I think she's answered every question that's come up. The thing that's very hard, and I identify with this is — I loved being Secretary of State. Everybody who knows me knows that. Except on August 7, 1998 when our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were blown up. And we also had one of those review boards, and the Secretary of State is always ultimately responsible for what goes on, but the bottom line is that clearly there were some failures along the way, and I think she has answered everything that she can about it.

More and more we have to figure out how to make it possible for our embassy officials to be able to do their work, which means not sitting behind high walls and fortress-like embassies and at the same time keeping them safe. And so that is the challenge for diplomacy at this time in the 21st century."

On Drones

"Well, I think like everything it's a complicated subject and let me just say, we talked earlier about Kosovo. And we in Kosovo decided, President Clinton had said no boots on the ground, and so what we were doing in the end, was in air war. And there were a number of people who said, 'This is immoral. You should have boots on the ground.' And I thought ' Why did we need to get our people killed in order to stop the killing that Milosevic was doing to the Kosovars. But there were questions about an air war. So in many ways the drone is kind of an extension of some of that.

I do think that [drones have] been effective. It is a way for people that have been trying to kill us to be removed.

I do think however, that there a great many questions about it, about how decisions are made. I am sure it is not an easy decision for President Obama to make.

I think thought that most people though would like us to eliminate those that are trying to kill us and what is the most effective way…I fully agree with the transparency aspect and the need to have a public discussion about this. "

On Not Killing Osama bin Laden

“I can tell you, this was not with drones but with cruise missiles, remember we talked about our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania being attacked, at that time we knew it was Osama bin Laden and we were making decisions about launching cruise missiles into Afghanistan to get him.

And what would happen is that you would get intelligence that a tall person dressed in white was in a particular building and then you would find out that there were women and children in it, and we desisted. So it is one of those really difficult issues…”

On Climate Change

"First of all, we began on a lot of the climate change discussion with the Kyoto protocols and tried to figure out how in fact to move with the Chinese in order to change the dimension of it. I do think President Obama has made it clear that he wants to push harder for climate change in the second term, he talked about it in his inaugural address, which was very important that he put it in there.

I also do know that Secretary Kerry is very interested in climate change. He's a very good friend of mine, he lives around the corner and we have often talked about climate change issues. He is committed to it. I think the combination of the presidents push on it and Secretary Kerry's I think we will see some action on it."

On Comparing The Arab Spring and Prague Spring

At that time, what happened in Central and Eastern Europe was a desire to have identification with the West, to be Europeans, and I think that in the Arab world that has not been a motivating factor.

What is similar is how hard it is. And that we think of Democratization as an event when it's actually a process, and it takes a long time. Even after 200 years in the United States we see it as a process, we have moments that are better than others."

On What She is Most Proud Of

"The thing I am most proud of as Secretary of State is what we were able to do in Kosovo. I knew quite a lot about the former Yugoslavia, my father having been the Czechoslovakian ambassador there when I was a little girl, and an awful lot, generally, about the Balkans, and then what we did, we saw what was happening, in terms ethnic cleansing to the Kosovars, and how to really use American power, in order to stop this kind of ethnic cleaning. It wasn't easy to do in any number of ways, first of all because there was a question in the U.S. government in terms of whether we should do it and internationally the Russians were going to veto a UN mandate, but we managed to go in with NATO.

In the beginning everything went wrong, we bombed the Chinese embassy by mistake, and a variety of things, but now when go back to Kosovo, there's a generation of little girls whose first name is Madeleine and people are very grateful for what we did."

Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State (from 1997-2001 during the Clinton administration), and author of "Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948"

  • The main thing about Benghazi: The Republicans are INSANE!!! I mean, yes, it was a disaster. Mistakes were made, security was insufficient, and wrong information was disseminated. And 4 Americans were killed. So it is true that this was not well-handled by the Government at all. So this is going to be the only thing that matters?

    To make it so political and to be so relentless, even after an election where this issue had no traction with the people, is just ridiculous.They are absolute hypocrites!

  • thucy

    I lived in a neighborhood in NY with a lot of Yugoslav expats in the 1990’s.
    Serb or Muslim, they were skeptical about American bombing. They claimed that our claim that hospitals were hiding Serb militia was, to put it politely, nonsense.
    I still like and support Albright, but… I’ll maintain my Eastern European skepticism about American military “intelligence”.

  • thucy

    OMG, Michael, re your comment on visiting Prague, what you don’t know or respect about the very different experiences of Eastern and Central Europeans during and post- WWII!!!
    I’m worried you’ve ingested too many Spielberg movies!

  • jayson

    i just returned from living in prague for 14 months. this ‘shadow’ that looms in the 30+ czechs from communism is, i believe, a microcosmic example of what will happen in most nations, especially those reforming and revolutionizing their nations. in 20-40 more years, it will be interesting to see this shadow recede after generations directly affected by it have passed on. na zdravi!

    • thucy

      shadow or no shadow, Czech math scores are in the top ten of nations. USA is… #24. (We’re number twenty-four, yay!) I guess we all have our shadows… How do literacy rates in the two countries differ?

      • jayson

        way true thucy. don’t know about literacy but i’d say theirs is good. the usa has many of the same problems but in many cases ours are worse…ie: the corruption etc. we have a much bigger scale lol

  • Cheryl Longinotti

    My reading of Prague Winter left me with great concerns about the
    fragility of democracy generally and especially in today’s USA. Please ask Sec Albright to comment.

    I also want to thank her for providing such a clear and riveting history of great grandparents’ homeland.

  • 1PeterDuMont2STARALLIANCE8

    Madame Secretary: You mentioned you have always been interested in the role of the media in social change. Would you support an effort to organize global broadcast media powers to pool their resources, on a regular schedule, for the purpose of truly global town meetings? It would seem that such an effort is an unused, or certainly underused “tool” in the toolbox of “We, the People” worldwide.

  • jayson

    its true many young czechs arer rather ignorant of their history, and many of them are even opting toward voting for communist officials because of the cynicism with the corruption in their gov’t. its very sad. but i would say the majority of my kamradky are very open minded and educated. but this is generally in the over 30 crowd. thank you for taking my call! hezky den a st’asny cestou!

  • By the way, Kerry already sailed through. 3 Senators voted against him (the extremists from Texas and the wacko Inhofe from Oklahoma). Hagel’s pick is opposed by the neocons and the right-wing Jewish lobby. (The broader pro-Israel lobby is somewhat sitting this one out, allowing Democrats to fully support Hagel.)

  • jayson

    great segment! wish i could chat more with Mdm Secretary more about praha over a nefiltrovany gambrinus 😀 moc dekuju

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