Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was a small child when her family fled Czechoslovakia just after the Nazi invasion. A half century later she learned she had Jewish ancestry and that many of her relatives perished in the Holocaust. As secretary of state in the Clinton administration, she was an advocate for victims of tyranny. In a new book, she writes about her Czech roots and family history – and how that affected her world view. Albright and veteran foreign policy adviser Bruce Riedel discuss America’s role on the global stage and U.S. policy toward fledgling democracies today.
- Bruce Riedel senior fellow, Brookings Institution; 30-year CIA veteran; a senior foreign policy adviser to four U.S. presidents as a member of the National Security Council; former deputy assistant secretary of Defense for the Near East and South Asia.
- Secretary Madeleine Albright chair of Albright Stonebridge Group, a global strategy firm, and chair of Albright Capital Management LLC, an investment advisory firm focused on emerging markets; secretary of state in the Clinton administration; author of a new book, "Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. U.S. intervention in World War II was critical to defeating fascism in Europe, but Americans debated long and hard about whether to intervene. Today, the nation faces similar challenges as political turmoil rocks the Middle East and democracy advocates take on repressive regimes there and elsewhere. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has a new book about how her family in native Czechoslovakia experienced Hitler's tyranny. She joins us from a studio in Boston.
MS. DIANE REHMHere in Washington with me in the studio, former national security adviser Bruce Riedel, now at the Brookings Institution. They'll talk about America's role in the world. I hope you'll join in, 800-433-8850. If you'd prefer, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to you, Madam Secretary, and good morning to you, Bruce Riedel.
MR. BRUCE RIEDELGood morning.
SECRETARY MADELEINE ALBRIGHTHi, Diane. Good morning. Hi, Bruce.
REHMAnd before we begin our discussion, I have the great pleasure to tell you that, later today, President Barack Obama will announce that Madeleine Albright, the first female U.S. secretary of state, will become the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Medal of Freedom is the nation's highest civilian honor presented to individuals who've made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interest of the United States, to world peace or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
REHMAnd here is the statement that President Obama has made: "Madeleine Albright made history as the first woman to serve as secretary of state, and her life story is an inspiration to all Americans. Today, her scholarship and insight continue to make the world a better, more peaceful place. I look forward to awarding her with the Medal of Freedom, and she will be receiving the Medal of Freedom in a ceremony in the coming weeks." Madam Secretary, congratulations.
ALBRIGHTOh, well, thank you so much, Diane. I am so honored. I am grateful for being an American and grateful for having been given the opportunity to serve. So I -- I'm -- I can't tell you how pleased I am, and thank you so much for announcing it.
REHMWell, I have the great pleasure to announce it. And I must say I'm looking at this photograph of a very, very young Madeleine Albright on the cover of your new book, "Prague Winter," this tiny, little, shy girl who's smiling. Tell me about that photograph.
ALBRIGHTWell, the photograph was taken in England during World War II, shortly after we had arrived from Czechoslovakia. My father was a Czechoslovak diplomat who, when the Nazis marched in in March 1939, was able to get out and to -- with my mother and me to go to England to join the government in exile. And we lived in England all through the war, through the bombing and the Blitz, and were very happy to return back to Czechoslovakia in May 1945 when it was liberated. So -- but that's how I looked during the war. I was a very proper little English girl at that point.
REHMWell, I know that when you were being interviewed about being secretary of state, that's when the whole revelation of your Jewish background emerged. Tell us how that made you feel.
ALBRIGHTWell, the chronology of it is kind of interesting. What happened was that, when I became ambassador to the United Nations and became more of a public figure, there was many profiles of me, and all of a sudden I started getting letters from people who said they knew my family. But the facts were wrong, or they were hard to read. They would say that -- some connections, but the dates were wrong, and the names were wrong.
ALBRIGHTAnd finally, in November 1996, I got a letter in which all the names and dates and places were right, and it said, we know that your family was a fine Jewish family. And that's exactly when I was being vetted to be secretary of state. And the vetter said, is there anything about you that we don't know that you might want to tell us? And I said, well, I don't know for sure, but I think I'm of Jewish heritage. And they said, so what? The president isn't anti-Semitic.
ALBRIGHTAnd so over the holidays, I spent time telling my children about it, who thought that it added to the complexity and interest in the whole family story. But it wasn't until I was confirmed that Michael Dobbs of The Washington Post had done a lot of research and found not just that I was Jewish but that, in fact, major numbers of my family members had died during the Holocaust. And it was a stunning shock. I mean, it's one thing to find out you're Jewish.
ALBRIGHTIt's another to find out how many people died as a result of that. And the only way I can describe it, Diane, is like being asked to represent your country in a marathon and then been given a very heavy package and told to unwrap it as you run. And while now we have had two other women secretaries of state, there really were questions as to a woman could be secretary of state. So all that was happening at the same time, which is why I decided I wanted to write the book, to kind of go back and sort the story out.
REHMI'm glad you did. And as secretary of state, you learned that the Germans actually knew your family's address in England. Was your family at risk?
ALBRIGHTWell, I suppose everybody was, you know? I think my father was in charge of the Czech broadcast over BBC all through the war. And he broadcast a lot to the resistance, and he was very much a part of the government in exile. And I imagine that they probably had the addresses of everybody. And -- but we were not so much at risk from that as we were at risk from bombing. I mean, I spent a lot of time in air-raid shelters during the Blitz in London and then later out in the country where we were bombed and my father was an air-raid warden. And that was the risk, was the V1 and the V2 bombs.
REHMMm hmm. And, finally, tell us about Milena Deimlova.
ALBRIGHTWell, she was a cousin of mine. And this is one -- one of the things I talk about, Diane, in addition to the personal story and the history, was the difficulty of certain decisions. And my father's sister had two children. One was an older cousin -- her name was Dasha -- and this younger one, Milena. And what happened was that there was this amazing British man who came and set up a train called the Winton Train to get Jewish children out of Czechoslovakia.
ALBRIGHTAnd I learned all this later is -- from my cousin Dasha, both the children were scheduled to be on the train. And at the last minute, Milena -- their parents decided that she was too young to go. And so they kept her back with the idea that she was too young, and they wanted to protect her. But the horrendous irony was that she then died in the concentration camp. And she's especially touching. There are pictures of her, which I found by accident. And then she herself did drawings -- she was at Terezin, and she did drawings, which are now exhibited at the Jewish Museum in Prague.
REHMMm hmm. Madeleine Albright, former secretary of state, author of a new book titled "Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1938." I do hope you'll join us, 800-433-8850. Bruce Riedel, turning to you, when all of this kerfuffle, if you will, about Madeleine Albright's heritage and background came out, what was your reaction?
RIEDELWell, first of all, I'd like to congratulate the secretary. I think this is a thrill to be here today on the day that the president has awarded her this Medal of Freedom. I can't think of anyone who deserves it better than Madeleine Albright. I knew the secretary even then. I'd actually worked with her as ambassador to the United Nations, and we'd actually traveled around the globe together in order to keep sanctions in place on Iraq during the mid-1990s.
RIEDELShe faced a formidable challenge being the first woman to be secretary of state of the United States in a time where the world was in transition, just as it is today. And this was one more little thing that would make her transition more difficult, but I think she carried it off beautifully. And I think that's one of the reasons the president gave her this award today.
REHMSo your own personal reaction to the revelation was what?
RIEDELWell, I thought this added more complexity and even more an interesting story. Secretary Albright represents the European generation that came to the United States in the wake of World War II, and she brought unique perspectives as a Czech citizen, a Czech refugee. And then on top of it, she brings unique perspectives as a person whose family had suffered so grievously in the Holocaust. This is American stories. These are the kinds of things that make America the special place that it is.
REHMAnd, Madam Secretary, how did your children react to the news?
ALBRIGHTWell, first of all, Bruce, thank you for your very kind words. It was always nice to work with you. And we continue to collaborate on any number of things. My children -- two different parts -- the initial part about whether we were Jewish or not, they found interesting, but they -- then when they heard about the concentration camps, one of them said, I now understand why grandma was so protective of us, why we -- she had to see us all the time.
REHMWow. Madeleine Albright, and we'll take a short break here and be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. If you've just joined us, Madeleine Albright, former secretary of state, has written a personal story of remembrance and war from 1937 to 1948. It's titled "Prague Winter." She's on the line with us from Boston. Here in the studio, Bruce Riedel. He is senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a 30-year CIA veteran, a senior foreign policy adviser to four U.S. presidents as a member of the National Security Council.
REHMMadam Secretary, you write about the flawed inspection of the International Committee of the Red Cross at the Nazi concentration camp Terezin in Czechoslovakia. The U.N. has monitors in Syria today. How do you believe or do you believe that monitors can make a difference?
ALBRIGHTI do believe that monitors can make a difference, but there really is a lesson from the Terezin experience. The Nazis were trying to prove that the place was really just a lovely kind of camp and spa, and they set up a completely phony situation. And a group of Red Cross inspectors went in and were totally unprepared. They did not know what they should even be looking for. They didn't ask the right questions, and they basically whitewashed the whole thing.
ALBRIGHTAnd for me, the lesson out of that, and generally for monitors, is that they can't just take things at face value, that they have to be prepared before they go in, and they have to prepared to tell the truth and say what they see and use the power of the international eye, so to speak, in order to make clear what has to be done and what has to be seen.
REHMAnd, Bruce Riedel, you have decades of experience in this foreign policy arena advising presidents. What is your assessment of Syria today?
RIEDELThe Syrian problem today is a historic one. This is an extremely repressive regime. In 1982, Bashar Assad's father, Hafez al-Assad, killed 20,000 people in the city of Hama. I was in Syria then. At that time, the world knew very little about what was going on. We didn't have the Internet. We didn't have Twitter. We didn't have Facebook. Today, the world knows what's going on, and the U.N. has been able to put observers in there. I'm not very confident that the observers are going to end this conflict, but I think they put a spotlight on what the Assad regime is doing.
REHMWhat are they able to do as observers?
RIEDELWell, first of all, they need to have a lot more than they have now because if you only have a couple of dozen, you can't cover a country the size of Syria.
REHMAnd they're talking about sending 300.
RIEDELThree hundred's a minimum. They're going to need more than that. Syria's a big country. And this is a conflict which has spread throughout the entire country. The more observers you can have, you can permanently put people in Hama, Deir ez-Zor or Daraa and other places so that it's harder and harder for the regime to carry out its brutal repression without the U.N. being there. But the U.N. observers alone are not going to stop this conflict.
RIEDELThere are going to have to be more and more pressure on the Assad regime, diplomatic pressure, economic pressure, financial pressure. And it may ultimately need some military pressure in order to get this regime to stop doing what it's doing.
REHMAnd that, of course, is the question, Madam Secretary. Many have called for military intervention by the U.S. and the U.N. in Syria, as it did in Libya. What is your view?
ALBRIGHTWell, I think that what is very important about Syria today is that the international community is putting the kind of pressure on -- Bruce was talking about in terms of economic sanctions, diplomatic isolation, pushing to make clear that what is going on there is unacceptable. No tool should ever be taken off the table, including the use of force. But I think it's very important to keep tightening the screws here, have that there as a possibility.
ALBRIGHTBut the bottom line is, is that Assad is finished, and the question is when he realizes it, and I think we have to keep the options on the table. But we -- what I am interested in at the moment is the capability of the international community to stay focused on this and to keep putting pressure on. There's disappointment at the moment in the way that the Russians and Chinese are reacting, and I hope that, in fact, there is really united international pressure here.
REHMOf course, you say that Hafez al-Assad is finished. Is he really, Madam Secretary?
ALBRIGHTWell, I -- Bashar Assad is...
ALBRIGHT...I think. I mean, he -- you can't -- part of the issue here is that a leader of a country cannot go around killing his own people and expect to stay in power. I think that the question is when the reality sets in, and also, frankly, what is -- what are going to be the actions of some of the people around him. He is being supported by a group that had supported his father, Hafez Assad.
ALBRIGHTAnd I think that the question then becomes how long it takes for reality to set in. But there's no way, at least from my perspective, that he can have a legitimate government in this place given that he is killing his people.
REHMBruce, what about the role of Turkey? How important a role could it play?
RIEDELI think Turkey is probably the single most important country in this drama. Turkey has a long border with Syria. Turkey has a military, which is quite capable, and Turkey has a great deal at stake here. Already, refugees are flowing across the border into Turkey. Turkey risks being destabilized if this conflict goes on endlessly in Syria next door. The other Arab countries say they want to see change, some of them -- Saudi Arabia, Egypt and others -- but they don't really have any capability to do much.
REHMSo what do you think Turkey could do?
RIEDELI think Turkey needs to gradually continue to do what it's doing, which is step up the pressure on the Assad regime and demand that the violence cease and that the U.N. observers and U.N. peacekeepers at some point be allowed to control and monitor events in the country. It's going to be difficult to do. The Assad family is fighting for its life, so is the minority Alawite community, which they draw their support from.
RIEDELThis is -- in addition to being a conflict between revolutionaries who want a more democratic and free Syria, it's also a sectarian conflict between the minority Alawite sect and the majority Sunni sect. It's a very confused and complex conflict. It reminds me a lot of Bosnia and the Balkans back in the 1990s. And if that memory helps you to look at this, this is going to be a confused and complex problem to try to resolve.
REHMBut the other problem is that you have Syrian refugees crossing the border into Turkey, these huge camps that have been set up for these refugees. And now, Turkey is beginning to wonder what it's gotten itself into.
RIEDELWell, and the Turks have also provided support for Free Syrian Army, allowed it to use Turkish territories as a sanctuary and a safe haven. And I suspect that there's also arm starting to float to that Free Syrian Army from various sources around the region. Turkey can't walk away from this. Geography is relentless on these things. The Turks have this problem next door. Turkey is, in many ways, a role model for the new democratic movements in the Middle East.
RIEDELIt has demonstrated that an Islamic country can move towards democracy and remain an Islamic country at the same time. And as a role model, sometimes you have to take on very difficult tasks, and I think the Turkish government is going to find that this problem won't go away, and it's going to have to become more and more deeply involved.
REHMMadam Secretary, how do see Turkey's role?
ALBRIGHTWell, I agree that it is absolutely crucial here. It is playing a larger and larger role diplomatically in a number of places. And as we now know, Prime Minister Erdogan and President Obama are in contact in a variety of different ways, and people are really counting on Turkey to play the role that Bruce described. I think that they are in a tough spot because, in fact, all these refugees are coming in.
ALBRIGHTThere are discussions about setting up humanitarian safe zones to try to deal with the refugees. And then also, the international community providing a variety of non-lethal assistance and communications equipment, and the Turks are very much part of that. I'd like to go back on something that Bruce said in terms of this being like Bosnia. I think it is in many, many ways, but much more complicated because, as he put it, geography. Syria is in a much more dangerous location.
ALBRIGHTAnd whatever happens there can explode much more into the region than we ever even contemplated in the Balkans, which was strategically important also. And so it -- Syria is neither exactly like Bosnia, nor like Libya. And part of the issue here is looking at the various facts that are involved, what the risks are of doing and not doing something, and understanding that this is, in fact, one of the most important changes that we've seen in the region and one that really plays into the whole issue of the Arab awakening.
ALBRIGHTAnd this is a very, very important set of decisions that the president is going to have to make.
REHMOf course, there was so much optimism about the so-called Arab awakening, the Arab Spring. There has been criticism of the Obama administration that it has not been activist enough as that Arab awakening has unfolded. How do you react to that, Secretary Albright?
ALBRIGHTWell, I don't think that's right. I think that part of the problem is there has been a big misunderstanding, I think, as far as what really happened. It's -- now, we went through a winter, so the spring is over. It's an Arab awakening. A lot of people compared it to what was going on in Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall -- very different. That was a change in which the populations specifically wanted to be identified with the West. They had been cut off by the Iron Curtain, and they wanted to have a different relationship with the rest of Europe.
ALBRIGHTThis is a group of people, much of which the motivating factor has been economic, lack of dignity, lack of jobs. And I think a mistake was made in thinking that this would be the spring. It would be short. It would be resolved. This is going to be one of the long stories that we live with, and I think that the Obama administration is dealing with it in exactly the appropriate way, being helpful where we can be and dealing with the regional powers that have a great stake in it.
REHMAnd, Bruce Riedel, President Obama has also been criticized by some for not doing more to help Iran's Green Movement. What are your thoughts?
RIEDELI don't think that that criticism holds a lot of water. I think President Obama has kept his focus on what matters most for Americans, which is trying to dissuade Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability. And he's had a lot of accomplishments on that front. The United Nations passed two years ago a complete arms embargo on Iran -- unprecedented to see something like that.
RIEDELNow, we're seeing more and more economic sanctions being put on Iran. And we've seen the Iranians finally come back to the negotiating table. It'll be very interesting to see the next time the Iranians sit down, whether they're prepared to start getting serious now about finding a way to end this conflict short of military war.
REHMBruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have many callers. I want to open the phones, 800-433-8850. First to Charlotte, N.C. Good morning, Steve. You're on the air.
STEVEGood morning. How are you?
REHMFine. Thank you.
STEVEI have a question for Madeleine Albright. My family rescued 28 German Jews, my grandfather, my great grandfather. At the same time, they were small-town Indiana retailers, and it was very much their wish to assimilate and to fit in. So by the time my mother and I came along, we were Presbyterian. And I wonder, with the fact that came to light 12 or 13 years ago in Mrs. Albright's personal life, when you have a personal identity of such strong Jewish heritage, how does that sort of inform you?
STEVEDid it make you all the more resolved against terror and hate worldwide? What were some of your personal feelings as far as your identity and your family's heritage? How did that change, if anything, your feelings or your personal identity to those who suffer worldwide?
ALBRIGHTWell, thank you very much, Steve. I think that a lot -- part of my book is about identity. I was 59 years old by the time that I found all this out. And so I tried to figure out really who I am. And who I am is an American and a -- somebody that was raised a Catholic, that is an Episcopalian by marriage and a Democrat, big D, small D, a mother, grandmother, somebody who does deeply care about what is happening to people around the world. So I am indivisible in many ways in just the way America is. And so I -- and the question that you've asked is one that I've asked myself a lot.
ALBRIGHTI actually spent a lot of time being worried about what was happening to people as a result of brutality and barbarism before I knew about my Jewish background. Bruce was mentioning Bosnia. That was when I was at the U.N. before I knew about it. So this is something that has been very much a part of me, I think, probably coming from a small country in the middle of Europe that was brutalized by the Nazis.
ALBRIGHTAnd so the Jewish part of it has just added to the story and made me feel even stronger. And I do think that it is important to care. I just finished doing a task force with former Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen on how to prevent genocide. And President Obama, on Monday, at the Holocaust Museum, announced that we are going to be dealing with it in a more systematic way within the U.S. government. So I continue to push and be concerned and know that that is something that Americans have to care about.
REHMAll right. To Dallas, Texas. Good morning, Adam. You're on the air.
ADAMHello, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
ADAMI sort of wanted to pose this question to the secretary. She said something that I think we have a little bit in common, that she was from a small country in Eastern Europe that was being brutalized by a foreign power. And I'm from a small country in the Middle East that we feel is being brutalized by a foreign power, namely Israel, in Palestinian. And in 1996, I think she said something.
ADAMI know it sort of got taken back along the course of the question, but she said that -- when posed the question about the 50,000 Iraqi children who had died as a result of U.S. sanctions, that she had believed that it was worth the price for the United States. I'm just wondering, if that -- the sanctions, in retrospect for everything that's happened, I mean, in the last 12 years -- if her perspective on that has changed at all.
REHMAll right. And, Adam, we're going to have to take a short break. And when we come back, Madeleine Albright will address your question. Just hold on.
REHMAnd now, Secretary Albright, if you'd like to respond to that question you heard from Dallas, Texas.
ALBRIGHTYes. Thank you. I have many times taken responsibility for having made a really stupid statement at the time in terms of saying that the children's lives were worth it -- obviously not. But I think that what happened, and Bruce was talking about it earlier, the sanctions regimes that we had against Iraq's Saddam Hussein were because he had brutalized his own people and had invaded another country.
ALBRIGHTAnd he would not allow food and medicine into Iraq so that those children could be fed. I think that what is very important is sanctions are a method of dealing with dictators and those who are trying to break the law. And we have learned a lot in terms of how to make sanctions regimes be smarter, as we've said, and more targeted and to make sure that children are not the ones who suffer.
REHMBruce Riedel, here's a question for you. People who know Afghanistan well have suggested that the American presence there is brutally disruptive of that society. Is there any justification for continuing the American presence?
RIEDELI think so. United States went to Afghanistan in 2001 because we were attacked from Afghanistan by al-Qaida. But since we've been there, we've also been able to do a great deal of good. I know it's often lost in the media reports of mistakes that we've made, but let me give you one. When the United States went in in 2001, there were about 100,000 Afghan children in school. Today, there's over 8 million Afghan children in school, 3 million-plus of them women.
RIEDELIn 2001, there wasn't a single girl in Afghanistan getting an education. We've done other things. We've helped bring cellphone technology to Afghanistan, which is really revolutionary in a country where most people, for thousands of years, never had a chance to interact with the world outside of their own valley. Now they're interacting with the entire world.
REHMAnd what do you think could happen if and when U.S. troops leave Afghanistan?
RIEDELWell, President Obama, three years ago, embarked on a five-year program to build up the Afghan army to be strong enough to be able to deal with the Taliban insurgency without American combat troops. We're two years from the end of that, and I think we're on track. It's not going to be pretty. It's not going to be easy. It's going to be messy. The Afghan civil war is likely to continue.
RIEDELBut the forces that we have backed, the legitimate, democratically-elected, internally-recognized government will be able of dealing with the Taliban insurgency with a minimum amount of outside help, and that's about as good an outcome as we can get today.
REHMAll right. To Jacksonville, Fla., good morning, Larry.
LARRYGood morning, Diane. Thank you very much for taking my call.
LARRYAnd I have to say it's an honor to be in this conversation with Madam Secretary Albright and Mr. Riedel. My question is more for the madam secretary. And my question regards to the role of the secretary of state having been filled by -- the position filled by three women in the past two decades and how that role -- as a woman, how that role affects the U.S. effect on changes happening in the Middle East in these governments that aren't necessarily -- they don't necessarily treat their women very fairly, shall we say.
ALBRIGHTWell, it's interesting you should ask that because when my name came up to be secretary of state, the question really was whether a woman could be and especially given what was going on in the Middle East, the Arab world and the role of women. And one of my first trips was, in fact, to the region with the Gulf Cooperation Council, and I had no problems with them and said that we, in fact, would have to deal with women's rights. And I raise the issue every single time.
ALBRIGHTI think the issue as to whether a woman can be secretary of state has been laid to rest. I think -- as my granddaughter who turned seven a couple of years ago said, so what's the big deal about Grandma Maddie being secretary of state? Only girls are secretary of state.
REHMThat's great thought on her part. Now, to Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Norman, you're on the air.
NORMANGood morning, everybody, and, Madam Secretary, what a treat it is to talk to you, especially at this time around Passover. My father of blessed memory was part of the group that got the Jews of Vienna out as the Nazis were coming in. And one family was important enough in our life that my wonderful niece has named her daughter after Adele.
NORMANMy question to you is, now that you've found out that you're Jewish, are you -- have you entertained any thoughts about becoming Jewish? I mean, besides being Jewish by heritage, have you thought about it? And if so, I'm a musician, and I want to play your bat mitzvah.
ALBRIGHTWell, I have to say I have, but, you know, it's a little hard when you're as old as I am to change completely. But you can come and play at my grandson's bar mitzvah. He is -- lives out in San Francisco, is being raised Jewish. We're getting all ready for that. And during this amazing season where Easter and Passover really came together, I went and spent a wonderful seder with David Rabbi Saperstein. And then I have a farm out in Virginia, so I went to Easter sunrise services in Harpers Ferry.
REHMOh, how perfect.
ALBRIGHTSo I'm combining every piece of religion, and I so believe in God. And so this is how I'm working with this.
REHMAnd here's a caller in Bethesda, Md. Good morning, Mark.
MARKI -- first of all, it's a glorious day for America to confirm such an honor on a person who so deserves it. But the journey is wonderful, and I would only have hoped your father could've seen it. I don't know if it was mentioned, but this wonderful person is one of two female secretaries of state trained by her father, which has never happened before, which is also great.
REHMDo you want to comment on that, Madam Secretary?
ALBRIGHTYes. I mean, it is one of the more amazing stories. My father, once he came to the United States, he asked for political asylum or begged for political asylum, as I see on the letter, and went to the University of Denver to teach. We had no idea where Denver was. And he then became dean of the graduate school there and died in 1977. And among the various tributes was a pot shaped as a piano with various leaves. And so I asked my mother, where did this come from? And she said, it's from your father's favorite student, Condoleezza Rice.
ALBRIGHTAnd she was working on her PhD dissertation with my father when he died. And so this African-American music major from Alabama was writing about the Czechoslovak military. And it is remarkable that this emigre-diplomat did train two secretaries of state and that, now, the school at the University of Denver is named in his honor. It's the Korbel School.
REHMOh, how wonderful. Here's an email from Pete, who says, "In 2003, I was in Bled, Slovenia, and saw Secretary Albright's pictures in a special glass casing in the Grand Hotel on the beautiful lake there. I've forgotten exactly when and why she was there. Could Secretary Albright say a few words about her official visit to Slovenia during the Clinton administration?"
ALBRIGHTWell, let me tell you what this is about. I -- my father was the Czechoslovakia ambassador to Yugoslavia, and we used to go to Bled, which was, at that stage, part of the Yugoslavia, during the summer and stayed in that Grand Hotel. And so when I was secretary, I went over there. We went to the hotel so that I could revisit, and it was an official visit to Slovenia and celebrated its independence but also had memories of being in that hotel.
ALBRIGHTWe sat there and waited for the sun to rise. It was really one of the crazier -- kind of just sitting there waiting. But it's a beautiful place, and it has a lake and a little island with a church on it and wonderful memories.
REHMAll right. And, Bruce Riedel, I want to go back to some foreign policy issues especially this Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Do you believe that the Obama administration has been able to make any progress whatsoever in resolving that issue?
RIEDELI think the president understands the importance of this issue. I think he realizes that it goes far beyond humanitarian question. It's a strategic question. America's vital national interests are at stake here. And they're even more at stake today during the Arab awakening than ever before. There are new questions about the survivability of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, for example. It didn't exist a year-and-a-half ago.
RIEDELUnfortunately, though, I don't see a lot of progress in the first term of the Obama administration. I think that he's run in to several brick walls, both on the Israeli side and the Palestinian side.
REHMCould he have done more?
RIEDELI think he could have done more, but I think that it would have been very, very difficult to move the Israelis and Palestinians in the last three years. The Palestinians are deeply divided themselves. Israel has a very right-wing government. What I'm hoping is that he's learned a lot in the last three years and that if he is re-elected, he'll come back to this issue with not only a passion but a better understanding of the dynamics of it.
RIEDELAs Secretary Albright knows well, in the Clinton administration, we spent a very much -- lot of time on this problem. We had a president who saw it as one of his top priorities. And even then, we couldn't move the ball into the goal post. This is a tough problem. I'm confident, though, that Barack Obama understands that this is a problem that cannot be put on the shelf. It's got to be dealt with, and he's going to turn to it, I think, with a new passion and, I think, with more understanding and education in his second term if he's re-elected.
REHMAnd there is this concern about Iran developing -- perhaps developing a nuclear weapon and talk of the Israelis considering a bombing of Iran. What is your view? Has Israel backed away from that, or is that still very much on the table in your view?
RIEDELThere's a very healthy debate in Israel about what it should do next. In fact, in some ways a more robust debate than in the United States about this issue. Just yesterday, the chief of staff of the Israeli army, Gen. Gantz, said that Iran is composed of rational decision makers, and we shouldn't rush in to something because of fears of another Holocaust.
RIEDELI think that's very important. I think that this is a problem that requires patience, requires pressure on Iran, requires keeping our options open, but don't rush to closure and don't conclude that the Iranians are not capable of some kind of diplomatic solution if we make it clear that the entire international community demands that Iran stop short of developing a nuclear weapon.
REHMSecretary Albright, your view?
ALBRIGHTI fully agree with the way that Bruce has framed this because it obviously is very serious if Iran believes that it needs a nuclear weapon and is developing one. But I do think, again, the international community has pulled together here. It's interesting the Iranians have now joined in talks with the P5-plus-1. There is a diplomatic outlook and solution here. Patience is important. And, again, you keep all the options on the table, but I think the diplomatic and economic tools are the ones that are working the best.
ALBRIGHTAnd on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, I think you now understand why Bruce is saying so many nice things. We spent so much time together. How many hours at Shepherdstown and Camp David and all kinds of places? We know what the solutions on the Israeli-Palestinian issues are. There are -- there is a map that makes it -- this all possible. It does require political will on the part of both Israelis and Palestinians. And I would hope exactly as he said that a lot of time and passion would be spent on this in the second term.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Norwich, Vt. Good morning, Nancy. You're on the air.
NANCYGood morning, Diane. Thank you so much for taking my call.
NANCYI'm calling because I would be interested in the secretary's thought on the tragic irony that she was part of the administration that did not choose to intervene in the genocide in 1994 in Rwanda given her family's history with the Nazi genocide in Czechoslovakia.
ALBRIGHTYes. This is one of the issues that President Clinton and I have discussed a lot, and it wears and -- very heavy on our souls. We have examined this many times. I do think the issue -- and this goes very much to the book that I wrote, which you have to have information to know how to react. And people may not believe it at this point, but we did not have all the facts on Rwanda at the time. I personally -- I was at the United Nations. I pushed in order for us to do more.
ALBRIGHTI wish we had. But it was really volcanic genocide that happened so quickly, that I have analyzed, and I regret this that it was very hard even if we had decided do more to do it quickly enough to stop it. But this is something that President Clinton and I discussed very often and played a huge role in the way that we reacted in other parts of the world.
RIEDELYou know, this was one of those real tragedies where it happened, as the secretary said, so quickly that it was hard to do anything about it. The important point is to learn from these lessons and to recognize that the international community has to be more nimble, has to be able to get into the act very quickly. And if, for some reason, the regional block, in this case, the African Union, won't respond, then the United Nation's got to get there and get there quick.
REHMThere's another concern that people may have that somehow when our strategic interests are not involved, we don't make the effort first.
RIEDELWell, this is the real world. This is a tough call. Sending American soldiers into harm's way is the ultimately most difficult decision any president has to make. And I think presidents need to think about it carefully and need to make sure that they're asking young American men and women to die for their country for the most important reasons they can. That's why it's important to internationalize so many of these conflicts and to make sure that it's not an American job. It's a global job.
REHMBruce Riedel, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who's new book is titled "Prague Winter." President Barack Obama is going to announce today that Madeleine Albright will become the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. And let me be not only the first to congratulate you on that, Madeleine Albright, but also to wish you a happy birthday coming up on May 15. I hope to see you soon.
ALBRIGHTI hope so, too, Diane. Thank you so much, and, Bruce, wonderful to be on with you.
RIEDELGreat pleasure for me as well.
REHMAnd thanks to all of you for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.