Mrs.Madeleine Albright surrounded by the Fares family& Mr. BacowMrs. Madeleine Albright's speech:I am delighted to be here at Tufts and honored to participate in this unique Lecture Series and so, I am very pleased to be here with distinguished guests and obviously with the students. I want to thank the Fares family for inviting me and also to congratulate everyone connected to the Fares Center and at Tufts for working on the very important project that the center is concerned with. The project is dedicated to increasing knowledge about the Eastern Mediterranean and to improving understanding among people throughout the Middle East. And it is hard to conceive of a more important goal or a more elusive one. Four years ago this Lecture Series had as its speaker the very distinguished former president of the USA George Herbert Walker Bush and his speech was entitled “Choose Hope Over Hate”. Of course he may have been biased in favor of hope since he was about to go skydiving for his 80th birthday, but what I found most interesting about that speech is that it took place only three weeks before the US invasion of Iraq and instead of using his lecture to make the case for invasion, the former president stressed the wisdom of the choice he had made when he was in office: not to invade. He said that if he had tried to make regime change part of operation “Desert Storm” his international coalition would have shattered and America’s credibility as a force for Middle East peace would have been lost. There are two lessons to this: The first is that young people should listen to their parents. The second is that before making decisions that will affect our future, leaders should study carefully the lessons of the past. To illustrate, consider the story of a superpower that decided to launch a pre-emptive strike. The time is 2,400 years ago; the superpower was Athens. The intended target was Sicily, and the alleged danger was that the people of that island might one day unite and take up arms. Athens’ leaders were so certain their invasion would succeed that they disregarded the warnings of their military, who said that the planned strike force was too small. “What if the Sicilians unite against us and we make no friends?” asked one general. “Besides,” he continued, “even if we conquer them they are so distant and numerous that we can hardly rule them.” But in the emotions of the moment such voices were drowned out. According to Euripides, the excessive passion of the majority made the dissenters afraid of being thought unpatriotic and so they held their peace. Of course, the Athenians did appeal for guidance to soothsayers who, being on the official payroll, reported that the Empire was favored by the gods and would win simply because it deserved to. So, the expedition set forth. When it arrived in Sicily its leaders proclaimed to the local population that: “We came not to enslave you but to keep you from being enslaved.” But the Sicilians did not buy it. Although previously divided, they came together to defeat what they called the imperialist foe. The Athenian force was destroyed. In trying to conquer Sicily the Athenians overreached. In the process they transformed the containable risk into a major self-inflicted wound. The invasion exhausted their military, divided their citizenry, disillusioned their allies and squandered their prestige. It also opened the way for a much stronger adversary who would subjugate Athens within a decade. That adversary was Persia, or modern-day Iran.
The Athenian invasion reminds us of the danger that comes from being too sure we are right. When making a decision there is a vital distinction between confidence and certainty. Confidence comes from the effort to learn all we can. Certainty comes from believing we have learned all there is to know. A confident leader will reconsider views on the basis of new information. A morally certain leader will reject any advice that is not in accord with what he or she already thinks. For this reason I have developed the habit of putting my own beliefs to the test. You may not believe this, but I listen regularly to a radio broadcaster whose name you might recognize, Rush Limbaugh. I do not think I have ever agreed with Mr. Limbaugh, which is one reason that I listen. He makes me rethink my opinions. I may be yelling back at the radio but I am also realizing that some of my assumptions are easier to defend than others. And he prompts me to examine more closely the facts on which my opinions are based. For me, listening to talk radio is not usually a pleasant experience and it’s kind of amazing that I haven’t had some terrible accident since I do this while driving to work, but it does help to clarify my thinking.
A large crowd is attending the remarkable Lecture Serie at Tufts In the same way, decision-makers can do a better job of being sure that the information they have is comprehensive and that they listen to many points of view. I think this is especially important now, when it’s clear that American policy in the Eastern Mediterranean and Persian Gulf has been less than perfect. Yes, the invasion of Iraq got rid of Saddam Hussein and opened the door for elections, both very good things. But in the Middle East almost every upside has a downside and this one has been a record-breaker. The invasion has cost thousand of lives, strained our alliances, strengthened al-Qaeda, enhanced the influence of Iran, created new incentives for states to develop nuclear arms, undermined US credibility, diverted attention and resources from other problems and caused many people to equate the legitimate promotion of democracy with the ill-advised efforts to impose democracy, thereby emboldening leaders from Hugo Chavez to Vladimir Putin. For years we have argued whether it was smart to invade Iraq in the manner and at the time that we did. That argument has been settled: leaders made a terrible choice. The question is, what can be salvaged? Today, some 150,000 American troops are on duty in Iraq. I desperately want them to succeed. They are the finest warriors in the world and will accomplish any mission that is within their power. Unfortunately our troops are increasingly caught in the middle of a civil war with the impossible mission of trying to protect all sides against violence by all sides. If I were a soldier on patrol in Baghdad I wouldn’t know who to shoot at until I was shot at, which is untenable. To quote Sergeant First Class Marc Velinsky, while under sniper fire in the capital last month: “Who the hell is shooting at us? Who is shooting at us? Do we know who they are?” Or to quote Specialist Terry Wilson, a soldier on that same patrol, “The thing is we wear uniforms and they don’t”.I agree with the President that it would be a disaster for us to leave Iraq under the present circumstances. But it may also be a disaster for us to stay. If our troops are not in the position to make a decisive difference we have a overriding duty to bring them home sooner rather than later.