Address By Dr. Madeleine K. Albright, Former Secretary Of State, To The Central Conference Of American Rabbis

Mar. 27, 2003

Thank you Rabbi Davidson, and good evening to you all. Since leaving office, I have spoken to many groups.

Most have been a lot of fun.

Others I have found a bit tedious, because they do not share my interest in world affairs.

So speaking to this convention is like coming home, and I am delighted to help you celebrate your 114th anniversary.

And I was especially pleased, not that I am biased, to learn you have elected a woman as your President for the next two years.

Rabbi Marder, congratulations.

I can tell you from experience that being the "first" is not easy; but it's the only way to get to the point where women are elected or appointed to top positions and it's no longer news.

Obviously, given its age, the Central Conference of American Rabbis is a very durable organization.

Over the years, you have weathered some very difficult and turbulent times.

That makes you a rock of reassurance for our time, which is marked at home and overseas by war and division.

Nations and populations are divided and so, too, are our thoughts--between the concerns of daily life and the fate of those now exposed to the cruelty of armed conflict.

We pray for our fighting men and women, for those who have been taken prisoner and for the innocent on all sides.

We pray for an early end to the war and for an outcome that leaves Iraq free and the world more stable.

We pray, as well, for our allies who are also divided between the doubting and the steadfast, among the latter Israel, which must remain as this evening's theme suggests, always in our minds and in our hearts.

Because so much is going on, I thought I would try to reserve the bulk of my time for responding to questions, so what follows will be more commentary than speech.

We are, it seems to me, at a point in world affairs I can only compare to the movie "Perfect Storm."

The seas are high and the winds seem to be coming from every direction at once.

Let me begin with the obvious, our war in Iraq.

As we are all aware, the current confrontation has deep roots.

In fact, the issues we are grappling with now are the very ones left unresolved when the Gulf War ended twelve years ago.

And I speak from experience in saying they are not easy.

I had only been our UN Ambassador for a few months when, in the spring of 1993, Iraqi agents tried to assassinate former President Bush.

I had the delicate job of informing the Iraqi Ambassador that we were retaliating.

It was a weekend, so all the offices were closed and I had to go to his house on Manhattan's east side.

When I arrived, I was led into a large wood-paneled living room, and seated beneath a gigantic portrait of who else? -- Saddam Hussein.

The Iraqi Ambassador came in and said smiling, "So what brings you here today?"-and offered me tea.

I said, "Well, I thought you should know that we are bombing your country's intelligence headquarters because the man in this portrait tried to murder our former President."

So much for tea. The Ambassador sputtered, "That is an outrageous lie."

I said, "No, it is an outrageous truth, and I am going to the UN tomorrow to show the evidence to the world."

Later, when Saddam complained about the treatment he was receiving, I said he reminded me of the schoolboy who arrived home one day with his face bruised and his clothes torn.

After his mother asked him how the fight started, he said, "It started when the other guy hit me back."

A decade has past, and we are still in the business of convincing the world about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

The difference is that we have now gone to war to remove that threat, and that we have done so with far less international support than we would have preferred.

A week has passed since the missiles began to fire. I can say from my own experience with Kosovo that the first days of war are a time of intense anxiety.

You have to expect the unexpected.

Neither the weather nor the other side is likely to cooperate.

The American military has astonishing capabilities, but is not infallible.

Public opinion seems to shift with every example of tribulation and triumph.

There is much uncertainty about how long, how bloody, and how complex this conflict will be.

But others questions are less uncertain.

Militarily, if not diplomatically, time is on our side.

The imbalance of firepower dictates a U.S. victory.

With that victory will come political benefits.

Saddam's possession of weapons of mass destruction should be verified.

Further examples of Saddam's cruelty will be uncovered.

Images of Iraqis welcoming his downfall will surely be broadcast.

America's effort to meet the emergency humanitarian needs of Iraqi civilians will be publicized.

And the process of rebuilding will provide a welcome shift in focus from how we got to where we are, to how we get to where we need to be.

On that point, I have some suggestions.

The first pertains to attitude.

However one feels about this war and the diplomacy leading up to it, the fact is that America's image has not been so tarnished around the globe since at least the Vietnam War.

We have to remedy that.

Because even if we win the war against Iraq with little help from others; we have no chance to win the peace without international understanding and support, not to mention resources.

That is why it bothers me that the Defense Department, at least, seems to oppose any significant role for the UN in Iraq following the war.

I am disturbed by reports that reconstruction contracts may be limited to U.S. firms.

I am worried by the spectacle of Iraqi oil fields being controlled and guarded by U.S. troops.

I am concerned about the possibility that a lengthy U.S. occupation of Baghdad will make it easier for the likes of Osama bin Laden to recruit terrorists.

I am equally concerned about the opposite, which is that even Iraqis who opposed Saddam may oppose U.S. efforts to exercise authority or else try to manipulate us for their own narrow ends.

The result could be a choice between a too hasty retreat and quagmire.

Finally, I am worried that, in the midst of all this, the situation in North Korea will become even more dangerous and the Administration will split down the middle arguing about how to respond.

The result could be paralysis and a North Korea equipped with nuclear weapons.

There is no single simple away to resolve these challenges.

But the way to start is for the Administration to express more clearly not only what the U.S. is against in the world, but also what we are for.

This matters because the battles we will wage in the future are not simply or even primarily military battles.

We are engaged in a struggle of ideas, a conflict we cannot win with cruise missiles and smart bombs.

Nor is it a fight we can win alone.

There is a perception today that America does not care whether the great institutions of the Twentieth Century, including NATO and the UN, survive.

In the months ahead, we must erase and replace that perception.

We must work with friends around the world to strengthen and adapt key institutions so the burden of defending freedom, fighting terror, and halting proliferation does not fall on our shoulders alone.

We must reaffirm and use our Alliances in East Asia. North Korea must not be allowed to go nuclear, and we must engage in direct talks to at least begin to achieve that end.

And we must deal maturely with our traditional partners in Europe, with some of whom we are now estranged.

Over the past months, I can tell you that if I were still Secretary of State, and listening to the current Secretary of Defense , there are times I would have hit the mute button.

I sometimes have a feeling the reason Secretary Powell doesn't travel much is he is afraid by the time he returns, we will be in yet another war, this time with France.

It is not surprising we have differences with France. In fact, it would be astonishing if we did not.

The words "America is right" have no French translation.

But the French have always been willing to talk, and usually willing to be flexible provided they are seen to have input into the final decision.

I found this on Bosnia, in Kosovo and even on Iraq while I was in office.

What is astonishing now is that we are allowing our differences to deepen, and leaving the impression we simply don't care.

That's not diplomacy; it's idiocy. The trans-Atlantic partnership is and remains the cornerstone of democracy and law around the world.

It would be unforgivable if we were to allow Saddam Hussein to do what the Soviet Union in four decades could not, and drive a real wedge between the U.S. and its allies.

America's standing in the world is not just a question of feeling good or being popular. It is either a fundamental source of strength or a potentially fatal source of vulnerability, especially in a world that is more democratic now than ever before.

Of course, nothing would do more for our interests or reputation than if we were able to help bring an end to the seemingly endless cycle of violence in the Middle East.

During my four years as Secretary of State, there were a hand full of suicide bombings on Israeli soil. Each was an occasion for shock, capturing the world's attention, as families mourned and victims were buried.

I thought it horrible, but it was nothing compared to the horror I have felt since as the obscene has become routine, and new bombings and killings are reported nearly every week.

All this bloodshed has shattered the process for peace, but it has also underlined the logic of peace.

At the Camp David Summit two and a half years ago, Yasser Arafat rejected the best deal the Palestinians are ever likely to see.

In so doing, he has brought his people nothing but misery.

Many people say now there is no hope; and that Israelis and Palestinians can never live together, unless one side is crushed or the other pushed into the sea.

I do not believe that. And we should not accept it.

Because there is nothing inevitable about war in the Middle East.

To seize the sword instead of the olive branch--that is a choice.

To teach children to hate--is a choice.

To glorify murderers as martyrs--is a choice.

To dehumanize and disrespect the dignity of others--is a choice.

These are all choices, and what people have the capacity to choose, they have the ability to change.

We cannot make choices for those who live in the Middle East.

But we can insist that Arab leaders cease to finance, shelter and make excuses for terrorist groups.

We can expect that Israel will defend herself while leaving the door open to peace.

We can search for an economic vision for the region that will give the desperate cause to look to the future with hope.

And as the Bush Administration has proposed, we can support the creation of a Palestinian State, with new and reformed democratic institutions.

But that state must not have the capability of being used as a platform for attacking Israel.

This will not happen immediately, but it cannot be put off indefinitely.

The recent selection of Abu Mazen as Palestinian Prime Minister is a step in the right direction, but much depends on the extent of his authority.

Much also depends on whether he is willing and able to do what Arafat was not, which is to shape a new Palestinian consensus instead of merely reinforce the old one.

That new consensus must include a clear moral position that terrorism, however rationalized, is completely and wholly wrong, just as genocide is wrong, ethnic cleansing is wrong, and apartheid is wrong.

There are no grounds of politics or culture, faith or past grievance that justify the willful and indiscriminate murder of human beings.

I know from my own meetings that leaders in the Middle East and some in Europe believe that terror is not terror if employed for purposes of national liberation.

That is not just a mistaken idea; it is a lie.

And it is not the only lie that finds a dangerous resonance in various parts of the world today.

For example, in Arab countries, many people are convinced that Osama bin Laden is innocent, and that Israel and the CIA launched the attacks on September 11 in order to justify an assault on the Muslim world.

And there is a growing campaign in some Islamic circles to erase the historic connection between Judaism and Jerusalem; to claim the Western Wall as a Muslim structure; to deny the existence of the first and second temples; and to claim the Holocaust never happened.

Intellectually, all of this is laughable. But the implications are deadly serious.

I am reminded of an experience Eleanor Roosevelt had while visiting a refugee camp shortly after World War II.

The camp was filled with the survivors of Hitler's persecutions. Walking along, the former First Lady encountered an old woman.

"I had no idea who she was," wrote Mrs. Roosevelt, "and we could not speak each other's language.

But she knelt in the muddy road and threw her arms around my knees.

With anguish in her voice, she said just one word, but she said it over and over again. 'Israel' she murmured, 'Israel, Israel, Israel.'"

We must never forget how and why Israel came into being.

And we must never allow those who distort the past to detract from the future of America's commitment to Israel and to the Israeli people; that commitment must remain as fixed and permanent as the sky.

Make no mistake, at the heart of terrorism today are lies, big lies.

Of course, to anyone familiar with the Twentieth Century, big lies are nothing new.

As we look back, we realize that the precise source of such lies may change, from Nazi to Communist to racist to Osama Bin Laden; but always the twisted logic is the same.

There is, they insist, but one truth, and it is their truth, a truth that demands a holy war for the glory of fatherland, the purity of blood, the primacy of the state, or the appeasement of a vengeful God.

What balderdash.

We reply that all men and women are created equal.

We affirm that in every child the full potential of the human race is reborn.

We insist that no person should be compelled to serve merely as the means to someone else's end.

And we declare that no King or Fuhrer, no dictator or murder-inducing mullah has the right to kill the innocent or to twist unformed minds into instruments of hate.

In the words of the poet Archibald MacLeish:

Murder is not absolved of immorality by committing murder.

Murder is absolved of immorality by bringing men to think that murder is not evil.

This only the perversion of the mind can bring about.

And the perversion of the mind is only possible when those who should be heard in its defense are silent.

Those words were written in 1940, at a time of history's most chilling silence.

Today, we must not be silent.

We must employ every means available to rebut lies with facts, replace ignorance with understanding, and supplant closeminded passion with openhearted wisdom.

That is why the work of this Conference of American Rabbis is so indispensable.

For your message has never been a narrow one of defending one group while disregarding the rights of others.

Your vision has been inclusive, not exclusive.

For more than a century, you have been a voice of reason, ethics and humanity.

Today we are engaged in two wars. It is a time of uncertainty, tragedy and doubt.

In such a moment, we are reminded that everything worth doing is done in faith.

Until the time the patriarch Abraham, humans were resigned to a life without progress, constrained by the unceasing cycles of nature.

That is why Abraham and Sarah's bold journey into the unknown was an unprecedented act of faith that, at God's direction and with God's help, the future could improve upon, not simply mirror the past.

Today, we are not often asked to pull up stakes and trek thousands of miles, but we are compelled by our convictions and responsibilities to serve justice and keep faith.

In those tasks, this Conference is a model for us all, by reminding each of us of the hard lessons we must heed if we are to create a world more peaceful, free, and humane than it has ever been.

For all your past accomplishments, I congratulate you.

For all you are doing and will do, I salute you.

And for your kindness and attention here tonight, I thank you very, very much.