Wit and wisdom from an optimist who worries a lot

Bong R. Osorio

Posted at Aug 09 2017 09:32 PM | Updated as of Aug 10 2017 03:49 PM

Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright speaks during the "Forum on Global Governance and the World Economy: An ANC Leadership Series" at Sofitel Philippine Plaza on July 19, 2017. 

Former US Secretary of State Dr. Madeleine Albright delivered a stimulating talk and answered sharply questions in an open forum in the hugely successful ANC Leadership Forum on Global Governance and World Economy, held recently in Sofitel Philippine Plaza Hotel. Albright --- “Grandma Maddie” to her grandchildren --- has a personal familiarity with world politics and international diplomacy, whose voice permeates with unflinching, absorbing, and moving observations and reflections. She enthralled her Philippine audience with her snappy wit and wisdom. Unafraid to take on hard issues or peak her mind, she shared these meaningful insights:

“Rule-of-law" issues could harm investments in the Philippines. Albright prudently opted not to comment on domestic internal politics of foreign countries, but when asked about foreign investment prospects for the Philippines, she repeatedly mentioned the need to uphold the “rule of law.” Investors do not want to go into a place where the rule of law is under question. As such government institutions and the “rule of law” are very important because despite the fact that investing in its nature is risky, it is better for countries themselves to make it less risky as possible.

Brooches make statements. Albright has a renowned practice of wearing symbolic pins and brooches to portend her dispositions and opinions on certain issues or on world leaders of the same stature as hers that she will sit in a table with. In 1993 when she was US Ambassador to the UN, Albright wore an antique snake brooch in answer to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein who described her “an unparalleled serpent.” Whenever she delivered a speech about the Middle East, she would wear a peace dove ornament. For the ANC forum, she wore a brooch shaped like the sun and made of Philippine indigenous materials. “To show my respect,” she averred. She would wear if a pin of a “very active man with a loud speaker’ if she gets to meet President Rodrigo Duterte. 

There should be equilibrium in the China issue. While the United States was “deeply concerned” over China’s construction of artificial islands and military facilities in the South China Sea, countries in the region, including the United States, had to do a “balancing act because we all recognize the importance of close ties with China and no one wants to see the military escalation of this conflict.” There should be no military solution to the West Philippine Sea issue. Diplomacy should be the route. Besides, the global economy will move faster in a win-win scenario if America’s archrival, China remains stable. 

The disputed territory must be referred to as West Philippine Sea. Albright drew applause when she said this, after last year’s ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that upheld the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone against China’s claim to almost all of the South China Sea. While President Duterte had put on hold the arbitral ruling, choosing the timeline to repair relations with China is critical. She said, “I hope it’s in the back of people’s minds and discussions. I hope the decision is not OBE, or overtaken by events. It is there and I think it will be useful.” 

Every country has the right to set their own foreign policy to suit their interests. This summarized Albright’s response when asked about Duterte’s daring alteration of mapping a genuinely independent foreign policy for the Philippines as an equidistant friend to all the world’s big powers including the USA. She stressed the importance of bilateral American-Philippine ties, and cited the Philippines’ “important mediation role” in Asia, considering its chairmanship of this the ASEAN this year; and due to its location and the vibrant facet of Filipinos.

Every nation must treat each other with respect. Albright said this in reference to the relationship between the USA and the Philippines, adding that countries can have relationships with a number of different countries without these having to be a “zero-sum relationship.” Wary about commenting on Duterte’s policy of cozying up to China and Russia while putting the United States on the back burner, Albright described the link between her country and the Philippines a “very basic and crucial one, with a long tradition.” 

There is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women. It is a phrase Albright first used almost 25 years ago, when she was the US ambassador to the United Nations and worked closely with six other female U.N. ambassadors. She firmly believed that, even today, women have an obligation to help one another. She pronounced, “In a society where women often feel pressured to tear one another down, our saving grace lies in our willingness to lift one another up. And while young women may not want to hear anything more from this aging feminist, I feel it is important to speak to women coming of age.” 

A commonality exists across the spectrum of every religion. In her book, "The Mighty and The Almighty," Albright explained the correlation between religion and world affairs, past and present, and how best foreign policy and religion can interconnect. The best leaders, she proclaimed, “approach international crisis and develop world relations with a manner that accepts differences in opinions but looks for shared aims.” She stated, “We are all God’s children,” independent of a certain group’s religious identity, and if leaders can agree on the fundamental principles, there is a good origination point for discussion.”

Nationalism could be dangerous. “People are feeling left out, that they have to argue against the elite,” Albright expressed. A mounting upsurge of nationalism is worming around the world as exemplified by Britain’s decision to exit the European Union and Donald Trump’s triumph against one of Albright’s successors, Hillary Clinton, in the last US presidential election.

The world is a mess due to ultra-nationalism, terrorism and uneven growth. Albright, who helped open doors for women in government, said the world was in “desperate need” of leaders who could inspire a “common sense of purpose” even after elections. We need leaders who will lead beyond the cycle of an electoral process. “We will do best if democratic nations stand together,” she declared. Albright was “very troubled” with Trump’s “America First” policy, describing it as “counterproductive in so many ways, and limits the aspects how we can help solve a different number of problems.” 

Albright told her Philippine audience that she’s “an optimist who worries a lot.” She is truly gratified when she read statements by theologians, such as Paul Tillich or Reinhold Niebuhr, that really indicate that doubt can be a part of faith, that you don't have to have the feeling that you know all the truth while you're on earth. 

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.