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The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs

The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs

by Madeleine Albright

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Does America, as George W. Bush has proclaimed, have a special mission, derived from God, to bring liberty and democracy to the world? How much influence does the Christian right have over U.S. foreign policy? And how should America deal with violent Islamist extremists?

Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state and bestselling author of Madam


Does America, as George W. Bush has proclaimed, have a special mission, derived from God, to bring liberty and democracy to the world? How much influence does the Christian right have over U.S. foreign policy? And how should America deal with violent Islamist extremists?

Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state and bestselling author of Madam Secretary, offers a thoughtful and often surprising look at the role of religion in shaping America's approach to the world. Drawing upon her experiences while in office and her own deepest beliefs about morality, the United States, and the present state of world affairs, a woman noted for plain speaking offers her thoughts about the most controversial topics of our time.

Editorial Reviews

Our editors single out this fine book by former secretary of state Madeleine Albright as a thoughtful and finely reasoned reflection on the role of religion in world politics. Writing in a plainspoken style that belies her erudition, Albright ranges over history and current events to show how America has underestimated or ignored the importance of faith in the cultures of other countries. She presents an eloquent plea for seeking out common ground, arguing that in today's world politics and religion must be partnered effectively in order to achieve justice, peace, and understanding. Infused with lively anecdotes and perceptive observations, this is one foreign policy primer we think merits particular attention.
Publishers Weekly
Secretary of State under President Clinton and a devout Catholic (with recently discovered Jewish roots), Albright (Madam Secretary) is especially qualified to tackle the thorny subject of the role of faith in international relations. In a remarkably accessible, even breezy style, she looks at these issues in light of recent history both abroad and at home, from the religious fundamentalism that led to the ouster of the shah of Iran to the invasion of Iraq and American hope that a political culture can emerge there that integrates democracy and Islam. But Albright also looks critically at President Bush, an evangelical Christian who invokes God in the name of fighting "evil." In this ambitious, thoughtful, and wide-ranging treatment, Albright deftly balances the pragmatic need to confront religious-based unrest and the idealistic need to temper one's own personal beliefs in the public realm. While fully acknowledging the threat al- Qaeda poses, Albright rejects the notion that a "clash of civilizations" is in progress and wisely calls for care and nuance in how America approaches international confrontations that are tinged with religion. (May 2) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Former secretary of state and ambassador to the UN, Albright (Edmund A. Walsh Sch. of Foreign Service, Georgetown Univ.; Madam Secretary) shares her thoughts on religious faith and its virtually inextricable relationship to politics and to today's international relations. She presents her own personal beliefs, political influences, and professional experiences with world leaders throughout the text. Albright begins with a history of how religion has played a role in American foreign affairs since the Revolution, but the bulk of the book focuses on the current age, in particular the explosive tensions in the Middle East and the influence of religion upon American conservatism. She notes the essential place of religion in the Middle East's internal tensions and its attitudes toward the West, observing that American involvement there on a purely political level was impossible. While she offers that President Bush's particular religious views hinder, rather than help, the current Middle East situation, she is not strident about this volatile topic. This is a more or less dispassionate book, accessible and informative, impressively seeking reasoned pathways through today's international tensions. Highly recommended for both public and undergraduate libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 1/06.]-Jenny Emanuel, Electronic Svcs., Central Missouri State Univ. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Former Secretary of State Albright admonishes the current administration as she weighs in on al-Qaeda, the mistake of going to war in Iraq and the role of religion in foreign policy. The author makes the not-exactly-controversial case that religious faith can move people and countries toward inspiring results (Pope John Paul II's 1981 visit to then-communist Poland) or destruction (Osama bin Laden's terrorism). She then suggests the diplomatic strategy the U.S. should take when dealing with conflicts involving religion, especially Islam. Negotiators, she writes, often prefer to steer away from thorny matters of belief. This is a mistake, as religion is inherent to many conflicts not only in the Middle East but around the world. Better to understand other faiths and try to find commonalities than to hope the differences go away, declares Albright (Madam Secretary, 2003). Unsurprisingly, she lauds former boss Bill Clinton for working to do this with the Palestinians and Israelis. She faults George Bush for projecting a sense of his own righteousness and launching the Iraq war, which she says may be one of America's worst foreign-policy disasters ever. However, this is no polemic. Albright maintains a measured tone throughout, infusing her observations with personal anecdotes. She covers a lot of territory, with chapters on the teachings of Islam, faith and politics in the U.S., and the race between Christians and Muslims to convert Africans. To turn back radical Islam, she concludes, Americans need to develop nuanced understandings of individual Islamic countries, bolstering promising governments such as that of Turkey and treading carefully elsewhere to avoid igniting further passions.Rather than seeking to dominate through military force, Albright writes, America should work with its allies-and within international institutions and laws-to isolate violent religious extremists. A valuable primer on foreign-policy challenges that are sure to bedevil the United States for a long time to come.
Booklist (starred review)
“An absorbing look at the intersection of world politics and world religion.”
"An absorbing look at the intersection of world politics and world religion."

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The Mighty and the Almighty

Chapter One

The Mighty and the Almighty

I had watched previous inaugural addresses, but the first one I truly took in was John Kennedy's in 1961. My brother John, who was in junior high school, played the trumpet in the Denver police band and had been invited to Washington to march in the inaugural parade. It seems that everyone remembers the snow on the ground and how the glare of sunshine made it impossible for Robert Frost to read the poem he had composed for the occasion. The new president, hatless in the crystal-cold air, his breath visible, asked us to "ask not." It was the speech about "passing the torch" to another generation. I saw it on television—that is how I experienced all the inaugural addresses until 1993. Then, and again four years later, I watched President Clinton deliver his speeches from the balcony of the U.S. Capitol. The words combined with the crowds and the view of the Washington Monument brought out the sense of history and pride in the United States that has done so much to shape my view of the world.

The inaugural address provides an American president with a matchless opportunity to speak directly to 6 billion fellow human beings, including some 300 million fellow citizens. By defining his country's purpose, a commander in chief can make history and carve out a special place for himself (or perhaps, one day, herself) within it. On January 20, 2005, facing an audience assembled in the shadow of the Capitol, President George W. Bush addressed America and the world. From the first words, it was evident that both he and his speechwriters had aimed high. "It is the policy of the UnitedStates," he declared, "to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world." He continued, "History has an ebb and flow of justice, but history also has a visible direction, set by liberty and the Author of Liberty." The president concluded that "America, in this young century, proclaims liberty throughout the world and to all the inhabitants thereof." He might have added that, in the Bible, God had assigned that same job, in the same words, to Moses.

The speech was vintage George W. Bush, one that his admirers would hail as inspirational and his detractors would dismiss as self-exalting. It was of a piece with the president's first term, during which he had responded to history's deadliest strike on U.S. soil, led America into two wars, roused passions among both liberals and conservatives, set America apart from longtime allies, aggravated relations with Arab and Muslim societies, and conveyed a sense of U.S. intentions that millions found exhilarating, many others ill-advised.

Within the United States, there are those who see the president as a radical presiding over a foreign policy that is, in the words of one commentator, "more than preemptive, it is theologically presumptuous; not only unilateral, but dangerously messianic; not just arrogant, but rather bordering on the idolatrous and blasphemous." The president's supporters suggest the contrary, that his leadership is ideally, even heroically, suited to the perils of this era and in keeping with the best traditions of America.

My own initial instinct, particularly when the president is trumpeting the merits of freedom, is to applaud. I firmly believe that democracy is one of humankind's best inventions: a form of government superior to any other and a powerful source of hope. I believe just as firmly in the necessity of American leadership. Why wouldn't I? When I was a little girl, U.S. soldiers crossed the ocean to help save Europe from the menace of Adolf Hitler. When I was barely in my teens, the American people welcomed my family after the communists had seized power in my native Czechoslovakia. Unlike most in my generation who were born in Central Europe, I had the chance to grow up in a democracy, a privilege for which I will forever be grateful. I take seriously the welcoming words at the base of the Statue of Liberty; and I love to think of America as an inspiration to people everywhere—especially to those who have been denied freedom in their own lands.

As appealing as President Bush's rhetoric may sometimes be, however, I also know that proclaiming liberty is far simpler than building genuine democracy. Political liberty is not a magic pill people can swallow at night and awaken with all problems solved, nor can it be imposed from the outside. According to the president, "Freedom is God's gift to everybody in the world." He told Bob Woodward, "As a matter of fact, I was the person who wrote the line, or said it. I didn't write it, I just said it in a speech. And it became part of the jargon. And I believe that. And I believe we have a duty to free people. I would hope we wouldn't have to do it militarily, but we have a duty."

These are uplifting sentiments, undoubtedly, but what exactly do they mean? The president says that liberty is a gift to everybody, but is he also implying that God appointed America to deliver that gift? Even to raise that question is to invite others. Does the United States believe it has a special relationship with God? Does it have a divinely inspired mission to promote liberty? What role, if any, should religious convictions play in the decisions of those responsible for U.S. foreign policy? But perhaps we should begin by asking why we are even thinking about these questions, given America's constitutional separation between church and state. And haven't we long since concluded that it is a mistake, in any case, to mix religion and foreign policy? I had certainly thought so.

The Mighty and the Almighty. Copyright © by Madeleine Albright. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Madeleine Albright served as America's sixty-fourth Secretary of State from 1997 to 2001. Her distinguished career also includes positions on Capitol Hill, the National Security Council, and as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. She is a resident of Washington, D.C., and Virginia.

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