Book Review of “The Mighty and the Almighty” by Madeleine Albright

Madeleine Albright’s The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflection on America, God, and World Affairs is an exploration of the interplay of religion and politics and how, as much as anyone may try to prevent or deny it, they are inextricably linked. She tells of how at the end of the Cold War, many in the field of international relations (herself included) thought things were going to get a lot easier. However, they did not recognize the patterns emerging in the Balkans, Africa, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, Chechnya, Latin America and the U.S. of religious revival, tension, and strife. The 9/11 attacks in the U.S., killings in Madrid, London, Amman, and in retrospect, Srebrenica, Addis Ababa, and a dozen other cities, have brought the reality of the religious aspects of politics into stark relief and have given us a pessimistic view of the future.

Former Secretary of State Albright looks at the current situation as a challenge, but not an insurmountable one. The main push of the book is to, first, recognize the effects that religion is having on a particular situation, and second, work with the religious aspects (instead of against them) to reach a favorable conclusion.

Although the book is kind (shall I say “diplomatic”?) to the Bush administration’s foreign policy tactics, it implicitly prophetically repudiates much of what the Bush administration has done in the year since the book’s publication. For example, at the end of the book, Secretary Albright states seven steps that must be taken in order to avoid colossal mistakes in regards to religion in foreign policy (the expounding comments are mine):
1. Localize, don’t globalize – Each conflict (military, diplomatic, commercial, etc.) should be dealt with separately and not made more complicated by dragging in a bunch of baggage from another conflict (even if it seems somewhat pertinent).
2. Remember who the enemy is – In other words, make the fight against al-Qaeda, not against “radical Islam” or “Islamofascists.” And if we couch Islamism as “the new communism,” we are setting the stage for another 80 year cold (and sometimes hot) war.
3. Don’t play with matches – This concerns the use of (and the reaction) to inflammatory words, provocative actions, insensitivity, etc. Things escalate quickly if offense is quicker to mind than reason.
4. Develop common understanding of what terrorism is – The old adage that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter is unacceptable. Anyone who uses terrorist tactics should be deemed a terrorist, even if his cause is seen favorably.
5. Talk about the treatment of women in a manner that leads to actual progress – If we expect progress for women in Muslim cultures, we should study the culture and religion and talk to women in the country to find out how best to do this, not just say, “They shouldn’t have to wear head scarves.”
6. Christians, Muslims, and Jews must realize how much they have in common – The three abrahamic religions have a lot in common, and it’s a good place to build a foundation. Sec. Albright also cites Bill Clinton as saying that no one has the whole truth, so we should all have respect for others who all have parts of the truth. I tend to disagree with Clinton’s statement, but that those who think they have the whole truth need to live it and thereby love all of God’s children.
7. Don’t shy away from common transcendent, values-based, profound dialogue – This is for Mike. We need to stop being afraid to speak to the great American ideals, even if they aren’t met every time.

I didn’t mean to make this a long post. But to wrap up: GREAT BOOK! READ IT!

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