Madeleine Albright has had an exceptional career in public office, serving as an ambassador to the UN and as the first female Secretary of State, at the time making her the highest ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government. The former Secretary has published a new book called Read My Pins, detailing the unique political significance of her brooches and the stories around them. More than 200 of her pins are currently being displayed at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York.
Secretary Albright will be at BookPeople on Friday, October 30th at 12pm to discuss the book and sign copies. She was kind enough to spare a few minutes of her busy schedule to answer my questions for the blog.
BP: When did your pins become more than a fashion statement, and start to become a political statement? MA: It’s all thanks to the UN, and Saddam Hussein basically. We were discussing weapons inspections [in a UN meeting on Iraq] and I had said some negative things about Hussein. There was a poem in a Baghdad paper which called me an ‘unparalleled serpent.’ I wore a snake pin in response and a few journalists noticed.
Have you ever talked directly about your choice of pin with a foreign leader, or has it mainly gone unspoken? It’s mostly gone unspoken. There was a time when I was discussing a treaty with the Russian foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, and I wore a small arrow shaped pin, it looked like a missile basically. He asked if it was one of our missile interceptors, I said it was, that we make them small so he’d better negotiate.
Besides the pins was there any other part of your appearance or dress that you changed based on who you were meeting with? Well, no. Being a woman of a certain age I always dress in a discrete manner.
As the first female secretary of state, do you feel more attention was focused on your clothes or appearance than there had been on previous holders of the office? Oh without a doubt. A female politician’s clothes are always noticed more than her male counterpart. I have read comments about my clothes stating that my hem was too short or too long, and I know that [Condeleezza] Rice and Secretary Clinton have received similar comments. Now recently there has been discussion in menswear about ‘power ties’ and things like that, but I don’t think it’s comparable.
Do you think that trend (commenting on female politician’s appearance) is disappearing? It really depends on who’s writing the article. But, it’s still out there.
I read a quote where you stated that Iraq could turn out to be America’s greatest foreign policy disaster. Now that media attention has turned back toward Afghanistan and other fronts, do you feel Iraq is still the biggest problem we have to face? Well, at the time I was talking about problems like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, things that were becoming issues– unintended disasters. I think President Obama knows that there is no on and off switch with Iraq and that it’s not over. But, we have to focus on other things as well. Now we have the rise of Iran. I think Iran did very well from the Iraq war.
Considering the current economic climate, do you think it’s possible for America to have the same kind of diplomatic power in the twenty first century as it did in the second half of the twentieth? I don’t think it has anything to do with the state of the economy. I think America will continue to be a leading power regardless of economics. The difference between this century and the last is the need for cooperation. Problems like nuclear proliferation and the gap between the rich and the poor can’t be solved without partnership. What I believe President Obama has been doing, at least from what I’m hearing in his speeches, is forming partnerships with the world community to solve these issues. America is not in decline, twenty first century politics just requires more cooperation.