- The Washington Times - Monday, July 10, 2006

THE MIGHTY AND THE ALMIGHTY: REFLECTIONS ON AMERICA, GOD, AND WORLD AFFAIRS

By Madeleine Albright with Bill Woodward, Harper Collins, $29.95, 339 pages

It is possible for former secretaries of state to write significant books, e.g., Dean Acheson’s “Present at the Creation” and Henry Kissinger’s “The Necessity for Choice.” Alas, Madeleine Albright’s new book, “The Mighty and the Almighty,” is not one of them. Her earlier book, “Madam Secretary: A Memoir “(2003), is a pedestrian account of her years as Bill Clinton’s ambassador to the United Nations and then secretary of state.

The current book, written with the openly acknowledged assistance of Bill Woodward, a ghost writer for Mrs. Albright, is an awkward attempt to be profound and philosophical without being blatantly partisan. She tackles the big issues, such as God, the march of history and the nature and destiny of man, but her effort comes off as bland and self-serving.

Mr. Clinton’s introduction to the book is made of the same stuff: “Once people acknowledge their common humanity, it becomes more difficult for them to demonize and destroy each other … Our religious convictions can help us erase the age-old dividing line.”

In a provocatively titled chapter, “The Devil and Madeleine Albright,” the author recalls her tenure as Mr. Clinton’s ambassador to the United Nations, where, in her view, the American battle lines were drawn between the good guys who wanted to use the “U.N. to attack global problems” and the bad guys comprised of “right-wing Christian radio and television stations stretched across the country” who sought to impose their reactionary views on the United Nations and the nation. She singles out evangelist Pat Robertson and then-Sen. Jesse Helms for her pointed rebuke.

In a brief and poignant passage, Mrs. Albright notes that her “family’s heritage was Jewish, but I was raised a Roman Catholic.” She goes on to say: “If, as a child, I had been sent to temple instead of to church, I would have grown to adulthood with a different group identity… I am a hopeful Christian but also an inadequate one, with doubts.” The Protestant theologian Paul Tillich, she wrote, said that “Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.” Good point.

Surprisingly, perhaps, she also invokes Reinhold Niebuhr, who declared that man, though flawed and sinful, was morally obligated to fight evil, specifically predatory tyranny. He also asserted that a wholly just and peaceful world was not possible “within history” and the consummation of the Kingdom of God was “beyond history.”

Mrs. Albright is more optimistic than America’s greatest 20th-century theologian: “If Niebuhr is right,” she wrote, “the pursuit of peace will always be uphill,” adding that “the right kind of leadership can do much to prevent wars, rebuild devastated societies, expand freedom, and assist the poor.”

Moving to the current scene, Ms. Albright is critical of President Bush for his “narrow vision and heedless unilateralism… We must once again become known as a country whose leaders listen, admit mistakes, and work hard at addressing global challenges … Do we see ourselves as subject to the same rules as other nations; or do we see ourselves as entitled to act in any way we see fit? … Is our proper role to lead or to dominate?”

She quotes Lincoln, who “led a divided country” as we must “lead a divided world,” and then invokes William Butler Yeats’ cliche of cliches: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity. The center cannot hold and anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

Her cliches continue: “Wisdom comes from learning.” “There are many kinds of truth.” “The twentieth century was the bloodiest in human history. When the new millennium came, we vowed to make a fresh start, but we have not begun well.” “Liberty is our gift and our burden.”

In her penultimate paragraph, Mrs. Albright says: “I cannot write a happy ending to this book. As Bill Clinton reminds us, none of us can claim full title to the truth … Lincoln, again, coined the perfect phrase, appealing to the aftermath of war to ‘the better angels of our nature.’ ”

In the book’s final sentence, Mrs. Albright rejects Ronald Reagan’s “shining city on a hill” metaphor in favor of “a globe on which might and right are close companions and where dignity and freedom are shared by all.”

Beneath this noble sentiment is a highly partisan book clothed in the garments of tired cliches and infused with an unacknowledged utopianism.

Ernest W. Lefever is founding president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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