By Scot Kersgaard
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, who served under President Bill Clinton, charmed a crowd of nearly 200 people at the Tattered Cover in LoDo Tuesday as she signed her new book, “Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box,” (HarperCollins) and answered questions from an audience of mostly women.
“I’m very happy to be at my home bookstore, the Tattered Cover,” she said. “You know, I grew up in Denver, so I’m very happy to be here.”
The premise of her book is that she often wears pins, and that many of them make a point of some kind.
“If I’m expecting a good day, I will wear a flower or a balloon — something like that. If I’m going to have a bad day, I may wear a spider.
“My niche in writing books is to make foreign policy interesting and understandable to non-experts, and my pins allow me to tell stories, which helps me do that. They all have a story.”
On a more serious note, she said this is an important time for people to understand foreign policy.
“There are an awful lot of things going on. President Obama has a foreign policy agenda the likes of which I have never seen.
“We have to figure out how to fight terrorism without creating more terrorists. I disagree with the term ‘war on terror’ because it makes people who are murderers out to be something more than that. It elevates them. It makes them heroes in their own societies. That term has been dropped, finally,” she said.
She said the threat today from nuclear weapons is very high.
“We have to be careful that the worst weapons don’t get into the hands of the worst people.”
Another important issue, according to Albright, is the growing gap between rich and poor.
“It is true in this country, and it is true abroad. There are actually fewer poor people today, but the gap is greater. While there is no straight line between poverty and terrorism, it does not take a great imagination to figure out that people who are alienated from society and have no jobs and no life within the system are more likely to be recruited by these terror groups.”
She also pointed to issues with energy and the financial crisis.
“The rise of authoritarian demagogues in Latin America also worries me,” she said.
“There is a lot to talk about. I would sure like to see the restoration of the good name of democracy. I believe in democracy, but it has a bad name in Iraq. You cannot impose democracy. That is an oxymoron.”
Answering questions from the audience, she said, “foreign policy is just trying to get another country to do what you want.”
“What is in our toolbox? There isn’t a lot in it. You have unilateral diplomacy, multilateral diplomacy, economic incentives and disincentives, the threat of the use of force, the use of force, intelligence. It is not a lot. No matter how powerful you are, that’s all you have,” she said.
Perhaps it was fitting, given the nature of her book, that she was asked whether it was appropriate in the last presidential campaign for some people to make an issue out of who was or wasn’t wearing a flag lapel pin.
“I love wearing an American flag pin. The biggest one I ever wore was to North Korea. I wore it on purpose, because I knew that there would be pictures taken of me with The Dear Leader, and I might as well have on a flag.
“I wear them by choice. In North Korea, people have to wear pins with pictures of Kim Jong il. When you are forced to wear them, I disapprove of it. What was done during the campaign was wrong. It is not a sign of patriotism whether you wear an American flag or not. It is only in authoritarian countries where you are forced to wear them.”
She also spoke about her childhood in Denver, where her father taught at the University of Denver.
“I happen to really like the United Nations, and it was right here in Colorado that I got started on all of this, so I believe in the UN.”
As a sophomore in high school, she recalled, she won a United Nations contest for the Rocky Mountain Empire by naming, in alphabetical order, all 51 countries then in the United Nations.
Even her pins sometimes served a serious purpose. The Russians once bugged a room near her office.
“We found the bug, and the next time I met with the Russians, I wore a large bug pin.”
She says the idea of using pins to make a political statement began with an Iraqi poem.
“This book would not have existed if it were not for Saddam Hussein. It was my job to say perfectly terrible things about Saddam Hussein, which was fine, because he was a terrible man. At one point, a poem was published in the Baghdad paper in which I was referred to as a serpent, so I began wearing snake pins on days I would be dealing with Iraq.
“Sometimes I went too far and got in a little trouble. I bought three (“see, hear, speak no evil”) monkeys. When we went to Russia, I wore the monkeys because I so objected to what the Russians were doing in Chechnya. They asked about the monkeys and I told them why I was wearing them, and it didn’t go over very well.”