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Madeleine Albright on Diplomacy, Women, and All Those Pins

Madeleine Albright spoke at the TED conference in December.  Here’s an excerpt of her chat with Pat Mitchell of the Paley Center for Media.


Madeleine Albright is great. Her memoir Madame Secretary is a swell read, and possibly the only way to really understand how a Czech immigrant and former housewife could earn a doctorate at age 39, then become America’s ambassador to the United Nations and the first female Secretary of State.

In this TED talk, Albright tells a story about arriving at the UN in 1993 and holding a lunch for all the women permanent representatives of the 183 UN countries.  She was stunned when she arrived at lunch to find six other women — the sum total of all the female ambassadors at the UN.  (The other countries were Canada, Kazakhstan, The Philippines, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, and Liechtenstein.)

She also talks about the origin of her signature lapel pins:

“I went to the United Nations as ambassador and it was after the Gulf War… and the ceasefire had been translated into a series of sanction resolutions, and my instructions were to say perfectly terrible things about Saddam Hussein constantly, which he deserved: he had invaded another country.

And so all of a sudden a poem appeared in the papers in Baghdad, comparing me to many things, but among them ‘an unparalleled serpent.’  And so I happened to have a snake pin, so I wore it when we talked about Iraq.

And when I went out to meet the press they zeroed in and said ‘Why are you wearing that snake pin?’ And I said ‘Because Saddam Hussein compared me to an unparallelled serpent.’  And then I thought, ‘Well this is fun.’  So I went out and I bought a lot of pins that would in fact reflect what I thought we were going to do on any given day. So that’s how it all started.”

Madeleine Albright says of women diplomats, “I think we’re better about putting ourselves in the other guy’s shoes.” But she also debunks the idea that all problems would be solved if women ran the world: “If you think that, you’ve forgotten high school.”

See our full biography of Madeleine Albright >>


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