You’d expect a discussion between two secretaries of state and a moderator to be solemn and direct. But Monday’s Tate Lecture opened with lighthearted banter about network television. CNN Senior Political Analyst David Gergen asked the first Female Secretary of State Madeleine Albright about the new CBS show Madame Secretary.
“I met with the writers, and I think it’s a pretty good show. I wish I looked like her,” said Albright, who wore a Mustang broach to the SMU event.
But the tone quickly became—and remained—serious in the year’s first Tate Lecture as Albright, Gergen and former Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed global issues, principally what do with the terror group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.
“I’m an optimist who worries a lot,” Albright said in regards to current foreign policy.
The panel discussed why America was caught off guard by ISIS and how to best respond to the group’s threats of terrorism.
“Intelligence is not a pure science,” Powell said. “I can’t say why we didn’t know more.”
He and Albright agreed Iraq and ISIS should be the U.S.’s top priority in foreign policy today.
Powell suggested we use the Iraqi army to combat ISIS, rather than American troops.
“It’s a lack of will,” he said of why the Iraqi military has not been actively fighting ISIS.
Albright emphasized the need for Americans to educate themselves on foreign issues and be prepared to take the time needed to address the threat.
“Ultimately, it will take us a long time to get out of this,” she said.
SMU Senior Carissa Laughlin thought Powell and Albright both offered valuable perspective into the ISIS debate.
“While Powell had a much more hands on perception of how to handle ISIS, Albright touched on the importance of educated citizenry,” Laughlin said. “While Powell discussed the ISIS situation more in depth, both had insightful things to share.”
Albright stressed that these foreign issues were “too serious to have it be political football,” a position that resonated with first-year William Armstrong.
“Diplomacy and foreign policy should focus more on the country and issues at hand rather than party ideals and in order to develop effective strategies and policies,” Armstrong said.
Gergen noted we needed to combat the growing trend of Americans only watching commentary with which they agreed. The panel agreed citizens should look at facts, and seek to understand rather than make news.
“We’re not here to make news. We’re here to understand,” Gergen said.
“It surprised me when Colin Powell pointed out that commentators on major television networks today feel the need to commentate on what other commentators are saying, which leads to an inevitable gridlock,” said SMU Junior Kevin Steinhart.
The group also spent time discussing Putin and his actions in Ukraine and Crimea.
“Putin is living in a parallel universe,” Albright said of Putin.
She noted that the Russian president is making up facts to achieve his goals. Powell disagreed, saying we needed to work with Putin, not outcast him, for maximum success.
“We better hope he doesn’t do reverse sanctions, because we have a lot to lose,” Powell said.
Additionally, Powell, Albright and Gergen discussed Syrian leader Riad al-Asaad, the standstill in Israel, and the imminent importance of working with India and China as they grow in population and in political prowess.
Powell, Albright and Gergen answered questions from SMU and area high school students earlier Tuesday at the Student Forum. They discussed subjects such as civil liberties and immigration reform and even joked about George Clooney’s wedding being in the news too much.
Thomas Schmedding, a sophomore majoring in Finance and International Development Studies, enjoyed the opportunity to ask world leaders about current issues.
“Regarding American foreign policy, these are two of the brightest minds of our generation,” Schmedding said. “The comments by General Powell and Secretary Albright exemplify an unique, educated perspective that many SMU students would never experience outside of the university.”
Monday’s sold-out lecture was the first event in the newly renovated McFarlin Auditorium. The next Tate Lecture on Oct. 21 will feature Peter Thiel, the former CEO and co-founder of PayPal.