Book Excerpt: Madeleine Albright's 'The Mighty and the Almighty'

My own reactions are grounded in my various identities, as a daughter of Czechoslovakia, an American who is intensely proud of her adopted country, and a former secretary of state. My hero when I was growing up was Tomá¡s Garrigue Masaryk, who founded modern Czechoslovakia in 1918. Masaryk was a major influence on the thinking of my father and -- through him -- on me. Unlike many religious people, who see humanism as an alternative to faith in God, Masaryk saw the two as linked. To him, religious faith meant showing respect for every person and being willing to help others. Masaryk did not think it was necessary to believe in God to be moral, but he did argue that religious faith, properly understood, did much to encourage and strengthen right behavior. I have similar views. It is a perversion of faith to turn religion into a source of conflict and hate; it also creates severe problems for America and for the world. Growing up in the United States transformed me, despite having witnessed much turbulence at a tender age, into a confirmed optimist. As a young woman, I took my theme -- but without irony -- from Leonard Bernstein's adaptation of Candide: "Everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds." All through my years of government service, I maintained a positive outlook. In the Clinton administration, we talked a lot about the twenty-first century and, characteristically, felt sure that America, with others, could find a solution to most problems. I still feel that way, but I worry that we have been making some serious and avoidable mistakes.

There are days now when it is hard to pick up a newspaper. I think the U.S. government has thoroughly botched its response to international terror, damaged America's reputation, and substituted slogans for strategy in promoting freedom. I willingly concede, however, the difficulty and complexity of the problems the Bush administration is facing. I have often said that those who have never held the highest jobs in government do not know how hard these jobs can be, and that those who retire from them tend to forget quickly. Critics have an obligation to be fair and to offer constructive ideas. That is the purpose of this book. Part One deals with America's position in the world and the role played by religion and morality in shaping U.S. foreign policy, both now and in the past. Part Two concentrates on troubled relationships between Islamic communities and the West. Part Three offers my thoughts about how U.S. foreign policy and religion can best intersect. In keeping with my nature, the chapters are aimed primarily at practical policy-making -- doing what works best. In keeping with the nature of religion, they are sometimes dominated by a parallel theme -- doing what is right. Locating the convergence of the two is my ultimate goal, as it should be for the policy-makers of a nation that has, from its earliest days, sought to be judged both by its prowess and by its ideals.

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