What role does the US intend to play in a world that finds itself in a state of disorder? At the Stuttgart Dialog, former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright advocates for both sides of the Atlantic to stick together. She is concerned about the Trump administration’s policies, yet she also looks at the state of the EU with a critical eye.
Her appearance is a sort of patriotic declaration, despite very few of her words actually sounding like a pledge of loyalty to the commander in chief of her home country. It was merely a tiny detail that provided the air of patriotism: Madeleine Albright opted for a particularly special brooch for her guest appearance in Stuttgart. Throughout her diplomatic career, she used seemingly small accessories such as these to unsettle a few statesmen. This Thursday, the brooch was made of gold and depicted an eagle, the symbolic animal of the United States. Doing so gave some of her disrespectful comments a nearly official tone.
"There are no easy answers," says Madeleine Albright in a conversation with Constanze Stelzenmüller (left) and Joachim Dorfs. "We have to question those who claim to have easy answers."
This past Thursday, around a thousand guests were given a glimpse of the reservations Albright has with regard to Trump. The former US Secretary of State was a guest at the Stuttgart Dialog in Hegel Hall at the Liederhalle conference center, which was hosted by this newspaper together with the Robert Bosch Stiftung. Joachim Dorfs, editor in chief of the Stuttgarter Zeitung, and Constanze Stelzenmüller, Robert Bosch Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington, D.C., attempted to make sense of what Europe could expect from US President Trump. Three students of the Wagenburg-Gymnasium were also given the opportunity to ask questions of Secretary Albright.
Madeleine Albright answering question from students of the Stuttgart Wagenburg-Gymnasium. She encourages young people to be politically active.
No Purveyor of Hysteria
"The world is in a state of confusion," Albright complained even years ago. And in light of current relations, especially in the United States, her diagnosis of chaos is put "very diplomatically." Thanks to Donald Trump, the world is "even more chaotic today." But Albright does not see herself as a purveyor of hysteria – she also had some comforting thoughts to share with the audience. Many promises are made during campaigns that ultimately never come to fruition once the candidate takes office and comes face-to-face with the challenges associated with their post.
However, the beginning of Trump’s administration has not been "a big success story." Secretary of Defense James Mattis is one of the examples Albright mentioned as one of the reasonable people with whom Trump has surrounded himself, but she painted a more demonic picture of Stephen Bannon, who very clearly has the ear of the president. "I do indeed consider him to be very dangerous," she said. To her, he sometimes seems like a sort of "grim reaper" who maintains "difficult alliances" with the political Right. His openly professed admiration for Lenin is "not an American approach." She wonders whether it is prudent to allow such a person to sit on the National Security Council. "He would be thrilled that I am in a foreign country calling him dangerous," Albright said. "He’d even be proud of that fact."
EU Politicians Are Not Grounded
When speaking about the president, she chooses her words more carefully. She thinks he has the capacity to learn. He is a "clever man." The more chaotic the world appears, the more leadership it demands. Leadership – but not "American dominance" – is urgently needed. America is a world leader, but one that "needs partnerships." America is large enough: it does not need to get any bigger, "especially not at the expense of others."
Albright was not only born in Europe (namely, in Prague in 1937), but she also says of herself: "I am a European at heart." Her assessment of the current situation in Europe, however, sounds rather pessimistic. Trump is not the only American who looks upon Europe with skepticism. For an American, she says, the geography of responsibilities within the European Union looks like a map of the cosmos. Many people are in charge who are not grounded in everyday realities. The order of the EU is standing on a shaky foundation because there are no common fiscal policies. But Trump’s criticism has gone too far. "We feel a little bit let down by both sides."
Around a thousand guests followed the conversation with Madeleine Albright in Stuttgart.
Albright: Merkel Is a "Hero"
For her, Merkel is a bright light shining in the darkness. She has great respect for the German chancellor. When faced with the difficult refugee situation, she simply did what had to be done. Later on, her words took on an emphatically lofty tone: "She is a hero," emphasized Albright. Albright’s words were greeted with spontaneous applause, also for her statement that other countries – especially the United States - need to do more to help.
Madeleine Albright got standing ovations and received a present from Uta-Micaela Dürig: a pretzel pin.
Where does the support for Trump come from? What is feeding Populism? When faced with these questions, the audience could see Albright’s wheels turning: Governments had lost touch with the people whom they were supposed to represent. Anger directed at the elites is no mirage - the social contract has been broken. Citizens no longer feel obligated to remain loyal because they have been given the impression that the government is not doing its job. "Obstruction became policy," she said, "and politics became obstruction." Technical progress had left behind plenty of losers on the Left and Right along the way. Many people have lost their jobs, but they still manage to have an iPhone and are not aware of the cognitive dissonance of their interests. "We always look to Germany," says Albright. She is referring to the education system and has great things to say: "So few students are left hanging!"
The diplomat likes to convey messages with her pins. The pretzel can now remind her of her visit to Stuttgart.
In a one-on-one conversation with the Madame Secretary, Hatem Abd El Lateef, one of the students, brought up the symbolic messages sent by her jewelry. He wants to know which brooch she would choose if she were invited to meet with President Trump. Albright does not need long to think: "I have one that looks like Donald Duck."
Presenters Constanze Stelzenmüller and Joachim Dorfs with guest Madeleine Albright and Uta-Micaela Dürig, Chief Executive Officer of the Robert Bosch Stiftung (right).