Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright received the 2018 Jit Trainor Award for Excellence in the Conduct of Diplomacy on Feb. 12 for her contributions to diplomacy in her career. Nearly 300 students and staff gathered in Gaston Hall to hear Albright discuss the modern challenges to democracy around the world and the importance of public service.
In her lecture, “Diplomacy in Defense of Democracy,” Albright focused on her perspective of pressing issues in today’s diplomatic world. Albright said that though there are significant challenges now more than ever, there is also reason for hope as long as we resist the temptations of damaging rhetoric and irrational sentiments.
“Our American democracy has endured despite the periodic eruption of deep divisions, gridlock, and partisanship,” Albright said. “We have faced many, many setbacks in this country, but we have always found solutions, not by bowing to the false gods of nationalism, but by building better, more flexible, and responsive institutions.”
Frank Hogan, chair of the Trainor Lecture Fund Endowment, spoke about Raymond “Jit” Trainor (SFS ‘60), for whom the award is named. Established by SFS alumni after Trainor’s death, the award serves as a living memorial to his years of service to the university.
Ambassador Barbara K. Bodine, director of the School of Foreign Service Institute for the Study of Diplomacy (ISD), presented the award.
Bodine outlined the crucial qualities of leadership and unwavering commitment to diplomacy that Albright has demonstrated throughout her long career as a public servant.
“At its simplest, [public service] means to serve others, to work on and towards something larger than yourself,” Bodine said.
In their respective remarks, Albright and Hogan both emphasized the relevance of this celebration of diplomacy at such a critical era in international affairs.
“It is also timely that we recognize you at this moment in history, when the value of dialogue and diplomacy, something to which you have devoted your entire life, has been challenged as never before,” said Hogan, addressing Albright directly.
Albright highlighted the rise of authoritarianism and illiberal democracies as a particularly concerning hazards to modern democracy She mentioned specific threats, including Russian president Vladimir Putin and his aims to weaken organizations like NATO and the EU and his long term aims to tear down democratic institutions. According to Albright, these assaults on democracy should be alarming to all and are an important reason why the United States should not be so quick to abandon its role in international affairs.
“Russia’s interference in democratic processes around the world has now been documented by the intelligence community, the Senate Foreign Relations committee, and other authoritative sources,” Albright said. “It is undeniable and it is deeply disturbing. Yet perhaps what is most alarming has been the response from the United States government, or rather, the lack of one.”
She said this lack of a response to Russian interference has troubled American allies and thrilled their competitors. The Trump administration’s movement away from America’s traditional commitment to human rights and international presence is extremely troubling to the former secretary of state.
“It is the job of the president to protect our territory, our people, and our way of life,” Albright said. “Aggressors must be resisted. Intolerance can never again be allowed to hide behind the mask of nationalist pride. And the siren song of isolationism must not again distract us from the responsibilities of leadership.”
Albright provided some possible solutions for this tumultuous era, including the need to unite the theories of diplomacy learned in the classroom and its practical application in diplomatic proceedings. She frequently witnessed this troubling disconnect between theory and practice in the interactions of diplomats during her tenure as secretary of state and beyond. She said that the ISD helps to rectify this problem, a mission that Albright believes in very strongly.
“One of the reasons I was really excited to come to Georgetown to teach was that I had seen that disconnect and I really was very happy to be a part of working on some connection. I knew that this university was committed to bringing the communities together,” Albright said.
The ceremony concluded with a brief question and answer session with the audience. Questions from students and staff reflected common themes of national security, bipartisanship, and nationalism.
Her final advice was for Georgetown students looking to serve in today’s rapidly changing world.
“We need 21st century responses to the challenges facing democracy today,” Albright said. “And that will depend on having leaders who understand the difficulty of governing in a wired world, on institutions such as the School of Foreign Service and those who study diplomacy, who are training such leaders and helping inspire them to serve.”