On a Book Review: The Mighty and The Almighty

One afternoon while in Alabama, we went to the public library. I knew the book I wanted wasn’t available, so I browsed. When I saw this one, I knew this was for me – The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs by Madeleine Albright.

This book by the former US Secretary of State focuses on the success and failures of US foreign policy in the Middle East after the horrific events of 9-11 – but with a definite eye on religion. We know presidents intertwine politics, religion, and policy, but what about if they proclaim a special relationship with God that is derived from God? What are the religious forces acting on the political?

The Middle East is the home to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Three faiths descending from the same genealogical tree – three faiths claiming the importance of obedience – three faiths with a religious fundamentalism driving the narrative while not representing the majority in that faith.

Published by Harper-Collins in 2006, The Mighty and the Almighty divides its 352 pages into three sections (plus endnotes, bibliography, acknowledgements, and an index):

  • Part I (seven chapters) examines “America’s position in the world and the role played by religion and morality in shaping US foreign policy.”
  • Part II (ten chapters) focuses “On relationships between Islamic communities and the West” with dedicated chapters on Iraq, Al Qaeda, Saudi Arabia, Jihads, Israel & Palestine, and more.
  • Part III (two chapters) are “Personal thoughts about how US foreign policy and religion can intersect.”

Two particular chapters caught my attention because they can stand alone as important reading for anyone. Chapter 4 focuses on Madeleine Albright’s personal belief system. It’s very personal, edgy, and sprinkled with quotes from leading authorities supporting her point. There were times I even laughed. One doesn’t have to agree with her on every aspect, but this chapter helps readers understand her.

The second, Chapter 8, should be required reading for every non-Muslim because it provides a condensed view of Islam – a religion that most people know very little about, therefore hold many misconceptions that reside at the core of decisiveness.

The 2006 publishing date was during the George W Bush presidency, The Mighty and the Almighty offers readers a chance to look back at the early years of the post 9-11 world through the lens of what we know today. Throughout the text, Albright offers personal insights from a diplomatic perspective, as well as supportive quotes by prominent people.

There are times when she is critical of the Bush administration – so I’m confident this bothers certain partisan readers who also won’t notice the times when she praises President Bush. Christian conservatives won’t like this book because it does not reinforce their worldview and Middle East perspective.

While well-written, absorbing, and easy to read, The Mighty and the Almighty is insightful about the complexities of foreign policy. After all, foreign policy diplomats have a toolbox of available tools to use such as diplomacy, economic incentives or sanctions, law enforcement, military action or support, and using intelligence to gain more information about the situation.

Anyone looking for excruciating detail will be disappointed because Albright wrote this book for the general public – not experienced, well-informed diplomats. How much detail can a 14-15 page chapter about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict deliver? However, for most of us, there is enough information woven together that explains the situation’s complexity.

Perhaps her dedication says it all: “Dedicated to those in every nation and faith who defend liberty, build peace, dispel ignorance, fight poverty, and seek justice.”

To Madeleine Albright and her book – Thumbs up to The Mighty and the Almighty.

On Obama in Cairo

In his recent Cairo speech, President Obama attempted to reach out to Muslim nations. Although I unquestionably support his extended-hand approach, many obstacles exist.

Over 20 countries encompass this outreach. That’s 20+ countries, with 20+ cultures – some more moderate than others in terms of their interpretations to the Quran, treatment of women, views of the West, and in their beliefs toward Jews and Christians; over 20+ economies, each being differently integrated into the world economy; some with democratic governance and others not; plus many other differences. In other words, one size doesn’t fit all.

I do say this not to condemn President Obama’s efforts, but to shine light on the enormity of the task at hand; let alone it takes two to tango.

Then there are we, the Americans with many cultural differences within us – liberals and conservatives, Northerners and Southerners, Protestants and Catholics, Democrats and Republicans; East Coast, West Coast, and heartland; evangelicals, fundamentalists, and mainstreamers, supporters of a 2-state Israeli-Palestinian solution and those opposed, and who knows how many more – let alone our knowledge of Islam or lack of: What do we know? What misconceptions do we have? What do Christians, Jews, and Muslims have in common? What is the difference between a Shiite and a Sunni?

This is an example of life known as the intersection of fear and hope. Fear focuses on our own survival based on the harsh reality of the present, thus freezing us in an anti-neighborly role. On the other hand, hope is a positive movement allowing growth by reaching out. Bottom line is which path would you take?

Let us remember, it’s not all on Islamic countries as understanding and respect is important to all – we Americans included – thus the paramount need for learning so we know how to act at the intersection of fear and hope.