On Tuesday at the General Assembly, Obama challenged the international community to get "serious" about ideals of freedom and democracy. Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State, believes that the effectiveness of these remarks will depend on whether the United States is seen as a force of hope, or a force that divides the world even further.
"People generally tend to see the U.S. in a very positive light," says Albright. "In all the countries that were part of the Arab awakening, there are many many groups of people that are not out on the streets, that actually want to see a different form of government, and see the United States as a friend. So we can't just decide that the people that are out there demonstrating represent everything about how X country feels about us."
Though Albright is deeply saddened by the events that have unfolded in the last few weeks, she is not very optimistic about the possibility of a U.N. convention on blasphemy. Having been a part of U.N. drafting processes in the past, she thinks that defining "blasphemy" would prove incredibly difficult for the international community, particularly given how closely guarded freedom of speech is in the United States.
Ahmadinejad's comments this week have been outrageous as ever, and the situation in Syria looms large as well, perhaps casting a dark shadow over the Assembly. But Albright is not discouraged by the challenges the U.N. is facing.
"I so believe in an international organization," Albright says, "but I think there are questions generally about how an organization that's as large and as diverse. How does it work together?" The General Assembly is an important moment for the U.N. to prove itself to the international community at large.
"I have always thought that the General Assembly session is really quite remarkable," Albright says. She acknowledges the criticisms we often hear of the U.N. as an impotent organization, but asserts that the lack of faith in the effectiveness of the organization is part of a larger loss of faith in institutions — international and domestic alike.