Former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright told a ballroom full of high-powered Baltimore women yesterday that they should use their influence and dollars to help women in Afghanistan gain basic freedoms - to go to school, to work and to receive proper health care.
Speaking at the 10th annual Women of Excellence luncheon of Network 2000, a group of area professional women, Albright said Americans must do more to assure a civilized society in Afghanistan.
The prospect of a war in Iraq, Albright said, has distracted the Bush administration from finishing its job in Afghanistan, both in shoring up peace and in eradicating remaining terrorist networks. "We're preparing to fight a second war before the first is won," she said.
The event at the Baltimore Waterfront Marriott, attended by 1,400 people, was co-sponsored by the Baltimore Giving Project and the Women's Initiative of the United Way of Central Maryland. Many of those who attended have become givers in their own right, forming "giving circles" and other vehicles for involvement in causes apart from their husbands.
"We believe that an important component of leadership is philanthropy," said Deborah E. Jennings, head of the environmental practice group at Piper Rudnick and a co-chairwoman of the event. "It's something any woman with power should be thinking about and committed to."
To that end, some of those present had donated $1,000 to squeeze into a reception with Albright, the first female secretary of state, before the luncheon. The event raised an estimated $60,000 for three United Way charities - Marian House, which provides housing for women; Girl Scouts of Central Maryland; and the YWCA of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County.
The large turnout heartened Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who is waging an uphill battle as chairman of this year's United Way campaign because of the economy.
"This is one of the most encouraging events we could see right now, given the threat of war, given the economic downturn," Hrabowski said. "It shows people do care."
Albright urged those at the gathering to direct that caring overseas.
"I've been very depressed at the very small amount of money everybody has been contributing to Afghanistan," Albright said in an interview before her speech. "They need to have schools and health centers and be supported. If governments can't do it, then philanthropy can."
Albright also urged those present to ask hard questions about looming confrontation between the United States and Saddam Hussein.
She compared the administration's attitude toward Iraq to Gary Cooper's role in High Noon: a lone marshal without allies facing down an opponent.
She said she understood why the administration felt it necessary to deal with Hussein, whom she called "an evil person" and "a serial liar." But questions such as how long American soldiers would be in Iraq have not been addressed, and even the debate is being quelled, she said.
"What I have not liked, frankly, though, is that it has been alluded to that if you ask questions about it, it's not patriotic," Albright said to resounding applause. "I think it is our patriotic duty."
While she praised her audience for their work in philanthropy, Albright noted that it was more difficult than it might appear to tackle the world's problems, whether by charitable or governmental means.
She described meeting with a woman dying of AIDS in Africa while she was secretary of state. The woman asked whether someone would care for her children after she was gone. Albright had no answer.
"At the time, I was supposed to be the world's most powerful woman," Albright recalled. "But at that moment, I lacked even the power of speech."