McCain and Albright: Spirited Debate Over Policies, Consensus On Democracy

Washington, D.C.— Bipartisanship was on full display at an event co-hosted by the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI), with Senator John McCain and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright engaging in a pointed but constructive debate over the future of U.S. global leadership.

In a panel moderated by Washington Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt, IRI Chairman Sen. McCain stressed the importance of remaining committed to democracy and learning the lessons of history. “It’s what you do after the conflict that really matters. The hardest part is building the most fragile and difficult thing of all: the institutions of democracy and freedom,” he said. “I would argue that when America leads from behind, ideologies lead from in front.”

NDI Chairman Sec. Albright argued for the vital need for robust multilateral engagement by the U.S. “We are the indispensable nation, but there’s nothing in that definition that says ‘alone.’ It just means that we need to be engaged,” she said. “Democracy is about helping those who want to help themselves be a part of a democratic system.”

In his keynote address, Former Secretary General of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen called on democracies to work together to confront authoritarianism. “Any failure to counter oppression will only invite further oppression,” Rasmussen said. “That is the lesson of the twentieth century—a lesson we must never forget.”

In his closing remarks, Rasmussen reflected on the consequences of America withdrawing from its historical role as world leader. “If the U.S. retrenches and retreats… it leaves behind a vacuum that will be filled by the bad guys…I trust America and American leadership. Of course, America makes mistakes. But who else should be the leader of the free world? The world’s democracies must rise to the challenge, and America must exercise determined global leadership.”

The event, held November 29 and billed as a bipartisan “Celebration of Democracy,” highlighted the historical cooperation between IRI and NDI and the bipartisan support for democracy assistance in the United States. Founded in 1983, IRI and NDI work with political parties, civic groups, and parliaments in more than 100 countries to strengthen democratic institutions, safeguard elections, advance citizen engagement, and promote open and accountable government.


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