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Photo Illustration: Axios Visuals. Getty Images photos: Benjamin Lowy

"I'm disappointed," Madeleine Albright says when asked about the lack of collective action on the pandemic, including at the UN this week. "Am I surprised? No."

What she's saying: "Given the kind of atmosphere that is out there by virtue of America's lack of interest — more than lack of interest, undermining — of an international system, it's hard."

Albright represented the U.S. as ambassador to the UN (1993-1997) and as secretary of state (1997-2001) when American power was near its apex.

  • She says that power is still there to be exerted to spur global action on issues like the pandemic, climate change and nuclear proliferation.
  • "There is nothing better than representing the United States, but you have to decide how you are going to use that power in terms of getting others to cooperate and be a part of a common solution."
  • "It requires a kind of diplomacy that is in many ways built on day-to-day relationships — putting ourselves in another country's shoes," she says.

The other side: President Trump made much the opposite argument in his address to the General Assembly, contending that the world would be better off if countries followed his lead and focused on their own populations.

  • Albright, who has endorsed Joe Biden, contends that there's still time for a course correction — but that if Trump is reelected, the "U.S.-led" global system may be impossible to put back together.
  • "Another four years of this, and it really is going to be increasingly difficult to persuade anybody that we are going to be dependable partners," she says.

Her bottom line: "After a while, I think people will say, 'If you don't want to be a partner, then go do your thing and we'll do ours.'"

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Dave Lawler, author of World
Updated Jul 3, 2020 - World

The 53 countries supporting China's crackdown on Hong Kong

Note: The U.S. has been highly critical of China over the law, but withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council in 2018; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Dueling statements at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva shed light on geopolitical currents far beyond the walls of that institution.

Driving the news: China's Foreign Ministry and state media declared victory after 53 countries backed Beijing's new national security law for Hong Kong. Just 27 criticized the law, which imposes harsh penalties for vaguely defined political crimes and is widely viewed as the death knell for Hong Kong's autonomy.

Republicans pledge to set aside differences and work with Biden

President Biden speaks to Sen. Mitch McConnell after being sworn in at the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. Photo: Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images

Several Republicans praised President Biden's calls for unity during his inaugural address on Wednesday and pledged to work together for the benefit of the American people.

Why it matters: The Democrats only have a slim majority in the Senate and Biden will likely need to work with the GOP to pass his legislative agenda.

The Biden protection plan

Joe Biden announces his first run for the presidency in June 1987. Photo: Howard L. Sachs/CNP/Getty Images

The Joe Biden who became the 46th president on Wednesday isn't the same blabbermouth who failed in 1988 and 2008.

Why it matters: Biden now heeds guidance about staying on task with speeches and no longer worries a gaffe or two will cost him an election. His staff also limits the places where he speaks freely and off the cuff. This Biden protective bubble will only tighten in the months ahead, aides tell Axios.