There are power suits, power heels—but a power pin? Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright explains how she used brooches to say everything from "I come in peace" to "Don't tread on me" in Read My Pins.
When we think about international diplomacy, we usually envision high-level meetings with handshakes and important documents to be signed. My predecessors as secretary of state appeared at such meetings in their fancy suits with power ties; when I took office, I thought the time might be right to display pins with attitude.

The idea of using pins as a diplomatic tool can't be found in any State Department manual; in fact, it would never have happened if not for Saddam Hussein. After I criticized Hussein for failing to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors, the government-controlled Iraqi press referred to me as an "unparalleled serpent."

By chance, I had a meeting scheduled with Iraqi officials; I decided to wear a pin showing a reptile coiled around a branch. When the meeting was over, a reporter asked me why I had chosen that particular pin. I smiled and said "Just my way of sending a message." Before long, jewelry had become part of my personal diplomatic arsenal. The first President Bush had been known for saying "Read my lips." I began urging colleagues to "Read my pins."

See some of the pins in her collection

As an instrument of foreign policy, a pin is clearly not in the same league as a peace agreement or a deal to limit nuclear arms. So I do not claim too much, but I do think that the right symbol at the correct time can add something meaningful to a relationship, whether that something is warm and fuzzy—or very, very sharp.

It was also enjoyable to see how other foreign ministers would react. If I had on a ladybug or a butterfly, they knew that I was in a good mood. If I wore my angel pin, they could expect me to be gentle. But if it was a spider or a wasp, they had fair warning to watch out.

During four years of Middle East peace negotiations, I almost exhausted my collection. When first speaking on the subject, I wore a dove pin that had been a gift from the widow of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who had been assassinated because of his support for peace. Later, in Jerusalem, Mrs. Rabin presented me with a whole necklace of doves, saying that the dove pin might need reinforcements.

She was right.


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