Former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright shared with Dan Rather thoughts on foreign policy punctuated by her dry brand of wittism last Wednesday at the 92nd Street Y.
Drawing insights from her new memoir, A Memo to the President, Albright answered Rather’s probing questions on tough calls past presidents’ had made in foreign policy as well as her hopes for the new administration. Albright is expecting great things from the new administration: change in the American approach to foreign policy, greater open discussion and collaborative decision making within the White House and a chance for America to turn around the negative view the world currently has for the most part of American society and politics.
“There is a sense that this election will change how America is viewed by the world…We’re going to be engaged actively (in improving relations with Middle Eastern countries) and we’re going to have a very smart president,” said Albright, evoking a shattering round of applause.
The next administration has great challenges to confront, far more intimidating than anything the nation has ever faced, even Roosevelt. There is once again a dire economic crisis, but we also have many issues to deal with overseas. While we’ve fought Afghanistan and Iraq, the Hamas and Iran have gained power. We “took our eye off the ball in Aghanistan” and Al Quada has continued to grow in strength. “The U.S. has been absent”, she said.
The most important thing is to change our approach and give up this notion of a “war on terror”. Albright sees fighting terrorism through predominantly military force as the wrong approach. It won’t work. Our aggressive and military-driven approach has only fueled the extremist groups’ agendas. She indicated that our purely militaristic approach devoid of diplomatic means gave the world a dim picture of the U.S. foreign policy. And made it easy for terrorists to glorifying their agenda.
Clearly, Albright said, the current administration thought that they could go into Afghanistan and create enough damage that the terrorists would run away and hide and not try to bomb us again. We were egotistical to think that they could be so easily subdued and we lack the foresight to have a plan b, c and d.
Iraq was “the greatest disaster in foreign policy”. Albright claims that the results were worse than Vietnam War because of the damage done to America’s reputation in international relations. Albright’s advice for turning around the world’s current view of America: close Guantamanamo Bay was the second step. The first step has already been achieved _electing President-elect Obama.
Another item on her wish list for the future president’s foreign policy agenda is to create a global atrocity committee that can monitor possible conflicts and develop strategies for negotiations and conflict resolution, watch for the signs that lead to genocidal activity. The situation in Somalia and Rawanda taught her that detachment from conflict at the level of genocide is not an option.
“It is our responsibility to prevent genocide”.
The Israel and Palestine was also at the center of the conversation and at the top of Albright’s concerns in foreign policy. Albright saw a bi-lateral instead of unilateral with drawl of military would have been a more successful solution. And using a moderate from Israel or W.Gaza who could take credit for the withdrawl would have been the best approach.
The major benchmarks for change in Gaza-Israel conflict are related to the cause/effect of many political leaders tactics and their opponents’ reactions. If there is a ceasefire for long enough to initiate a peace process, probably led by someone such as Tony Blair or Dr. Ahmed Mohammed Nazif, there might be some progress towards a resolution between the two nations. Also, it is very important to see what the U.S. role will be in this situation and how we will become involved under the new administration or possibly the old. Albright also saw a need for more consistency in the U.S. approach to the foreign policy on the Middle East. A regional policy may be necessary.
There is also a considerable amount of work overdue in the Americas region. Illegal border crossing continues despite the recent increase of 18, 000 border patrol officers. Albright believes the U.S. can influence Latin American countries in a positive way. Encouraging and promoting democracy is important but not at the expense of the peoples’ quality of life.
“People want to vote and eat.”
Can Obama achieve all this? The most important thing is that he act as a “confident not a certain president”. A confident president isn’t afraid to be challenged by various points of view, to insist his cabinet members’ challenge each other and remain open himself to considering all the angles his team has presented to him before making a decision. That takes team work. And the American people should also be a part of the president’s effort to create change.
“I hope that when you stand for the first time behind the presidential seat you will have uppermost in your mind the need to restore our faith in each other. Speak to us as adults–share with us your thinking, tell us your doubts…Beyond that, let us know what we can do to help. Challenge us. We aren’t afraid of the truth and we’re more willing to make sacrifices than we ordinarily let on”.*
To read more about Albright’s insights on foreign policy during her service as Secretary of State, pick up a copy of A Memo to the President. Her memoir gives you a 101 class in modern foreign policy since World War II. It’s an engaging peice of nonfiction and worth sharing with fellow history/current affairs fanatics.
*Albright, Madeleine. Memo to the President. HarperCollins Publishers; New York: 2008, pg. 310.