Read My Lips

Madeleine Albright — What America Should Have Done

Read what the first female U.S. Secretary of State thinks about current U.S. policies in the Middle East.

Madeleine Albright opens up about the Bush Administration — and its policies.


Madeleine Albright has plenty of foreign policy experiences. As the first woman U.S. Secretary of State, she has chosen to open up about how she views the policies pursued by the Bush Administration in the Arab world. Drawn from her Foreign Affairs essay, our Read My Lips feature explores what this former member of the Clinton Administration has to say.

Do you agree with the premise of the war on Iraq?

“I personally felt the war was justified on the basis of Saddam’s decade-long refusal to comply with UN Security Council resolutions on WMD.”

What is the Bush Administration's primary strategy?

“The Bush Administration has chosen to take the problem of al Qaeda — and meld it with the challenge of halting WMD proliferation.”

Why is this a problem?

“By linking Baghdad to al Qaeda, the Bush Administration sought to equate opposition to fighting Iraq with gutlessness in confronting Bin Laden.”

But defeating al Qaeda would be a significant success, right?

“Defeating al Qaeda would not end the problem of proliferation. Al Qaeda is deadly even without nuclear, chemical and biological arms.”

Have President Bush's policies been misguided?

“I credit Bush for his ambition and for taking political risks he did not have to take. I harbor no doubts about his sincerity.”

Why did President Bush believe he could act with little international support?

“Perhaps one reason this administration does not feel the need to consult much with others is its surety of vision.”

How would a Gore Administration have pursued a different policy?

“Had Al Gore been elected president (and had the attacks of September 11 still happened) the United States and NATO would have gone to war in Afghanistan together, then deployed forces all around that country — and stayed to rebuild it.”

How might his administration have addressed this situation?

“Rather than flaunting American power, the U.S. government would have stressed the collective power of a world united in asserting that terrorism is wrong — just as genocide, apartheid and slavery are wrong.”

Can the Bush Administration still achieve desirable outcomes from this war?

“For the good of the United States, I hope his policies succeed. But I am left with the feeling that he has needlessly placed obstacles in his own path.”

Generally speaking, why do you favor the exercise of American power on the global stage?

“American power may harm French pride, but it also helped roll back Hitler, save a blockaded Berlin, defeat Communism — and rid the Balkans of a rampaging Slobodan Milosevic.”

Can the UN really handle such messy crises?

“Consider the model of Kosovo. There a NATO-led peacekeeping force — with Russian participation and assisted by a new civilian police force — is providing security for administrators from the United Nations, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, who are working with local parties to prepare a democratic transition.”

How hard is it to work with allies?

“It takes patience to work with allies and to bring out the best in international organizations. But doing so also delivers great benefits: Costs are shared, burdens distributed, legitimacy enhanced — diverse talents engaged.”

What about the European allies?

“If Europeans have differences with U.S. policy, those differences should not be dismissed as signs of weakness — or age — or tantamount to treason.”

How can U.S.-EU relations get back on track?

“The challenge for the United States is to frame a choice for Europe that most of Europe can embrace with dignity — if not always with France.”

What is the real challenge with the United States' effort to bring democracy to the Middle East?

“For years, Arab populations have received a distorted message from Washington that the United States stands for democracy, freedom and human rights everywhere — except in the Middle East — and for everyone, except the Arabs.”

Was the war helpful?

"The Iraq war and subsequent U.S. occupation of Baghdad — the capital of Islam during the faith’s golden age — have made more difficult the choices Islamic moderates and others around the world must make."

What about Saudi Arabia in all this?

“The teaching of Wahhabi Islam in Saudi Arabia’s mosques — generously supported by the royal family — has created a global center for the dissemination of hatred.”

So where do you stand on the Bush Administration?

“For the good of the United States, I hope his policies succeed. But I am left with the feeling that he has needlessly placed obstacles in his own path.”

Finally, has time run out to fix U.S. foreign policy?

“It is late, but not too late, for the Bush Administration to adjust its course.”

Our Read My Lips feature is based on excerpts from Ms. Albright's essay "Bridges, Bombs, or Bluster?" published in the September-October 2003 issue of Foreign Affairs.

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