Madeleine K. Albright discusses world affairs and her career in U.S. government.
The Home Box Office History Makers series focuses particular attention on the contributions made by a prominent individual at a critical juncture in international relations. Recent speakers in the series include James D. Wolfensohn, Condoleezza Rice, and Stanley McChrystal.
RICHARD HAASS: Well, good afternoon. Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations. I'm Richard Haass, and I'm fortunate enough to be president, and I'm also fortunate enough to be here today with Madeleine Albright.
Madeleine, as you all know, was secretary of state. What you probably don't all know is this is the 33rd meeting in this series on HBO History Makers, which you kicked off for us back when. It's all made possible by HBO and our good friend Richard Plepler, who's the -- who's the president there. We've had an extraordinary series of people speak in this series, including former President of South Africa de Klerk, Jim Baker, Ehud Barak, Stan McChrystal and others.
In the interest of full disclosure in conflicts of interest, Madeleine has been a member of this organization for many years.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Many years.
HAASS: She's a member of the board of directors, and she's a friend. And it's great to welcome her back to the council today. As you know, she started a trend. She was the first woman to be secretary of state, but anything but the last. I like the comment of your -- the comment of your granddaughter.
ALBRIGHT: Well, my granddaughter three years ago, when she was 7, said, so what's the big deal about Grandma Maddy being secretary of state? Only girls are secretary of state -- (laughter) -- which doesn't work anymore, but it did for a while. (Laughter.)
HAASS: Doesn't work anymore. Yeah, well, John was there for, you know, diversity. (Laughter.)
ALBRIGHT: Right. Right.
HAASS: (We heard ?) it was time for a guy to get the job back.
Before that Secretary Albright was the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations for four years. Actually, I'm going to ask you the same question I ask everybody else: Why is the -- why are ambassadors to the United Nations called permanent representatives?
ALBRIGHT: Because they're supposed to sit there the whole time. (Laughter.)
HAASS: So you don't know either?
ALBRIGHT: No. (Laughter.)
HAASS: OK. She also served on the staff of the National Security Council during the Carter years, and before that she was the chief legislative assistant to someone else who became secretary of state, Ed Muskie, one of the truly distinguished senators of the modern era.
She's published at least five books that have sold extraordinarily well. This part, I speak with some, you know, jealousy, bitterness, envy and the rest. (Laughter.) Her most recent just came out in paperback today, which is called "Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War." For those of you who want to stimulate the economy, it is available for sale outside, and actually sign. And what it does is it chronicles the years -- what, in the run-up to World War II?
ALBRIGHT: '37 to '48, right after World War II.
HAASS: OK, through the war -- which we'll talk about in a second because Madeleine -- Secretary Albright was a -- not just a witness to history in some ways but, for better and for worse, a participant in it.
So we're going to talk about, you know, things that she did later on. But let's -- and I want to also spend a little bit of time talking about what's going on at the State Department now and some advice.
But let's begin with the book, with "Prague Winter," which is -- and it's all taking place against the backdrop of the run-up to war, against appeasement, against Munich.
When you see the use of that historical example, of Munich, I guess my question is to what extent do you worry it gets overused, abused, misused, or do you still think more often than not it's still a pretty useful thing, and you worry more that a whole new generation's coming into positions of responsibility, and they hear the word "Munich," and they have no idea what you're talking about?
ALBRIGHT: Well, I grew up with the whole concept of Munich. And by the way, thank you so much for having me here. Well, I am in the family, but it's wonderful to be here and to have everybody here. Thank you.
For me, as somebody who was born in Czechoslovakia and the daughter of a diplomat that had -- that spent World War II in England and with the government in exile, I kind of grew up with the whole idea that Munich might have been the single worst agreement ever made, by the British and French with the Germans and Italians, over the head of Czechoslovakia. And as a result of that, Czechoslovakia was sold down the river. And it is really kind of viewed as the epitome of appeasement and sellout and not standing up to evil generally.
I think in many ways, it is overdrawn because people just forget all the circumstances around it. On the other hand, I do have to say that in many ways, generations are divided as to whether they are of the Munich generation or the Vietnam generation, the Munich one understanding that if you don't stand up for evil and you give in that you are likely to be drawn into something much worse later; the Vietnam generation, those who say you should never get involved. Those are both overstated. So I do think it continues to be very important but does have a tendency to be overdrawn.
I spent a lot of time on it, and I'll tell you, what I found, Richard, is, you know, as I said, I always grew up with it, but I learned an awful lot more by writing this book, and also learning -- taking into recognition all the things that I had learned as a decision-maker. So what I had not thought about through all these years and do now is that I understand what the British actually were doing. They were so tired -- and the French -- they had lost so many people during World War I that they would have done anything in the world not to go into another war. And so Neville Chamberlain, who I had always put into the odious category -- I can now understand a little bit better what he was doing.
But I do think that something that holds as a lesson is -- what he said is why should we care about people in faraway places with unpronounceable names. And I do think that's something that one has to keep considering, as there are issues all over the world in faraway places with people with unpronounceable names.
HAASS: We will come back to some of those -- some of those places.
You lived in Europe at a time it was the center of the world of -- it was, if you will, the principal theater of international relations, and more often than not it was defined by conflict. Now we're in an era where Europe is less than the principal theater of international relations, and thank God, it's not defined by conflicts. So really, two questions. Do you ever think that Europe could ever slip back? Or do you think that we really have passed the point -- a positive point, if you will, of no return?
ALBRIGHT: I don't think it could ever slip back into the kind of conflict -- I mean, the 20th century was the bloodiest century, and most of it took place in Europe, a lot to do with nationalist feelings, ethnic rivalries, religious issues of a variety of kinds.
What troubles -- does trouble me -- that with the economic problems that are out there that in many ways, as we're looking at what's happening to the European Union, there is kind of a rise of nationalism in a variety of places because whenever you've got economic problems, you look for a scapegoat, and that is always some other country. And so I am concerned that there -- not that -- it would be the bloody kind of stuff that we saw in the 20th century, but a lot of conflicts.
And proof of the point -- for instance, in the -- in '91, after the Cold War ended, I was involved in a very interesting survey of countries all through Europe, and I never forget this. The question was, do you believe that a piece of your country is in the neighboring country? Eighty percent, Hungarians thought a piece of their country -- and their leader now, Viktor Orban, who was this great dissident, is now a proto-nationalist. And so I am concerned about some of the aspects, but not necessarily the blood feuds but a disintegration of kind of the European Union sense.
HAASS: I want to ask you one question about Czechoslovakia, because as everybody knows, there no longer is a Czechoslovakia.
You've got the Czech Republic, you've got Slovakia. Why was this country, unlike so many -- not so many others in history, able to dissolve peacefully? What was it about the culture, the history or something about Czechoslovakia that it didn't go the way, say, of the former Yugoslavia, didn't -- we didn't have an experience like we had in this country and so forth? What was it about -- what was in the DNA or in the water of Czechoslovakia?
ALBRIGHT: Well, it's very -- I have to say, I always asked my father, who was I, a Czech or a Slovak, and he said, you're a Czechoslovak. And so I grew up with that. And Czechoslovakia was a country that was created at the end of World War I as a result of Woodrow Wilson and the 14 Points and self determination. And interestingly enough, the first president of Czechoslovakia was a man called Tomas Masaryk, who was married to an American and did something that I don't think a lot of men these days would do. He took his wife's maiden name as his middle name. Her name was Charlotte Garrigue, so Tomas Garrigue Masaryk. And Czechoslovakia was modeled on the American Constitution with one exception, which is that it had equal rights language in 1918.
But there always were issues between the Czechs and the Slovaks. And it's interesting, because the languages are very similar, and basically as a Czech, I would speak Czech and be answered in Slovak. But I think that part of it came about primarily because it was a country that is sometimes negatively accused of never fighting. That's one of the issues I talk about in my book, is why didn't the Czechoslovaks fight when they were sold down the river by Munich, and why didn't they object? And it's really not a warring nation.
I think partially it had to do with the fact that Vaclav Havel had been president, that there were ways of talking to each other. And interestingly enough, the Czechs and Slovaks did not get along that well during the interwar period. The Slovaks had been part of -- both parts of it were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but the Bohemian, the Czech part, had been under Austria, and the Slovaks had been under Hungary and had kind of different cultures. But they -- and the Slovaks felt that they had been basically kind of looked down upon by the Czechs. And so it was the velvet divorce, just the way it had been the Velvet Revolution. And interestingly enough, the Czechs and Slovaks now get along whereas they didn't before. But I think it's partially the fact that it's not a fighting -- neither side are fighting nature, if one can say that.
HAASS: You went and you spent years in Britain, then you came to this country. What impact being -- did being a refugee have on your outlook? So when you ultimately became secretary of state, how are you different because of it?
ALBRIGHT: Well, it's always hard to know why you're different. But basically, I was a -- the English experience was a very different one. I was a little girl, we -- I did spend an incredible amount of time in air raid shelters. My father was a -- part of the government in exile. He actually was in charge of broadcasting into Czechoslovakia through BBC. And -- I have to go back on the Munich thing, because he always told this story about himself that he was on one of those double-decker busses, and he tripped over somebody and they said, why don't you apologize? And he said, that's for Munich. So -- (laughter) -- it was very much in his DNA.
But the British -- and my -- and again, I quote my father a lot -- he said that when we were in the United Kingdom during the war, that people would say, we're so sorry your country's been taken over by a terrible dictator; you're welcome here, but when are you going home? When we came to the United States after the Communists had taken over, people would say, your country's been taken over by a terrible system; you're welcome here, when will you become a citizen? And my father said that was always for him the major difference between any country and the United States, which is definitely germane in terms of the immigration debate.
For me, the main thing about being a refugee -- if somebody were to ask me what's one word to describe myself, it would be grateful. And I was so, so grateful to be in America. And also, generally, without sounding overly sappy here, but I truly do think the single most important thing that ever happened to me was becoming an American citizen. And so the gratitude for being here, but also understanding what it's like for people that have no place to be, that are kind of the international homeless, that you're so grateful that a country takes you in, and what can you do to repay? And I do think that most refugees feel that way.
HAASS: Getting ahead of ourselves then, is -- (clears throat) -- excuse me -- is that in part what led you to use the word "indispensable" when you talked about the United States and it -- if you had to go back at it again, would you still use the word "indispensable" in describing us?
ALBRIGHT: So -- well, let me -- and this is a theme through when I wrote "Madam Secretary" and also this book is the following. As far as I'm concerned, when the U.S. is not involved, as it wasn't at Munich because there was -- Americans were isolationists at that period, then terrible things happen. Then, when the Americans came into World War II, which I remember so totally as a little girl, of all of a sudden seeing American uniforms in London, things changed. When Americans actually only got 45 miles into Czechoslovakia, the General Patton's army, and then decided, in fact, as a result of agreements made during World War II that the Soviet Union would liberate Czechoslovakia, then terrible things happened.
So from -- I could go on, but in -- my view of seeing the world is when the U.S. is involved, engaged, that it makes a huge difference. And the reason that -- I mean, actually President Clinton was the first one to use "indispensable." I just used it so often it became more identified with me. But I'll tell you why, and it's very important, specifically kind of where we are today. It was after the Gulf War. I was the permanent representative. And what happened was I could see that if the U.S. was not engaged in some way, not a lot happened. And yet the American people were very tired, did not want to be involved in any shape or form abroad. And I felt then -- obviously President Clinton did -- that we needed to be engaged.
There is nothing, however, in the definition of "indispensable" that says "alone." It just means that we need to be engaged. And I would use the word again, because I think that unless the U.S. participates in the issues that are out there that nothing gets done. But it doesn't mean that we have to do it all by ourselves. So yes, I would use it again.
HAASS: You clearly have -- I mean, you yourself used the Munich versus Vietnam and which historical experience becomes something of an intellectual template. So for you, because it's more Munich, you have a bias -- I think you'd admit to that -- towards involvement or engagement. So how do you then answer things like Vietnam or the second Iraq war or Somalia or some other situations where the United States has gotten heavily involved, paid an enormous price and didn't have results that in any way were commensurate with the investment?
ALBRIGHT: Well, then I would pick others, you know? (Laughter.) But let me just say on Vietnam -- and I think it's very important to kind of focus on what the context of a particular decision is. I'm old enough, you're not, to remember --
HAASS: This is on the record. (Laughter.)
ALBRIGHT: -- how people felt at the beginning -- you know, the communist monolith, the domino theory in various parts, that one had to fight monolithic and evangelist communism. I can understand that. Yet what -- and I have to admit this. I was in my phase -- I was the mother of three children in graduate school. All I cared about was doing my work. I was never one of the people that -- I was boring in terms of not going out and demonstrating in any way on Vietnam.
On Somalia, it's interesting. And one -- and there are lessons in all of this. Somalia began under the first President Bush, you, as a -- as a humanitarian mission that then expanded and tried to figure out what to do. And we then -- with Black Hawk Down, we saw American bodies being dragged through the streets.
Iraq we could spend a lot of time on. We should not have been in Iraq, because there were other ways to contain Saddam Hussein, so those are different issues.
I do think, however, that we played a legitimate role in the Balkans, that we were able, as a result of American involvement with NATO -- not alone, with NATO -- to end ethnic cleansing and be able to do something about it. And I think that there are other examples where we can play a role.
And if I can say this, not -- it's not always militarily. I think that that is part of -- there are different tools. I say -- I teach at Georgetown, and I have a course. I say foreign policy's just trying to get some country to do what you want. That's all it is. So what is the toolbox? And I teach a course called "The National Security Toolbox," and the tools are diplomacy, economic tools, the threat of the use of force, all kinds of things without actually having boots on the ground and intervening. And so that's how I see that America's role has to be engaged.
The other part, Richard, is -- I am going to talk about all my books. I wrote a book which was a memo to the president-elect at a time that I had no idea who the person was going to be. I have to say I did give it to Barack Obama and I inscribed it "with the audacity to hope that this book might be useful." (Laughter.)
But I --
HAASS: Catchy. It's catchy.
ALBRIGHT: Yeah, that -- (chuckles). I -- but I said there were at that stage five big umbrella issues that were American national priorities: how to fight terrorism without creating more terrorists, how to have nuclear nonproliferation, how to deal with the growing gap between the rich and the poor, how to deal with the energy/environment package and how to restore the good name of democracy. I didn't have the financial crisis because it wasn't visible at the time.
But in all of those, the United States needs to be engaged but not alone. There is no way that we could do any of those by ourselves.
HAASS: Why do you think things worked out? You were heavily involved both as an advocate and then more than that, in terms of the former Yugoslavia, in Bosnia. Why do you think that, in the end, worked out? What were the -- because it gets to the question: How do you know in advance, because you're faced with an almost -- if not unlimited, you certainly had a lot of places you could get involved in in various ways. What was it about the Bosnian situation that in the end made for a successful intervention?
ALBRIGHT: Let me just say you never truly have a hundred percent, but I think that you do look at what the various elements are and what I call the doability doctrine -- is that there are many places you could go, but what always troubles me is that people say, just because you can't solve everything everywhere, you don't go in anywhere.
And I think the things that did work there -- first of all, that we created a Contact Group. We had an international group that was dealing with us on practically a daily basis.
We had -- there was a group within the country -- whether you call them insurgents, rebels, whatever -- an opposition group that was respectable, reputable, united; that one could work with.
And then we tried an awful lot of negotiation before. There were a lot of discussions as to whether, you know -- I won't go through it all, but endless amount of time where we had -- I met with Milosevic any number -- several times, talked to him. Richard Holbrooke was -- spent a lot of time there. We all spent a lot of time working on the negotiations and really showed that ultimately we had tried everything.
But what was most important was the military action that we took with NATO, a multilateral action.
HAASS: Something that didn't work out well towards the end of the administration that you served in were the efforts to bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a negotiated end. And the question I have is whether you thought that it was inherent in the situation, it simply was impossible, or that if things, given the players and the issues, or whether - had the administration gone about it differently, that you think you might have had a different outcome.
ALBRIGHT: Well, I've obviously thought about this a lot, and I think that we spent very, very much time on it in many different ways. And in many ways, the bottom line that I come out with is the United States can't dictate a solution to it; the parties to it have to.
But we did make some mistakes, and I think that -- I often say this to audiences and here, obviously is -- if you were asked to go to Camp David, you might say yes. I can tell you, after two weeks in the rain with the Israelis and Palestinians, I don't care if I ever go back. (Laughter.)
But I think that we made a mistake --
HAASS: There's skeet shooting there.
ALBRIGHT: Oh, well -- (laughter) -- you are so bad. (Laughter.)
ALBRIGHT: The bottom line, I think, is the following, is people often think, you know, why -- how did we get to Camp David? Did President Clinton just want to go for a legacy? That isn't what happened. Ehud Barak is the one who really wanted us to go. But he also had made quite clear that we should just have the two parties talk to each other.
I think the thing we learned was that Yasser Arafat had every right to make decisions about the size of the Palestinian state because he was the Palestinian leader. What he could not do was make final decisions about the disposition of the holy places because the Palestinians are not the only or main holders and that it required having contact with the Saudis and other Arabs.
And Ehud Barak actually came forward with some very generous bottom lines, but he didn't tell us until too late. And then when we started calling the various Arabs, they said, we don't know what you're talking about.
So I think one of the things that I would advocate is bringing in the neighborhood, and the Saudis have had some very interesting ideas. But that was a mistake.
The other thing I truly do think, in the end, is that Yasser Arafat could not make the decisions. He saw himself as a freedom fighter and more interesting than worrying about the sewer system in Gaza. So I think that that was part of the problem.
HAASS: I just got two last questions, and then I'll open it up to our members. And both deal with your tenure as secretary of state within the government.
First is within the building. And obviously, one of the last things that happened with Secretary Clinton and all that was the whole issue of Benghazi. So what do you see as the role of the secretary of state within the building? You obviously can't micromanage things. Even if you wanted to, it's too big of a -- too sprawling of a -- not just a building, but we've got hundreds of facilities around the world. How did you handle this question of how deeply you got into specific issues, whether it was security for American diplomats abroad or anything else? But the -- if you will, the -- most Americans, when they look at the secretary of state, see the word "diplomat." They don't see the word "manager" or "administrator." What was your -- how did you divide up, you know, your time with that? How did you approach that part of your job?
ALBRIGHT: I have to say -- I have to almost -- (inaudible) -- you know, we used to talk about it as "the building," as if it were animate, you know? (Laughter.)
HAASS: At times it seemed that way, but --
ALBRIGHT: Yeah, the building wants to do this.
I do think that there is an issue in terms of management, and I think that you come in as secretary of state, and if you like foreign policy, it's like being able to do whatever it is you ever wanted. I mean, I am obviously a foreign policy person. I just was thrilled. There's no other way to describe it, to become secretary of state. I think that Secretary Kerry is very much into this.
And -- but you do in fact have to manage the place. And it is not easy because of the way it's structured. You have a -- now they have two deputies -- I had one deputy -- and then undersecretaries that have particular responsibilities.
And let me say how much I identify with the Benghazi issue. I loved being secretary of state, except on August 7th, 1998, when our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were blown up. And so the issue was, was it my responsibility? We had the same kind of a review board that looked at everything. Ultimately, it is the secretary of state's responsibility. But you have to have people that you trust, that you can work with and that you think will perform as they're supposed to. And yet you come in as secretary, and there are all kinds of people that you've never seen before. And so I do think it is an issue in terms of management, how this second deputy can be more helpful in that, and then there's an undersecretary for management.
But you do think of the job as outward-facing, and then inward in terms of decision-making within the principals committee and not as a management job. But every one of the secretaries of our agencies are also managers. There's no question about that.
HAASS: Let me just build on that answer for my last question, which is you've got various hats. You've got the chief diplomat; you've got to spend time abroad; you've got -- you're an interagency principal, you've got to manage the building, and you're also the principal liaison, if you will -- you're -- with the Congress, not to mention you've also got to be an educator and a spokesperson to the American people. So if you were going to advise the new secretary of state, how is it you try to -- how is it he should usefully think about that balance, whether it's how often to get on an airplane, as opposed to spend time in Washington dealing with these other roles? What's the general rule of thumb here?
ALBRIGHT: Well, I never do things in terms of how many percentages because it always adds up to more than a hundred percent. (Laughter.)
So -- but I -- you know, Secretary Kerry will certainly be able to figure out how to handle Congress. I thought he was remarkable in his confirmation hearing in terms of how you guys will all do this together.
I think that it is important to travel initially as a secretary of state because you have to -- I mean, you can do an awful lot of work over the phone or other ways, but initially you've got to have a face-to-face and have some of those protocol meetings.
It is very important to be part of the decision-making process. You sit in the Situation Room. You are there, as secretary of state, the first person who the national security adviser turns to for what is your position on this. And you need to be there.
I also believe that the secretary of state does have to travel around the United States, especially at a time when people are concerned about how much of our budget is spent abroad and how we relate to the others. And so I always kid about the fact -- you know how many miles the secretary has traveled? Well, in miles, I traveled more than Secretary Clinton; however, mine were -- a lot of them were around the United States.
And so I do think that it is important for the secretary of state to kind of be able to explain why we need to have a foreign policy and why the United States has to be the indispensable nation.
HAASS: Worked that back in there.
HAASS: OK. Let's open up. If people would just wait a microphone and quickly identify themselves, we'll do it.
OK. We'll start with Evelyn, and then we'll work our way back. And we'll get -- we'll get to as many as I can possibly get --
ALBRIGHT: I'm used to answering questions from Evelyn. She knows why I was permanent. (Laughs.)
QUESTIONER: No. (Laughs.) Welcome again. Evelyn Leopold, journalist at the U.N., and welcome, Madam Secretary.
You -- Richard touched on it before in that who make -- the decision-making -- there has been a lot of criticism lately that on many of the big issues, the White House has frozen up, Secretary Clinton has frozen -- certainly froze out -- (inaudible). Whether it's the Middle East, Afghanistan, the military seems to call a lot more shots. Do you -- have you thought about that, or do you see any of that?
ALBRIGHT: The president makes the decisions. I mean, the thing that I -- I apologize if I sound more like a professor, but basically, as I try to describe this, a national security adviser that is a good national security adviser makes sure that all the opinions get out during principals' meetings. It doesn't work if everybody just agrees with everybody else. And so the way I describe it is the national security adviser makes sure that the eggs get broken, that you really -- that -- and that there are different views.
Then it would be nice if the national security adviser can make the omelet and give it to the president. But if that's not possibly (ph), transfer the egg nest to the president, and he makes the decisions, or she. And I think that it is very important to see it as a process where the agencies bring in their different views.
What I have seen, and this happened primarily in the Bush term, is that an awful lot of power got transferred from the State Department to the Defense Department. We were in two wars --
HAASS: Bush the father or Bush the younger?
ALBRIGHT: -- Bush the younger -- and that -- and it was -- and so the issue is how the State -- a lot of what goes on is between State and Defense and to get stuff back to the State Department. And I think a lot of that was happening.
The National Security Council system was set up as a -- to make Roosevelt make organized decisions. That's what the 1947 act is about. And it was the revenge by the bureaucracy in terms of getting organized decision-making. It has -- serves the role of gathering everything. I have to tell you, I served both at the NSC under Brzezinski and then was secretary of state. When I was at the NSC, I thought the State Department just sent over a bunch of paper. What is it that they were doing? They were a pain in the neck. When I was secretary of state, I thought, what has happened to everything that I've sent over there? (Laughter.) So it depends. But I do think that the NSC system is absolutely vital, and it's the president who makes the decisions.
And often the president doesn't make -- you know, we all -- I can only talk about the Clinton time -- is we were -- as principals sat in the sit room, then we would go to the Oval Office, go through all this again if we didn't have a decision, and he wouldn't make the decision in front of us. He would say, thank you very much; I'll make the decision. That's the way our system works.
HAASS: Yes, ma'am.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch.
You presided over very controversial sanctions program, project in Iraq, which, you know, in retrospect, had virtually no political effect or effect on the Iraqi government but devastating impact on the civilian population, causing excess mortality of children in the hundreds of thousands. And at the time, when you were asked about it on "60 Minutes," about the impact on civilians of the Iraq sanctions, you said you thought it was "worth it." I wonder what you think now, and I wonder what lessons you think we should take for the sanctions on Iran, both in terms of their potential effectiveness as a political tool and in terms of potential impact on civilians.
ALBRIGHT: I have answered this question hundreds of times, but I will answer it again.
Let me say that the -- when I got to the U.N., the cease-fire from the Gulf War was translated into a series of sanctions resolutions. It was always allowed for food and medicine to go into Iraq. However, somebody had to pay for it, and also, it had to be distributed in Iraq. The person who caused hundred of deaths of Iraqi children was Saddam Hussein. So that was the issue.
I was asked a question, and I gave a really stupid answer.
If there's anybody in this room that hasn't ever said anything they regret, I wish they would stand up. But I regret that statement deeply. It was a stupid statement. However, there is no question that it wasn't the United States that caused the children and various people dying; it was Saddam Hussein, because there was a way to deal with it.
Now, sanctions generally, let me talk about, because I've spent a lot of time looking at them. They are, in many ways, a blunt instrument, especially when they're full sanctions, even though every sanctions regime does have an exception for food and medicine, every one of them. And so what has happened over the years -- there's been an evolution in terms of having targeted sanctions, or smart sanctions, which are directed primarily -- and we started that in the Clinton administration, and then has been enlarged in a number of different ways -- in terms of targeting those that are part of the regime or the cronies or financial institutions that are continuing to fund various aspects of a situation that shouldn't happen.
Now, I do think, on the following thing on Iraq, the reason that I was opposed to what happened in Iraq is that, actually, the sanctions worked. We had Saddam Hussein in a box. And as it turns out, there were not any weapons of mass destruction.
So I think the point here is Saddam Hussein is the one who had -- who was responsible for his population, but I think that sanctions actually often work if they are figured out in a way that they are most directed at what -- at the behavior you're trying to change.
HAASS: And on that one, let me just say I would associate myself a hundred percent. And the reason it may be somewhat significant is I was one of the people who designed the sanctions in the previous administration. And from the get-go, they had humanitarian exceptions, and when certain types of goods and services did not reach the Iraqi people, the fault was not in the structure of the sanctions; it was a conscious decision by the Iraqi government at the time to allocate resources in certain ways and in some ways also to make their own people victims, which they didn't care much about, in order to generate certain types of international reactions against the sanctions themselves. It was about as cynical a thing as I've ever experienced in my career, but the fault is not with the structure --
ALBRIGHT: The other thing is there was money, and one of the things -- and they were trying to get all countries to back Saddam Hussein over the poor children, and I -- one of the things that happened was they -- the government declassified material for me to show how Saddam Hussein was building palaces all over the place, changed the Gardens of Babylon, all kinds of things. So they had plenty of money, and it was a cynical thing. And I -- God, I wish I hadn't ever said that, because it was one of the dumber things I ever said, maybe the dumbest.
HAASS: Sir. Oh, my glasses -- (inaudible) -- sorry. So Jack.
QUESTIONER: Jack Rosenthal.
HAASS: It is Jack. (Inaudible.)
ALBRIGHT: Hello, Jack.
QUESTIONER: Today is kind of a -- represents a kind of a coincidence. It's the 50th anniversary "The Feminine Mystique." (Laughter.) I think back to when we first met in 1961 when you were a graceful hostess, a journalist's wife, a mother, also a student. Did Betty Friedan know you? (Laughter.)
ALBRIGHT: We really have known each other a very long time. (Laughter.)
No, but Jack, I'll tell you what had happened to me in 1960 that really changed my life a lot. I was married to a journalist. I wanted to be a journalist. That was my plan. I had been one of the editors of my college paper, and while my husband was in the Army, I worked on a small paper in Rolla, Missouri. I did all the things I was supposed to, and we were having -- we came back to Chicago. We were having dinner with his managing editor. And he said, so what are you going to do, honey? And I said, I'm going to work on a newspaper. And he said, I don't think so; you can't work on the same paper as your husband because of guild regulations. And even though there were three other papers in Chicago at the time, he said, and you wouldn't want to compete with your husband by working on another paper, so why don't you find something else to do?
And instead of saying what I might say today -- (laughter) -- I actually saluted and found another life. And it took me a while to be exactly where Betty Friedan was, but she clearly had an influence on all of us, and now I hope we all have an influence on each other. And we really knew each other a long time. (Laughter.)
HAASS: Pete Peterson.
QUESTIONER: You perhaps read in the paper today, The New York Times, that the administration may be reconsidering its policy towards Syria and that up to now, as you well know, they've been very reluctant to ship arms because they don't know where they're doing to end up, and they don't want to get involved in another bloody war in an any more active way.
What -- if you were in your previous position, what would you be recommending our policy should be at this point toward Syria?
ALBRIGHT: Can I also bring this back a little bit to my book on this very subject?
HAASS: I would like you to.
ALBRIGHT: What I -- and I don't want to overdo this, but what I find interesting -- and having done research on the book, and also from a period of distance, is I find very interesting that one of the problems that the government in exile had was who would recognize it. The British didn't want to recognize the government in exile because it meant saying that the Munich pact was defunct. There were groups of exiles. There were some in the Czechoslovak, some who'd gone to Moscow, some who were in Paris, trying to figure out who was really in charge. President Benes was in London, so ultimately that did become the government in exile. Then there were issues about the people that had stayed back, the resistance movement that was in Czechoslovakia. What did they have to do with it? Who -- you can only go so far with it, but there literally are always questions about who are the rebels, what is their group, and what will -- what kind of agreements have you made with the previous government; how does all that work?
So the other part -- and it goes a little bit to a question that you asked in terms of, you know, where can you make a difference and where you can't, and then how are decisions made.
One of the things that I think our government does really well is keep -- nothing is static. I mean, you have to study what is going on. You decide what is the most appropriate thing to do at any given time. I think that what -- from what I can read -- and I only know about this from reading about it -- is that they are seeing some changes in Syria. What I find interesting and that most people haven't focused enough on is how much the United States is already doing in Syria. We have given something like $50 million of nonlethal assistance, in a variety of different ways, to refugees, providing communications equipment, food, et cetera. Then also, the United States has been the country that has helped push these various opposition groups together, has been supportive of creating the Friends of Syria in a variety of different ways and is supportive of moving the process forward.
I do think question that I would have is how -- are more arms needed or not? I don't know whether more arms are needed. There certainly seem to be a lot of arms. But the bottom line is I do think that it's important for the -- I would be advising the government to not have a static position but really to keep looking at how the process is moving forward.
The -- and again, to compare it to the Balkans, I mean, we were in very close touch with -- in Kosovo with various parts of that -- the non -- well, the Kosovar group, trying to figure out what it was they needed. I mean, there was an arms embargo in -- on the Balkans. We tried to lift that. We couldn't do that.
And so they're basically -- I would be advising just watching it incredibly closely, and keep working with the opposition groups, and try to get the Russians to actually be supportive. I don't understand where the Russians are coming from on this. They're going to be so on the wrong side of history of this particular issue. So there is a diplomatic thing that needs to be done. There needs to be as much humanitarian assistance as possible. And there needs to be a way of supporting the various opposition groups so that they unite and are able to present a united front as they try to figure out -- but I would be careful about the arms. I really would.
HAASS: This gentleman there has been waiting a long time.
QUESTIONER: I'm Dan Karson with Kroll Associates. What is the obstacle to normalizing relations with Cuba, in view of the fact that we have had diplomatic relations with far more totalitarian governments over the decade -- over the decades?
HAASS: I assume this came up off and on when you were secretary of state.
ALBRIGHT: Quite often. But let me tell you this. I can tell you that President Clinton was prepared to normalize relations with Cuba when he first came into office. We spent a lot of time on this subject. And then the brothers to the rescue -- planes were shot down by the Cubans.
HAASS: Your famous quote.
ALBRIGHT: I will -- I'm going to say it right here.
HAASS: (Inaudible) -- (laughter) -- it might be the first time it's ever been said at the Council on Foreign Relations.
ALBRIGHT: That -- (chuckles) -- so what happened was that what had been an executive order was turned into Helms-Burton, and -- but I was permanent representative at the U.N.
At the time, I also was president of the Security Council. And my instructions were to get condemnation of Cuba for what they had done.
So again, the government declassified things for me. And one of the things that we had a transcript of what the Cuban pilots were doing is they were chasing these unarmed planes all over international waters. And it was really lurid, and everything but one word was translated, but they basically said we have cojones, they don't have cojones, they shoot them, they save cojones.
So I then was about to appear before the -- you were there -- (chuckles) -- the U.N. press, and I said, it's not cojones; it's cowardice. I thought the U.N. press corps would faint. The Venezuelan ambassador said it was barnyard language. (Laughter.) And to this day, I am known as Madam Cojones in Miami. (Laughter.)
I think that the real issue here is one where -- Helms-Burton is the law at this -- at this time. I think there already are ways that there are more and more contacts with Cuba itself, a lot of travel back and forth in a number of different ways. And what's interesting is that they -- this Castro regime is allowing more Cubans to travel. And I think, frankly, a lot of it has to do with political issues on all sides. But I can tell you that something has to happen if there's going to be normalization in Congress, in terms of Helms-Burton. And we know how well Congress is working these days. (Scattered laughter.)
HAASS: All the way in the back. Equal time for people sitting in the last row.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Steve Buffone with the Gibson Dunn law firm.
Madam Secretary, I wanted to ask -- you talked about, obviously, the indispensable role the U.S. has to play at being involved but not necessarily with boots on the ground. I wanted to ask you your views of the drone policy, use of drones as instrument of warfare, and what you think the proper oversight should be, both executive, legislative and judicial.
ALBRIGHT: Well, I think -- Dr. Haass, you can also speak to this, but let me say this. I find this one of the most interesting and complicated issues that is out there generally in terms of what modern warfare is about, the other one obviously being cyber issues that have opened up a whole set of areas.
Let me go back a little bit on this, because we were talking about Kosovo and the question about war there. And one of the issues was -- and it goes again to your how do you know what you can do -- it goes back to the issue that we -- President Clinton had said no boots on the ground, and yet we saw all this going on. We had a lot of discussion about whether we could have an air war there. And after much discussion, we did actually bomb. And there were a number of people from various countries said,, this is immoral, why don't you have boots on the ground, why are you killing people from the air? At the time, I thought it was a fairly weird argument, since we were -- there were people being ethnically cleansed and killed, and we had a way of stopping that without making ourselves have boots on the ground.
So as the drone issue came up and we could see what it was that was effectively going on, of making sure that people that had decided that they wanted to blow us up or kill our allies, that it was a good, effective way to do things. And I still think that. But I think that we need to figure out how to have a much larger discussion about it, because I happen to like and support this president; I didn't like and support others. And so I think the question is, how -- you can't just have rules that apply to a president that you like. And so I think that we do have to have a very big discussion on this.
The other part, though, and I -- again, I find very interesting as a -- as I've looked at foreign policy, how things evolve. And this has something to do with the op-ed that you wrote today about the role of intelligence in all this. One of the big arguments in the previous administration was about pre-emption. That was in the National Security Strategy of 2002, and this was a new thing, that we could take -- go into countries or get rid of people that we didn't like. And at that stage, I said that the whole Achilles' heel of that concept is intelligence. Ultimately, do you have the right intelligence? And you said about this basically that the drones -- do you have the right intelligence about who it is that you're targeting?
So there are issues about it. I do think -- I don't have a problem with the morality of us not being on the ground. I do think that we need to look at what is an effective way to get something done.
And been there, done that: I have to tell you that after our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were blown up, we did know it was Osama bin Laden, and we started launching cruise missiles. Believe me, it is not a simple issue to sit somewhere and see overheads and know that -- I mean, you've just been told that this tall person in white is in this place, and all of a sudden you find out there are a bunch of women and children in there, what do you do, and was he really there? And so there were times we didn't launch. But it is a -- one of the most difficult aspects of the decision-making. These are people, many of whom we know, are trying to kill us. And so I do think we're going to require a discussion about it. I think it's a very complicated issue.
HAASS: Yes. I just say one or two things, and then we'll go for a few more questions. One is it's one of the few areas of international relations where the technology has far outpaced the thinking and the rule setting. So those of you who are wondering what you write -- what to write your doctorates on, this is a good subject. There really is a gap in both the cyberspace and drone space, between technology, international law, practice and so forth. People are really looking for ideas. And meanwhile, the world doesn't wait until we figured it all out.
I do think we've got to have very clear criteria -- the current criteria that have been set out in the Department of Justice memo, particularly this idea of imminence, made very little sense because you'll simply not know. If you require -- if you require yourself to know that a terrorist is about to launch a strike at you before you strike at him, that sets a bar that you can virtually never realize. That was a -- there is all sorts of reasons under international law for doing so, but I -- what I was trying to argue is simply that I think we have to reconsider some of the tenets of international law for changing circumstances and changing technologies, international law that, in many cases, can be traced back hundreds of years; it may not necessarily be fully applicable to our current situation.
And then something Madeleine said I would just echo, I think it's important not simply what we arrive at, but how we arrive at, because we're going to be living in a world very quickly where, I don't know, two, three, four, five dozen countries are going to have access to drone technology, and quite a few of them will also have access not simply to drones in a reconnaissance mode but drones in an arm mode.
So we have to think a little bit about, OK, what kind of -- to use the, you know, international relations word, what kind of regime do we want to set up for the regulation of this new technology? And how is it what we do, how will that in any way affect or ability to try to steer international -- the international community, to the extent it exists, in the direction we want?
So I actually think there is -- there is a lot at stake. And I -- the president, if people didn't really notice it, in his State of the Union address the other night specifically committed himself to a fuller public conversation, as well as a conversation with Congress, about this set of issues. And I think that's important, and it is -- it's welcome.
A lot of people have their hands up. Sir.
QUESTIONER: (Off mic.)
HAASS: Just wait for the microphone.
QUESTIONER: Excuse me. Richard Huber.
Madam Secretary, you commented about the embassies in Kenya, in Tanzania, and Richard, you commented on events in Libya. In today's world of technology, instant communication, you can fly anywhere in the world overnight, what is the role of an ambassador? What role do our embassies have -- I mean, some of which, as you well know, have blossomed up to a thousand people, and many look like Hitler's bunker. I mean, what is their role in the 21st century?
HAASS: You're the history maker.
ALBRIGHT: No, no, but let me just say, I see the -- first of all, the whole role initially was to be the eyes and ears of the head of the country. But I also think that in many ways, it's important to have a presence in the country in order to not just listen but also to project whatever message comes from your own country, getting to know the people in it and seeing things at a much more -- you can -- I mean, the journalist can go in and do a good job of reporting on a day-to-day thing, but I think that there really is a necessity of being part of the culture of the country where you live.
What happens is more of sometimes the other problem, where current ambassador has clientitis and kind of knows more about the country where he or she is stationed. But I think it's very important to have that presence in terms of economic affairs, political affairs, human rights, culture -- a number of different aspects.
I am also troubled by what the embassies look like. I mean, they do look like forts. And one of the problems -- and I know that various secretaries have talked about it.
By the way, former secretaries all get together. We really have a fabulous time.
HAASS: A wild and crazy time. (Laughter.)
ALBRIGHT: It is wild and crazy. For a while I was the youngest. I'm not anymore.
But I think that we talk about these kinds of things in terms of that it would be good to get our ambassadors and our other people out more, and that is a problem. But I think it would be a very sad day if we actually did not have embassies and ambassadors, because it provides a whole kind of granular way of looking at a country and developing people-to-people relations in a number of ways.
But it is -- it is terrifying when you think that our ambassadors get killed by going out. But there are other ways to do it, and I think that that's where we have to kind of -- it's interesting. I -- again, I've taught about this. Secretary Rice and Secretary Clinton talked about transformational diplomacy, which is getting people out there more or expeditionary diplomacy or different kinds of words where people do not just sit in those forts.
The other part, though, that I feel really strongly about is that when I was secretary, I learned what an amazing role American business plays abroad and that in many ways, our companies are really good ambassadors. You know, even an American company, any -- I believe any American company in most countries has better health and labor policies than the locals and that there is a way for there to be public-private partnerships where the businesses also serve as ambassadors and we work in order to project American values, which goes back to the initial thing. I do believe that there is such a thing as American values, and restoring the good name of democracy is one of the important parts of what our embassy should be doing.
HAASS: Can I ask you one other structural question, which is the role of special envoys? I don't remember when you were secretary of state if we had them. This president had a lot in his first term. Unless I've missed it, I don't think yet any new ones have been named for the second term. What is your sense about -- as a secretary of state, about how you feel with the whole concept of special envoys coming out of the White House, in particular?
ALBRIGHT: I don't -- I think that sometimes it is useful to have special -- let me go back on something, because it goes to the same thing. There's always this argument about having foreign service ambassadors versus political ambassadors. Having obviously been a political appointee, I can't be against it. (Laughter.) The bottom line is that there are people that are very good political ambassadors. Then some countries actually prefer to have political ambassadors and partially because they see them as being close to the president. So there is some value in it, and you need that particular mix.
The special envoys, in some way, are an elaboration of that if somebody is really representing the president. Sometimes, also, it is useful if the special envoy has to deal with more than one country so that if it's some kind of a regional thing, there is a value to it. I don't think you need a proliferation of special envoys, however, because partially what it does is downplay the role of the -- of the local ambassador. And so -- but there are certain discrete problems that may be peace talks or some regional aspect that there's a value, but that person has to work with the State Department also, not just for the president.
HAASS: Probably got time for -- yes, ma'am -- one last question.
QUESTIONER: Madam Secretary, I wanted to ask if there's --
HAASS: You have to introduce yourself.
QUESTIONER: Oh, sorry, Janna Lanceburg (sp), Allen & Overy. I wanted to know if there's any sort of structural detail within the building dealing with the president, dealing with other countries that you feel that the citizenry, the media just doesn't understand or doesn't fully appreciate that you wish you could just explain.
ALBRIGHT: Well, I think -- and it goes a little bit to the last question -- I think the dedication of the people that actually do the work, the -- you know, there is kind of a sense that diplomats just go to parties and things, whereas I think that they are very -- we know now that they're very dangerous jobs. They also require a great deal of knowledge.
One of the things that I feel that we need to explain better generally is that foreign policy these days is not just kind of history and political issues but very, very broad in terms of the people's requirement of having a knowledge that climate change is caused by science, that there are issues to do with human rights, that there are food issues, health issues, a number -- that these are people that do -- that are in the building that have a very special kind of education in terms of what they're able to do and that they're out there really in some fairly dangerous places representing all of us and that's not just some kind of a fancy job that rich people get.
So the bottom line is I would like people to know the complexity of it, and -- and it goes a little bit to the question asked earlier -- the number of things that go on that are really hard to -- the American government makes thousands of decisions a day, thousands, at all levels of the government. And it isn't until it reaches -- and the harder the decision, it gets pushed up. It goes to the decision- making process. And so ultimately, obviously, the hardest decisions go to the president -- but that there are myriad people that are working at various levels at -- with their best intelligence, working on issues that make a difference to the American people and that foreign policy is actually not really foreign. I have argued this over and over again, that every American is affected by foreign policy and that there is a spectrum from domestic and foreign, and people need to understand that.
HAASS: You might even say it begins at home.
ALBRIGHT: It does. I've heard that, really. (Chuckles.)
HAASS: The -- I want to thank Secretary Albright -- first of all, I want to congratulate her on the most recent book, on "Prague Winter." And I want to thank her for not just today but really for decades, for being, if you'll pardon the expression, an indispensable voice -- (laughter) -- on American foreign policy and this country's role in the world. So thanks very much.
ALBRIGHT: Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.)
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