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Former Secretary of State Albright Doesn’t Let Reason or Reality Get in the Way of Her Vapid Account of U.S. Foreign Policy and Advice on Iraq

Last Friday, the Los Angeles Times published an op-ed by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in which she chastised President Bush for the implementation of a revised national security strategy that acknowledges evil and means to confront it. Her piece, an indictment of the U.S. efforts in Iraq and the broader Middle East, reeks of her pre-9/11 mindset, is full of poorly reasoned arguments and offers the kind of vacuous non-advice that must have made her a big hit among do-nothing diplomats during her time at the State Department.

Good versus evil, she says, is not a strategy for national security. Well, it’s a bold start, I say, and long overdue. For 30 years following the Vietnam War, gun-shy diplomats and liberals advanced their beliefs that we could manage swelling anti-American sentiment in the Middle East by trying to understand and learn from those who would like to destroy us. And Ms. Albright, as Secretary of State, was another in a long line who thought we could dance with the Beast, never minding that it grew more dangerous and hungrier for the taste of American blood with each passing day. Small-scale attacks on American assets abroad throughout the 1990s, and the failed World Trade Center bombing in 1993, were not enough to hammer the lesson home. We seemed to finally learn with the attacks of 9/11, but we’ve seen since the Iraq invasion in 2003 that liberals still fail to fully comprehend the nature of the threat. And now Ms. Albright, like many critics on the left, blames the U.S. for igniting the fire of Islamist fanaticism in the Middle East and alienating our long-standing allies. Is it really possible she doesn’t realize that these flames have been burning for decades?

“It is sometimes convenient, for purposes of rhetorical effect, for national leaders to talk of a globe neatly divided into good and bad,” she writes. “It is quite another, however, to base the policies of the world’s most powerful nation upon that fiction. The administration’s penchant for painting its perceived adversaries with the same sweeping brush has led to a series of unintended consequences.”

One need only look at the way the U.S. has conducted its affairs with leading members of the European Union, Russia and China — all complex and distinct — to recognize Ms. Albright’s radical mischaracterization. In recent days, the U.S. has come to learn that Russia may have passed sensitive information along to Saddam Hussein’s government in the months leading up to the March 2003 invasion — information that could have increased the likelihood of American casualties. Add to that concern that Russian President Vladimir Putin may be rolling back democratic reforms instituted since the fall of the Soviet Union. Then, throw in the fact that Russia, like China, has economic interests in Iran that may make it impossible for the United Nations to effectively foreclose upon Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, and our relationships become even more delicate.

But the administration has not added Russia or China to the axis of evil. Rather, the president and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice talk about working with these nations and others to smooth our differences and to partner for solutions to the challenges that face the world. Even throughout the Middle East and central Asia, our relationships with leaders in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Pakistan, India and elsewhere contradict Ms. Albright’s thesis. Despite what she might like to believe, there is good, there is evil, and it should be so called. But this president and his administration also recognize the shades of grey between black and white — even the significant differences between peaceful Muslims and violent, fanatic Islamists — and have been carefully working to negotiate the spectrum.

Ms. Albright dedicated a great deal of space in her op-ed to discussing Iran, “whose radical government,” she proclaimed, “has been vastly strengthened by the invasion of Iraq.” Strengthened? No. Emboldened? Perhaps. Afraid of what democratic reform in Iraq would mean for their own oppressive theocracy? Definitely. Sensing opportunity to undermine the establishment of a working democratic government, Iran has supported the violent insurgency in Iraq. Of course, Ms. Albright doesn’t see it that way.

“When the U.S. invaded Iraq, Bush may have thought he was striking a blow for good over evil, but the forces unleashed were considerably more complex,” she writes.

Unleashed? Contrary to what Ms. Albright and others responsible for our foreign policy throughout most of the 1990s would have us believe, our adversaries in this guerrilla war were not being neatly contained before the Iraq invasion. These terrorist forces were simply operating in the shadows. They were training for attacks like those against American embassies in east Africa and the USS Cole. But today our soldiers, working alongside newly trained Iraqi security forces, are drawing these thugs and murderers into the sunshine, where they can be confronted and destroyed.

Ms. Albright goes on to criticize certain members of the administration — in particular, Vice President Cheney — for viewing Iraq “as a useful precedent for Iran.” It is a useful precedent! In the case of Iraq, the U.S. exhausted diplomatic efforts through the United Nations, prosecuting numerous resolutions, virtually all of which were skirted by Saddam Hussein’s regime or ignored outright. Only after the U.N. gave Iraq its final warning in late 2002 — and only after Iraq once again failed to comply with the resolutions settled upon by the U.N. Security Council — did the U.S. and its coalition partners move to enforce those resolutions militarily.

Heavily criticized for its strategy for negotiations with North Korea in 2002, 2003 and 2004, the U.S. administration stood on the sidelines while our allies took up the issue of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Those talks, however, have yielded little or no progress. Iran seems bent on enriching Uranium within its own borders, ostensibly to provide nuclear energy. But the rest of the world has no illusions about the aims of President Ahmadinijad, whose stated goal is the annihilation of Israel. More directly involved in the matter today, after the failure of our allies to secure an acceptable settlement of the nuclear issue in Iran, the U.S. is pursuing a diplomatic solution through the United Nations. And only after that effort has run its course — only then, if Iran is still speeding toward the development of nuclear weapons — would the U.S. and its allies even begin to seriously contemplate extra-diplomatic strategies. The model is similar to that which was applied to Iraq, but there is still time for a different outcome if Iran is willing to cooperate with the world.

Ms. Albright is right to welcome the plans for direct dialogue between the U.S. and Iran on Iraq. But she is far too prepared to make concessions to Iranian leaders whose ideology is corrosive to the establishment of a new Iraqi government founded on democracy and civil liberties.

“Officials on the front lines in Iraq know they cannot succeed in assembling a workable government in that country without the tacit blessing of Iran,” she writes. Of course, she feels that way because she knows Iran is working with al Qaeda leaders in Iraq to fuel the insurgency. And that is why direct talks between the U.S. and Iran have to underscore for Iran that nations that harbor, supply, fund or in any other way aid terrorists like those leading the insurgency will be looked upon as enemies of the United States and its allies. Albright seems to want the U.S. to make whatever concessions are necessary to satisfy the Iranians. Abraham Lincoln was given similarly flawed advice about concessions to the Confederacy in the months leading up to the start of the Civil War. And President Bush, like President Lincoln, has wisely chosen to ignore such advice.

Shawn Bannon is a professional speechwriter and editorialist. A graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, he has written for and served as a communications consultant to a number of civic, business and community leaders. He can be reached by e-mailing Shawn.Bannon@not-quite-right.com.

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Posted by on March 28, 2006.

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