My first reaction upon reading Madeleine Albright’s letter on foreign policy, co-signed by some other foreign ministers, was: this woman was secretary of state? She apparently now specializes in pablum. Her counsel consists of such blazing insights as this:
In almost every part of the globe, there continue to be people who have chosen — whether out of ignorance, fear, or ill will — to sow conflict where reconciliation is needed. It is up to responsible voices on all sides to make the case for constructive action based on shared interests and values. This is a duty that extends beyond governments alone, to include decision makers and other people of influence from all sectors of society. The standard we seek to achieve is not mere tolerance, but a widespread attitude of genuine mutual respect.
Not only is this boring and prosaic, it’s also wrong. The goal of American foreign policy should not be conflict resolution but the promotion of American interests and values. As her own writing aptly demonstrates, the notion that we should seek accommodation with everyone raises the question as to whether others want accommodation with us:
We favor policies and initiatives that will improve the environment for cooperation across the boundaries of nation and creed. We recognize, of course, that the present state of relations between Muslims and the West must be viewed within an historical context and that the terms “Muslim” and “the West” refer to entities that are resistant to easy generalization. We also acknowledge that the prospects for success will be profoundly affected by the future direction of events in such areas of conflict as Afghanistan and Pakistan, and by progress in the Middle East peace process. We believe, however, that certain broad steps can and should be taken to strengthen the foundation for intercultural understanding.
If you actually read all that (c’mon, you skimmed, right?), you’d wonder if there were a sale on empty platitudes. How can we hope to “strengthen the foundation for intercultural understanding,” and more important, what if others want to kill rather than understand us, or to oppress their people rather than to understand them, or to wipe out their neighbors rather than understand them?
Oh, no problem. Albright says that all we have to do is “not duck hard issues” (hmm, like the oppression of women?) and censor ourselves by cutting out terms like “Islam.” (Wait, wouldn’t this be ducking a hard question?) Then we need to “emphasize the firm connection that exists between democratic and Islamic values while also heeding the lesson of Iraq, which is that democracy must find its roots internally.” I couldn’t follow that either. And what lesson does she mean — that America can overthrow tyrants and introduce democracy to the Middle East? We also have to work on immigration (“search for answers that take into account economic and demographic realities, while discouraging reactions based on prejudice or fear”) and step up “business, scientific, academic, cultural and religious contact.”
OK, how is any of that going to keep Iran from getting the bomb? Where in there do we curb Putin’s aggressive tactics? Is there something that would help rebuff Hugo Chavez? I hope Pakistan wants to “understand us,” for if not, there is precious little to help us deal with a corrupt, unstable Islamic state. And, more important, was she this inane when she was in office?
I will say this: Albright reminds us that there could be worse choices than Hillary for secretary of state.