Albright says U.S. must act immediately to resolve ‘mess’

Albright says U.S. must act immediately to resolve ‘mess’

We are in the middle of a perfect storm," said former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright last week, ticking off the list of threats facing the nation. "The world is in a mess."

Albright was the keynote speaker at a campaign event in Tenafly for Paul Aronsohn, a Democrat who is running for Congress from New Jersey’s 5th District. Aronsohn — who served in the Clinton administration for eight years and worked under three American ambassadors to the United Nations, including Albright — is challenging Republican incumbent Scott Garrett.

"The Republican-controlled Congress goes along with everything the president wants," said Albright. "It’s not doing its job." Members of Congress should engage in oversight and questioning, she added, noting that while that is not easy, "it is obligatory in a democracy."

Describing the state of affairs as "terribly difficult," Albright said that the war in Iraq is one "of choice, not necessity," and that the administration was "mixed up" about who was responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks. Still, while our focus should have been on Afghanistan, not Iraq, we "cannot just leave."

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright during a recent visit to Bergen County.

"We must get it right," she said, especially because of the "unintended consequences" of the war — including, in particular, "Iran’s unbelievable influence."

This is linked to the current crisis in Israel, Albright suggested, pointing out that while she is not an advocate of conspiracy theory, she found the timing of Hezbollah’s attack on Israel "peculiar," occurring at the same time the subject of Iran’s nuclear capability was to be discussed at the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia. Hezbollah’s act diverted attention away from Iran, a major patron of the terrorist group.

Albright said that in going after Iraq, we "took our eyes off the ball," and Afghanistan is "not under control." Nor is the situation in North Korea, she added, noting that she was the highest-ranking U.S. official to have met with President Kim Jong Il. According to Albright, the Korean leader must now believe that U.S. foreign policy exists "in four-year segments." President Bush’s policy of not doing what the Clinton Administration did (which Albright called "ABC — Anything but Clinton") cut off negotiations "in the middle," she said.

The former secretary of state also said that "Russia is clearly moving in the wrong direction," eliminating all interests that disagree with President Vladimir Putin, and bemoaned the fact that "we are doing nothing to help the economies of Latin America." "People don’t want to leave their homes," she said. They come here only because they can’t afford to live in their home countries.

Albright said that while she would have liked to bring about peace in the Middle East — "and we came close," she added — she was particularly gratified that as secretary of state she had been able to mobilize the international community to intervene in Kosovo. The NATO air campaign against Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic and his policy of ethnic cleansing ultimately forced the Serb military’s withdrawal from the province. As a child of World War II, Albright said, she understood the plight of the people targeted for destruction.

Admitting that the air campaign — achieved only after "much discussion" — had its share of missteps, such as the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade (at which point it was dubbed "Madeleine’s War"), Albright said she later visited refugee camps in the area and saw children holding signs saying "Thank You." She also learned that many girl children in the area had been named after her.

Albright — the first woman to hold a position of such high rank in the U.S. government — also served as the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations and as a member of President Clinton’s cabinet and National Security Council.

In a private interview, Albright told The Jewish Standard that criticism of Hezbollah by members of the Arab League is "an important change. We need to build on it." Responding to those who accuse Israel of mounting a disproportionate response to the kidnapping of its soldiers, she pointed out that not only had Israel been attacked, but that the nation had previously shown its good faith by evacuating Lebanon. The Lebanese government must ultimately regain control of its own country, said Albright, but she acknowledged that Israel may need a buffer zone to protect its citizens from rocket attacks.

Working toward peace in the Middle East was a "full-time job" during the Clinton administration, she said, adding that Clinton was "highly knowledgeable about the area and had a functioning peace team."

But "the road map has never been taken out of the glove compartment," she said. Albright was referring to the plan floated by the Bush administration in ’00’ and developed by the Quartet — the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia. The plan required the Palestinian Authority, in exchange for statehood, to make democratic reforms and abandon terrorism while Israel should withdraw from designated areas and freeze settlement activity in the Gaza Strip and the west bank. The goal of the plan was to achieve peace by ‘005.

Albright said she hoped the current secretary of state would visit the area as soon as possible, and in fact Secretary Condoleezza Rice left for the Middle East the following weekend. "I’m an optimist who worries a lot," Albright said. "We need to figure out how to have people live side by side, but it won’t happen if you don’t work toward it. Diplomacy is detailed and hard work, but it’s important to be involved."

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