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Can a task force of foreign policy experts spark change in the Middle East?

November 30, 2016 at 6:30 PM EST
As chairs of the Middle East Strategy Task Force, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley are leading a bipartisan effort to stabilize one of the world's most volatile regions. Albright and Hadley join Judy Woodruff to discuss the task force's report and recommendations, American ‘humility’ and their expectations of President-elect Trump.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now we’re joined by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who served in the Clinton administration, and Stephen Hadley. He was a national security adviser to President George W. Bush.

Together, they have chaired an ambitious project called the Middle East Strategy Task Force that spent nearly two years looking at that troubled region’s problems and devising potential solutions.

From its base at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank, the task force released its final report today.

And we welcome you both of you back to the “NewsHour.”

Secretary Albright, to you first.

Ambitious goal, doing something about the Middle East. Remind us what you thought you were going to accomplish here.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, Former Secretary of State: Well, we were looking at region that we know is very important to the United States and obviously to the world, and trying to take a much deeper look at the Middle East, instead of kind of doing Band-Aids or fire drills, and looking at what can be done to make things less dangerous, to deal with America’s national interests, which have to do with our friends and allies, nuclear proliferation, how to deal with terrorism.

And I’m very proud of what we did, because we spent a lot of time looking at the local situation, instead of telling them what to do and doing kind of what Western powers have done for a hundred years, is to get a better sounding of what’s happening in the region itself.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Stephen Hadley, you’re calling it a new strategic approach. What’s different about it from what’s happening now?

STEPHEN HADLEY, Former National Security Adviser: Well, as Madeleine said, we have had a century where outside parties have tried to arrange things in the Middle East, and generally not very successfully.

What we have tried to do was listen to voices in the Middle East as to what their vision was for the future. And we found was, they had a vision that there are people, entrepreneurs, both social entrepreneurs, business entrepreneurs, that are making change from the bottom up.

And there are governments like the UAE and Tunisia and Saudi Arabia and Jordan that are actually trying to move in a direction and take initiative for themselves. So the new strategic approach is, let’s follow the lead of governments and people in the region and have a supporting role from the outside, rather than the reverse.

JUDY WOODRUFF: One of the first things you recommend, Secretary Albright, is a new security approach to the four countries that have civil wars under way right now, hot wars going on.

You call, among other things, for a stepped-up military presence on the part of the United States. Why do you think something like this can happen, given President Obama’s reluctance to do this over the last eight years?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I think it’s been evident that we can’t just do things diplomatically. We do want to have a political solution to many of the issues, obviously Syria.

But there has to be some way to resolve the civil wars. And some of it may take additional American, not ground forces, but, in fact, greater support for the rebel groups through special forces, maybe some standoff approach to it, working with the allies, with the coalition on some issues from the air, establishing a safe zone, and that you can’t just decide, at least we thought, working with our advisers, that the United States can just turn its back on the place, because the shorthand for it is, there is a crisis in the Middle East, but it’s also from the Middle East, that’s affecting us all.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you have reason to believe, Stephen Hadley, that the president-elect, Donald Trump, is going to be interested in an approach like this? I mean, given what he said on the campaign trail, that’s not at all clear, is it?

STEPHEN HADLEY: Well, one of the things he said was that we need to do more to defeat ISIS and al-Qaida, Da’esh and al-Qaida. He was critical of the past administration, thought they had not done enough.

We recommend expanding and accelerating what we’re doing against Da’esh and al-Qaida. He was very critical of what Iran has done in the region. We believe that, if we step up what we’re doing against Da’esh and al Qaeda in both Iraq and Syria, that will put some limitations on what the Iranians can, quite frankly, some limitations on what the Russians can do.

And with that new leverage, you may be in a situation to move over time to the kinds of political solutions that we’re looking for both in Iraq and in Syria.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you have reason to believe, Secretary Albright, that Donald Trump is going to be interested in an approach like this?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, we have to see, frankly.

I think that my own view here is that we have to — he is the president-elect. And I think that, as he sees what the issues are, I am hopeful that he will understand the value of this approach, which is that we can’t — I mean, frankly, the suggestions that have been made during the campaign don’t make much sense, because it’s either having nothing to do with them or bombing them to — he used an unspeakable word — but that that’s not consistent.

And, therefore, what we’re advocating is that we can’t turn our back on the Middle East, that that is not good for American national interest, and that one does have to deal with Da’esh, but also to try to deal with the civil problems that are there, especially in Syria, given what Assad is doing to his own people.

So my feeling — my hope, I have to say, is that he will pay attention to this. And this is a bipartisan effort. I’m very proud to have been able to work with Steve Hadley on this. I think we have taken a rational approach to a very, very difficult problem.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You also call, Steve Hadley, for unleashing what you say is the region’s human and economic potential, hand in hand with the security measures.

These are the kinds of things, education, engaging the youth of the region, getting — giving opportunities to women, these are kinds of things that call for a lot of money and frankly some different both religious and cultural changes, don’t they?

STEPHEN HADLEY: I don’t think they call for a lot of money.

And it’s one of the things I think that we are proud of this report, because when you talk in Washington about the Middle East, it’s all about Iraq and Syria and Iran. What we have found is that there’s positive things going on, activity at the local level, government policies that are moving in the right direction of empowering their people, of getting rid of regulations that are in the way of the kind of entrepreneurial activity we’re seeing.

There is some good news there. There is something that we can work with in order to try to get a more peaceful and stable Middle East.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is there receptivity there in each one of these countries for what you’re calling for?

Because you’re talking about these countries working together in many ways, which they haven’t been willing to do.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, we notice there is kind of different levels of receptivity.

I do think that many of the countries’ leaders know that they have problems and that they need to deal with their growing youth population, that the youth is actually an asset, instead of a problem, and that there is money in the region, and that they can help each other. And one of the other things that I think we also made a point about is that new institutions will make a difference, parliaments.

Look, let me just say, we have spent a lot of time on this. And a lot it may kind of seem too idealistic. I think the issue here is that there does need to be some humility in dealing with this, taking a long-term approach.

JUDY WOODRUFF: On the part of the Americans? Is that what you’re saying?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Yes, absolutely, in terms of knowing how difficult it is, and deciding to take kind of a step-by-step approach.

It’s a road map, really. And it involves using what is going on in those countries, obviously, the leadership, the civil society, their young people, women, and really seeing their resources as being their own populations, instead of kind of complaining that the outside world is telling them what to do, knowing that, if they take steps forward, the outsiders will help.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And just in 20 seconds, Steve Hadley, what happens next? How do you advance these ideas?

STEPHEN HADLEY: Well, we are going to take this on the road, if you will. We want to talk to the new administration. We want to talk to the Congress. We will talk to the administration in power.

What we hope, though, is that this will actually provoke a conversation in the region about what the region needs to be doing to lay a foundation for a more hopeful future.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we thank you very much for coming to talk to us. And we will be wanting to talk to you as you take these next steps and seeing where it goes, Steve Hadley, Secretary Madeleine Albright.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Thank you for your interest, Judy. It’s very important.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you.

STEPHEN HADLEY: Nice to be with you.

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