Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright

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Former secretary of state describes the most pressing issues that the next president will inherit and why the VP is so important for dealing with those issues.


Tavis: I’m pleased to welcome Madeleine Albright back to this program. The former secretary of state under Bill Clinton is now principal of the Albright Group. She’s also a bestselling author whose latest is out tomorrow in paperback. The book is called “Memo to the President: How we can Restore America’s Reputation and Leadership.”
She joins us tonight from Boston. Madame Secretary, nice to have you back on the program.
Madeleine Albright: Great to be with you, Tavis, thank you.
Tavis: Let me start with news made by another secretary of state yesterday, you might have heard (laughs) that Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama. You started out as a Hillary supporter; you, of course, now supporting Mr. Obama. What do you make of Secretary Powell’s endorsement yesterday?
Albright: I think it’s terrific. I am very, very glad it happened, and it’s really historic because he has served with Republican presidents and generally been pro – many Republican positions. But I thought that his explanation of why he was for Barack Obama was so important in terms of understanding Obama’s wisdom, judgment, curiosity, calmness in the face of many difficult problems. So I thought that was great.
And then the other part, Tavis, that I think was really, really important – the context into which he put his endorsement and his real warning about the kinds of things that we should not be saying or doing during this campaign.
Tavis: I think you’re right about the fact he offered about as brilliant an explanation as one could for why and how he made his choice. He was clear, he was direct, and I understood it and apparently most other Americans did, at least in the way he laid it out.
That said, the one thing that I did have concern about is how Obama accepts the nomination – accepts the endorsement, rather, of one who got us into the war in Iraq, which Mr. Obama has staked his campaign largely on, that he would have handled this differently, but he accepts an endorsement of one who took us in that direction. How do you juxtapose those two things?
Albright: Well, I think that secretary or General Powell has talked a lot about the whole issue and how he saw the information. He and I are good friends and we’ve talked about this, and I think he understands now that this war has to end. He and Senator Obama agree on that. And I also think that people are entitled to have different opinions about issues, but this is a truly important endorsement I think for many reasons.
Because General Powell is a highly respected American, both military and political figure, and it makes a difference when somebody from an opposing party does the endorsing. We now have three former secretaries of State endorsing Barack Obama, so I think it’s terrific.
Tavis: Let me ask you whether or not, as Newt Gingrich suggested yesterday on one of the other talk shows, that Powell’s endorsement of Obama pretty much wipes out the experience argument, or lack thereof, that Republicans have been leveling at him, when you can get a Colin Powell to say that he endorses you, that the experience argument, or again, the lack thereof, pretty much goes by the wayside now?
Albright: Well, he basically made very clear that he thought Barack Obama was ready to be commander-in-chief. I think many of us have been saying that; it’s nice to have it emphasized by Colin Powell. But I think it’s very clear from any number of actions that Barack Obama has taken that he is ready and will be ready on day one. So I think – I rarely agree with Newt Gingrich, (laughter) but I think that it’s great.
Tavis: As one who started out strongly in support of your friend, Hillary Clinton, whose husband, of course, you worked for, how did you make your peace with your endorsement of Mr. Obama when that was over with?
Albright: Well, I am a very good and loyal Democrat, and I want very much to see us win. And I also think – I supported Hillary Clinton because she is a very, very good friend and I saw her as a really remarkable political figure and somebody who would make a great president. But I also never felt anything negative about Barack Obama.
I thought that he was a fascinating candidate and a really thoughtful and wise person, and so I am finding it – I found it very easy, and I find it a great honor to be able to support him now. And I think he will be a terrific president.
Tavis: I want to go from Colin Powell to your text, “Memo to the President,” because in Mr. Powell’s interview yesterday on “Meet the Press” endorsing Mr. Obama, he talked about – and I’m paraphrasing here – regaining our standing in the world. And that’s really what this book is all about – “Memo to the President: How we can Restore America’s Reputation and Leadership.”
Let me ask this question now, and I asked this question of you many, many months ago when this book first came out in hardback. But so much has happened in the world since then, so let me ask the same question I asked you a few months ago – whether or not that is still in your mind, in your judgment, possible at this time. Or is the damage irreparable that this administration has done?
Albright: Well, we talked about this before. I don’t think it’s irreparable, but it is a very difficult job for the next president, which is exactly why we need somebody with the kind of vision and judgment that Barack Obama brings. And I think as Americans we are can-do and optimistic, and the world is waiting for a change. And I think I probably put it this way then, Tavis, which is that people want American leadership; it’s just that American leadership has been wanting.
So it’s not anything that’s going to happen overnight in terms of everybody thinking that we’re doing everything correctly and are willing to go along with us, but I think it will happen, and it will happen because Barack Obama has a different style of operating. And that is listening to others, working with other countries, consultations.
So it’s not irreparable, but it’s not going to be easy. We’re in a pretty deep hole. But at least we’re going to stop digging and begin thinking about how to restore our leadership.
Tavis: To your point of his style, Mr. Obama’s, that is, and his willingness to sit down and to talk to others, he’s been hit pretty hard by the McCain camp, by McCain specifically, about his being willing to sit down and meet with world leaders without preconditions. Your take on that notion?
Albright: Well, it’s interesting – the last time we were all together as former secretaries of State was at a panel about three weeks ago. And we were asked, all five of us there were asked what we would do in terms of negotiating or having a dialogue with Iran without preconditions.
And so Henry Kissinger, Jim Baker, Colin Powell and Warren Christopher and I all agreed that we should be willing to talk to Iran without preconditions. So the bottom line is I’m not sure people understand what that means when you say “preconditions.”
It means that you would be – you can’t say that you will not talk to people until they agree to the things that you want to talk about. So the other part that I think is evident – talking is not always pleasant, and it is a way to deliver tough messages and listen.
So I found it interesting that all five of us actually thought it was important and necessary to talk to Iran without preconditions.
Tavis: You are certainly, as a former secretary of state, and for that matter even before you took that position, much more traveled around the world than one Barack Obama is, and he’s been pilloried for that by the McCain camp, that he didn’t really venture out into the world until weeks ago in this campaign.
If you were giving him a Madeleine Albright world politics 101 crash course, what’s most important for him? I’m not talking about particular hotspots, but across the board, what’s most important for him to understand about where our reputation in the world is as we speak?
Albright: Well, I think the most important thing for him, and this has changed, and it’s just an example of how quickly things happen, is to do something about this financial crisis, because it’s a global financial crisis, and it is affecting our reputation also. So he’s going to have to focus on that.
But then I think he has to look at how to deal with the two hot wars and their unintended consequences. So Afghanistan, and then how to deal with Pakistan that I think contains everything that gives you an international migraine. It has nuclear weapons and poverty and corruption and extremism, and it’s in a very important place. And then Iraq – we have to systematically get out of Iraq and deal with the unintended consequence of a rising Iran and their questioned nuclear issues.
And then, Tavis, what I have been saying is I think that in one form or another, a President Obama is going to have to pay attention to other parts of the world, to various countries in Africa and to our neighbors in Latin America. It’s a huge agenda, which is why we need somebody who has a sense of curiosity and the ability to multitask and to get good people around him, and I think Barack Obama’s really shown that very clearly in the last months.
Tavis: Got just about 30 seconds here, but to your latter point I want to follow up right quick, given how bad our economy is at the moment, and given how tenuous our reputation and position is on the world stage, can you multitask in that way, since both require so much attention? Of course, a president always has to do more than one thing at a time, but both of these situations require such attention, can you do both, whether your name is Obama or McCain?
Albright: Well, I think that you have to do both, and the bottom line is, which is why it’s so important who you choose as your vice president. And I think Senator Biden is going to be a terrific partner for Senator Obama in terms of dealing – just name the issues on the international scene, as well as domestically.
So I do think that it’s a heavy agenda and you’re – whoever is president is going to have to do both, and then also get a good team. I really have talked a lot about the importance of getting smart, good people who act as a team but are willing to present different opinions. And what I like is a president who in fact is confident enough to get a lot of different opinions. And I think that’s what we’re going to have if we elect Barack Obama.
Tavis: Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Her book, out in paperback tomorrow, is called “Memo to the President: How we can Restore America’s Reputation and Leadership.” A new, updated edition. Madame Secretary, always an honor to have you on. Thanks for your insights, as usual.

Albright: Great to be with you, Tavis, thanks much.

Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm