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Books: Albright's 'Memo to the President'

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Madeleine Albright
Former Secretary of State
Thursday, November 6, 2008; 1:30 PM

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright-- author of " Memo to the President: How We Can Restore America's Reputation and Leadership" -- was online Thursday, Nov. 6 at 1:30 p.m. ET to examine the urgent foreign policy issues facing the next president and the steps that must be taken as soon as possible.

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The transcript follows.

Albright is a principal of The Albright Group LLC, a global strategy firm, and chair and principal of Albright Capital Management LLC, an investment advisory firm focused on emerging markets. She is a professor of diplomacy at Georgetown University. In 1997, she was named the first female Secretary of State and became, at that time, the highest ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government. She chairs both the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and the Pew Global Attitudes Project and serves as president of the Truman Scholarship Foundation. "Memo to the President" is Albright's third New York Times best-sellers, following "Madam Secretary: A Memoir" and "The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs."

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Madeleine Albright: I'm delighted to be on this and am looking forward to answering questions. This is a fascinating time and I'm very happy to be able to have this opportunity to respond to all the readers' questions.

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Houston: Good morning Madam Secretary, and thank you for this chat. I enjoyed your appearance with Ashley Judd on "Iconoclast." Hearing about Russian President Medvedev's warning to the U.S. against building a missile defense shield in Europe felt reminiscent of the "Cold War" days. What is your opinion of this comment?

Madeleine Albright: I was very interested to read President Medvedev's comments. I believe we do not want to return to the Cold War, and it's hard to understand why he would have made the comments at this time.

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Asheville, N.C.: It has been argued successfully in Europe -- even lately by a retired head of the U.K.'s MI5 -- that a heavily-militarized global war on terror is the wrong way to "fight terror" in the world, or even frame the threat it could be. The right way, the argument goes, is just to rely on our police and intelligence services -- who indeed have been the ones who have tracked and stopped incipient incidents (such as these were, and could be). Can America now even accept that truth?

Madeleine Albright: I believe that we need to deal with the terrorist threat in a completely different way than we have been. We can't in fighting terrorism create more terrorists. I've written in my book that we need to be smarter about isolating al-Qaeda and not lump everyone who dislikes us into one network. I personally believe that we should not be making this sound like a normal war. It didn't start that way and it won't end that way. The people who attacked us on Sept. 11, or those who perpetrated violence in London and Madrid are murderers. By talking about a "war" on terror we give them a mythical status of being warriors. They are not warriors, they are murderers.

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Phoenixville, Pa.: Why did you miss so badly in failing to back Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was the only feasible leader in Afghanistan who could have stopped al-Qaeda and the Taliban before the Sept. 11 attacks?

Madeleine Albright: We had determined that we were trying to figure out basically where the power structure was in Afghanistan. That is, I think, an incorrect assessment of what our Afghan policy was. We wanted to figure out how to press various Afghan factions to give up Osama bin Laden.

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Washington: Madam Secretary, hello from the Harry S. Truman building. What do you see as the key administrative issues that the president-elect should take on at the State Department? What management suggestions would you offer?

Madeleine Albright: Well, hello to you. That building is the one thing that has survived for eight years because the Harry S. Truman is written in granite. I think the State Department is a complex place with very dedicated foreign services officers and civil service. In any reorganization must be undertaken in a way that will match the policies of the next president. I think there must be much greater cooperation between State, Defense, Treasury and Homeland Security, and the next secretary will have to work on that. The most radical thing I did as Secretary of State was move Canada into the Western Hemisphere -- those working at State know that it was in Europe before. But I'm not going to prejudge what the next secretary of State is going to do.

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Washington: With Barack Obama's pledge to withdraw from Iraq -- and let's assume he executes his plan -- will America's focus on the Middle East wane, and will the traditional focus of alliance-building in developing Latin American countries be re-ignited in some capacity?

Madeleine Albright: Sen. Obama spoke during his campaign that in fact the U.S. had to pay more attention to other parts of the world, and also spoke about the importance of strengthening alliance structures and having bilateral relationships with a number of different countries and being much more consultative. But that doesn't mean we'll lose interest in the Middle East. My personal interest is that we can't have a unilateral or uni-dimensional foreign policy -- we have to be interested in other parts of the world, using other tools than just the military.

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Fairfax, Va.: Thank you for sharing your wisdom on this subject. Although there is much to denigrate about Bush administration foreign policy, he did boost U.S. concern about and funding for global health, particularly through the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Where do you think health should rank in Obama's foreign policy strategy?

Do you think further boosting U.S. investment in global health would be a good way to improve our reputation abroad and make friends, and that it therefore should be a high priority for the new president? Do you think there are other topics that should rank higher as foreign policy concerns, or better opportunities for improving our relations with other nations?

Madeleine Albright: First of all I think that even those of use who have been critical of Bush's policy have given him high marks for his work on HIV/AIDS and the aspects of dealing with some of the global health issues. I personally have put issues dealing with global health, rising food prices, environment, energy, the growing gap between the rich and poor, as things the next president has to deal with. I speak about this in my book. I think the whole approach and America's position would be better off if we did cooperate with other countries on these transnational issues and health pandemics, as well as ways to prevent diseases in any population. I admire the work of cooperation between the U.S. government and nongovernmental organizations which in fact also have a large role in dealing with global health issues. For instance Global Alliance Vaccine Initiative, which provides vaccines for children around the world.

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Alexandria, Va.: Secretary Albright, thank you for taking my question, and I greatly enjoyed your participation in the roundtable discussion with the former secretaries of State. Now that there is a new administration on the horizon, what do you predict will be Obama's approach to Iran? Does the recent event of Iran's parliament vs. Ahmadinejad's ally shed any light on future change in their policies or relations with us? Thank you.

washingtonpost.com: Lawmakers Impeach Iranian Cabinet Minister (Post, Nov. 5)

Madeleine Albright: I very much enjoyed participating in that talk with the other former secretaries of state. All of us agreed that we needed dialogue with Iran, and that that was a very important initiative. It's very important now to recognize that while Sen. Obama has been elected and that he's president-elect, we only have one president at a time. Obama said a number of times during the campaign that we needed to have contact with countries and leaders we don't necessarily agree with. Certainly that's in line with what all those former secretaries of State -- Republican and Democrat -- said.

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New York: Condi Rice, Susan Rice -- what are you doing, monopolizing the entire foreign affairs apparatus of the U.S. government with your proteges? When are you going to start sharing with the other ex-secretaries of State? Seriously, whoever takes over State has a back-breaking task, because there are priorities and crises everywhere.

If you were advising Obama, where would you put most of your effort for this year? How do you rationally choose between, say, Korea, Russia, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Israel/Palestine? This sounds like Steven Leacock's character who "rode madly off in all directions." What does the process look like when there is a transition and there are all these leaks in the boat?

Madeleine Albright: First of all, Condi Rice was not my protege. She was a student of my father's many years ago, but clearly we learned different things from him. Susan Rice is very close to me. I think you've hit on a very important problem. There are so many issues out there that need to be handled and prioritizing them is a big challenge. There are these six big umbrella issues that must be dealt with -- fighting terrorism without creating terrorists, fixing the nonproliferation regime, restoring the good name of democracy, dealing with the negative impacts of globalization, addressing transnational health and environment issues, and the global financial crisis.

I think the financial crisis in many ways is the one that has to be dealt with quickest. Sen. Obama said he wanted to consult with his military and begin pulling out forces from Iraq in a responsible way and adding forces to Afghanistan. But you're right, there are a huge number of issues and this presidency will be a very difficult one. The transition process has just because, and it also will be complicated, because there only is one president at a time and there has to be an organized and detailed way to transfer power. What's amazing about the United States is that we're inaugurating our 44th president, and power will be transferred peacefully.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: There are people, perhaps like Warren Buffet, who presumably never would take an official position with the administration, yet whose advice frequently might be sought and considered. Who do you believe might fill such roles in the Obama White House on foreign policy (i.e. who should Obama call on as unofficial advisers)?

Madeleine Albright: I think there are a number of people who have been part of the senior foreign policy group he has had, but I'm not going to suggest who he should call on. He has shown during his campaign that he is interested in a variety of views and is a very good listener and is very good at assessing the value of different people's opinions, and then makes up his mind based on a lot of important and very valuable information.

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Lyme, Conn.: Russia has been at a crossroads for the past several years, deciding whether work more closely with the West or whether to consider it a potential future enemy. I should think President Obama would wish to send early indications to Putin and other Russian leaders as to how we wish to coexist. What would you advise President Obama's first moves towards Russia be?

Madeleine Albright: I think I agree with you that the relationship with Russia is a very important one, and that Russia could play a very important role in cooperating on a number of the issues out there for the next president, and the message I personally would send is that we don't want to return to a Cold War situation, and that it's important not to make threatening statements. But as I said, there's only one president at a time, and in Russia President Medvedev has made some statements now about where missiles should go, and I'm sure the Bush administration will indicate what direction it is going in.

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Philadelphia: I think it is an important message for the rest of the world to realize that a woman born and raised in the Czech Republic can become U.S. Secretary of State, and that a man with roots in Africa can become U.S. president. Does this have meaning in foreign governments and among people worldwide? What message are they taking from this?

Madeleine Albright: I think the message they're taking -- and we certainly saw that in worldwide reaction -- is that people understand that America is a country with a wonderful history of accepting people as immigrants from different countries, that democracy works in America, and I hope people see how good American people really all -- how generous and interested in what is going on in other countries and in cooperating more.

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Brookline, Mass.: Are there any Republicans being spoken of to be added to the cabinet or other high-level positions in the Obama administration? I think it would be an excellent gesture for Chris Shays, a real moderate Republican who has worked well with both sides of the aisle but got caught up in a rotten Republican year in hugely blue state, to be offered an appropriate position (he has a strong environmental record) to demonstrate that moderate Republicans are welcome to join or work with the Democratic Party. After the highly partisan Bush administration, something like this would be a breath of fresh air.

Madeleine Albright: I have no way of knowing about any individual issue. I do know that Sen. Obama has spoken about the importance of reaching out and the need for bipartisanship, and that he has mentioned some Republicans, but I have no other way of knowing what Republicans are being considered.

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Arlington, Va.: Madam Secretary, thank you so much for your service to this country and for hosting today's chat. Having lived in Taiwan for two years as a child, I am concerned by the hostile and reactionary attitudes that many of my fellow Americans (and by extension their politicians) have about China. What, in your view, is the best approach to our relationship with this very important nation, which seems poised to become an increasingly important player on the world political and economic stages in the next few decades? How high should China be on President Obama's foreign policy agenda?

Madeleine Albright: I'd like to say it was a great honor for me to serve as America's secretary of State -- thanks for the kind words. I also have written in my book that there are rising powers Obama has to deal with. China clearly is a major one -- anytime anyone mentions China they add the adjective "rising." Because many of the issues out there for this administration require international agreement, working with China is important, what we always have called a "multifaceted relationship." We also have an interdependent relationship in the large amount of money China has lent to and invested in the United States, and they need us for our market. That has to be taken into consideration. But there are certain things happening in China -- human rights and religious persecution -- that are a problem, but it's important to recognize the complexities of the relationship and cooperate where we can.

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Atlanta: Who do you think the short list of candidates for the secretary of State and national security Adviser to President-Elect Obama should include?

Madeleine Albright: I think there are a lot of great candidates, so I don't want to give any specific names.

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Is it safe to ask...: I hope that Madame Secretary has enough distance from her former role as Secretary of State to offer a perspective on this issue that is free from the paralysis that epitomizes the official government position. U.S. policy towards our neighbor Cuba is grounded in a Cold War mentality that is based on an antiquated and hopelessly stagnant outlook on the world. The direct correlation between U.S. policy toward Cuba and the election politics of the Republican and Democratic parties is clear to even the casual observer. Both parties have been said to pander to the Cuban-American community in order to shore up votes in the crucial state of Florida.

Can Madame Secretary give the readers an idea of how she thinks this week's election results may effect future U.S. policy toward Cuba? What other factors does Secretary Albright see, if any, that indicate a potential end to the stasis that has defined U.S.-Cuban relations for decades -- decades that have seen remarkable progress in the rest of the world?

Madeleine Albright: I believe that change is happening in Cuba, that clearly the Fidel Castro era is passing, and my personal opinion is that there are possibilities for a better relationship. And I think the domestic politics of this issue, according to what I have read about the election, has in some ways changed as the Cuban-American community has. I think there will be opportunities for a different way of looking at Cuba, but the Cubans also have to allow more independent thinking within Cuba, and understanding that there are those within Cuba who want to be able to express their views.

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Toledo, Ohio: Hi Madam Secretary -- thanks for the chat. Looking back, what do you consider the best piece of advice you've received?

Madeleine Albright: Interesting question. I've received so much advice that it's hard to point to one, but I think as a public servant it is to understand the privilege of understanding America and to make the most of every single day, and to never feel jaded about going to the White House and meeting with the president of the United States.

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New York: Regarding "creating terrorists" as we fight them, can the U.S. win the global war on terror so long as Israel occupies the West Bank?

Madeleine Albright: I think these are two different questions. I don't blame Israel for every issue that's going on out there and I don't think it's central to fighting terrorists. I hope very much there will be progress on the Israel-Palestine talks, but countries need to realize that if they are going to be responsible members of the international community, they can't be state sponsors of external terrorist groups, and we need to isolate non-state sponsors of terrorism. And as I said earlier, we need to realize that not all terrorist groups are linked and not lump everybody together.

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Virginia: Congratulations on your AUSA award (from a Republican). Do you think a policy wonk or a politician best can succeed as a cabinet member?

Madeleine Albright: I think there are a number of policy wonks who are very good cabinet members and have been and will be, but I do think what is important for a cabinet member in any position is to work well with others, understand the American system of government -- that requires cooperation with the executive and between the executive and legislative branches, and view themselves as part of a team.

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Hartfield, Va.: Interesting you would say that we need to rely on more than military means...yet you pushed the US government into military intervention over Kosovo despite the lack of any vital US national security interest or authorization by either the UN Security Council or Congress. In the future, what should be our criteria for intervening militarily and establishing legitimacy for such actions?

Madeleine Albright: Let me say, I teach a course at Georgetown on what I call the national security toolbox. You have to be able to use a variety of tools. Obviously the use of force isn't something you turn to immediately. In Kosovo we spent several years trying diplomacy in a number of different venues -- bilateral, multilateral, within the U.N. -- and I believe there are times you have to use force to stop ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, but after you use different tools. I know we worked hart to use other tools and did not go in unilaterally. We did not get a U.N. mandate because we knew Russia would veto, but we did go in with NATO. When people ask what I am proudest of, I say it's saving hundreds of thousands of lives in Kosovo.

My criteria are that national interest is hard to define, and we believed it was important to stop the killing in the Balkans and do what the first President Bush talked about -- create a Europe that was whole and free.

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Longmont, Colo.: Madame Secretary, what a pleasure! Given the great success you had coaxing Libya to "see things our way," if I may be so forward, is there any chance of, or would you be open to being tapped by President-elect Obama for a key foreign policy post? Say, Secretary of State Emeritus or Special Envoy to Russia?

Madeleine Albright: The truth is that I had the best possible job as secretary of State and I loved it and was very honored to have that job. It does not come around twice, but I have said that I would be very happy to help in any way, and I do think that America will have a very different policy from the Bush policy with President Obama.

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Las Vegas: Do you think Christopher Hill would make a good Secretary of State? Shouldn't our presidents more seriously consider career people inside the State Department for the top job?

Madeleine Albright: First of all, Christopher Hill has been a remarkable diplomat and I have the highest admiration for him, and I think it's important to put foreign service officers and professional diplomats into high-level positions as I did and as others have done. But I'm not going to make recommendations about who President Obama should put in these jobs. But Chris Hill really has done a remarkable job on the North Korean talks.

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Haverford PA: Madam Secretary, what would be your advice to President-Elect Obama about the NATO alliance and Afghanistan? With the Taliban's resurgence in the country's south and east, fueled by rampant cultivation and sale of opium, many of our allies have expressed reservations about first Pres. Bush's, and then respectively Sen. McCain's and Obama's calls for a troop surge in the country.

With public opinion polls in France, Canada and Germany turning against the war in Afghanistan, what steps would you recommend Pres. Obama to repair the alliance and its efforts in Afghanistan? Do you agree with Sec. Gates and Gen. Petraeus's' calls to negotiate with moderate Taliban elements and would you recommend Obama to follow this course?

Madeleine Albright: What I've been saying on this is that there has been a question generally about what the role of NATO is in the post-Cold War world. As we talked on its 50th anniversary about what NATO should be doing, it was that they'd be more involved in "out of area" missions. The NATO alliance has been participating in Afghanistan. I believe more and more that a variety of issues, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, reflect the national interests of other countries, and I hope other NATO members see that. Sen. Obama has spoken in the past about seeing if there were various Taliban elements willing to talk, but I think there should be an assessment -- the Afghan war is not going well -- and as Gen. Petraeus has just taken over Central Command there will be very close consultation, but we have to remember that we only have one president at a time.

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Detroit, Michigan: Do you think anything can be done when he gets into office regarding the Israelis and Palestinians? Israel still has to elect a new prime minister and the Palestinians, with Gaza out of control of the Palestinian government, do not have much unity. What would you recommend to Obama when he becomes President regarding this issue?

Madeleine Albright: Sen. Obama has said and I have said that the U.S. government has to pay attention to what is happening in that arena, and that is something that needs to be turned to early in the administration. Clearly the political situation in Israel has to be considered -- you have to know the situations in whatever countries or people you are dealing with, but I think you can't leave this issue until the end of the administration. President Bush said he had a road map to peace in this region, but he never really took it out of the glove compartment.

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Washington DC: Madame Secretary, I just wanted to express my deepest gratitude. I am a Bosnian-American, and I want to thank you in the name of all Bosnian-Americans for what you did for us. Not only did you help stop the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, but you helped resettle many refugees and allowed us to come to this great country and enjoy all it has to offer. As someone who lived under siege in Sarajevo for a long time, I am humbled to be able to express my thanks to you in saving countless lives and giving many of us the chance to live in the U.S. God bless you, Madam Secretary.

Madeleine Albright: I have to say that I am very proud of what we did in Bosnia. I visited various parts of Bosnia many times at the U.N. and then as Secretary of State, and it was a source of great pride that we were able to accomplish something. I'm very happy when I meet Bosnians who come to America, and I'm hopeful the Bosnians still in Bosnia will understand the importance of being a part of a very very different Balkans and a different Europe. And I must say I'm always thrilled whenever anyone from Bosnia comes up to talk to me.

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Madeleine Albright: I have very much enjoyed the questions from the readers. I think they have asked about a lot of important subjects, and I hope they found the session as valuable as I did. Thank you.

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