Bill Clinton's Administration devoted substantial amounts of time and effort to crises in the Middle East. It was on Clinton's watch, in 1998, that U.N. weapons inspectors were pulled out of Saddam Hussein's Iraq to make way for a bombing raid by the U.S. and Britain of suspected banned weapons facilities. And Clinton and his diplomatic team came close to brokering a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 2000. That was before violence between the two sides escalated, and talks broke down.
Serving with Clinton through these tumultuous events was Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, the first woman to hold that position. She also served as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. from 1993 to 1997. And she's still actively involved in international affairs. Albright now advises multinational companies and nongovernmental organizations on environmental, health, and global policy issues as head of her own company, Albright Group.
She's also chairman of the board of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, which helps promote the process of democratization around the world. And she chairs the Pew Global Attitudes Project -- a new effort by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press to poll citizens in 44 countries about their attitudes toward the U.S., the war on terrorism, and other global issues.
The former Secretary of State recently met with editors at BusinessWeek in New York to discuss the Middle East, Iraq, and challenges facing the Bush Administration. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:
Q: You're a strong promoter of democracy. Do you think there can be democracy in the Middle East, even though most of the countries in the region are authoritarian?
A: I think that the Middle East is the largest piece of unfinished business that we all have. I happen to believe in the democratization process. At the National Democratic Institute, where I am chairman of the board, we have programs and contacts in the Middle East, including Bahrain and Yemen and some in Kuwait.
I think ultimately something can happen to foster democratic participation [in this region]. But I can't see democracy occurring by force -- after an Iraqi war, because of the fallout from that. It strikes me that a war by the infidels in this area doesn't help the democratic process.
Q: How do you see a war in Iraq evolving?
A: I would see the war in several phases. I think the military part of this war could be over fast because I have the highest respect for the U.S. military, and it is stunning what we are able to do. It is very hard to tell whether they will find Saddam -- or whether there will be house-to-house combat in Baghdad.
I think the first phase of the war will be quite victorious. But that is the mere beginning as we have seen in Afghanistan -- and Iraq is more complicated than Afghanistan. The questions will be who runs the country, and can you keep the country together? What I would call the unintended consequences of foreign policy decisions may be a problem.
Q: What do you mean?
A: The only analogy I can use is that Saddam Hussein is in a box. Over the last decade, we have managed to contain him. But we're not terribly sure what's in the box with him. We're going to hit the box, and sparks are going to fly out into an area that is literally and figuratively full of oil. And we don't know what the consequences of it will be.
Q: How bad could it get? Are you concerned about a clash of civilizations with the Arab world?
A: I don't actually believe in a clash of civilizations. I believe in a clash of the civilized and the noncivilized. What you have to be concerned about are the extremists. On the whole, we need to understand the more moderate Muslims before they become more radicalized. We don't understand enough about the Islam religion and Muslim world.
Q: Are you surprised that the Bush Administration has pursued a diplomatic path by going to the U.N. rather than striking at Iraq unilaterally as many expected?
A: Most people like the idea he went to the U.N. I salute it. The speech he made at the U.N. was a very good speech. I admire him for getting a 15 to nothing vote [on the U.N. resolution authorizing the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq].
That is really hard work. I know because I [had to get resolutions as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.], and I know how hard they are to get. So he is going the route of the inspectors. The next question for me is how long will he follow this diplomatic string?
Q: How long should he?
A: I think he should play it out. I think he needs to take a certain amount of time to read [the Iraqi report to the U.N. on its weapons arsenal]. And then if he thinks we still have to go in, then he has to show us what the problem is. The Bush Administration keeps saying that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. So show us.
Q: That could take months.
A: No, it can't be months. Our troops are over there [in the Mideast]. They would need to be rotated. It's expensive, and the logistics are complicated. That's why it's hard for me to see how to get out of it. I can't see a scenario where [war] goes away.
Q: Do you have any qualms about commenting on the Administration at a time of war?
A:I decided when I became Secretary of State that I would never criticize anybody again because the job is so difficult. After six months, I thought I could begin to state my views. Then 9/11 happened, and I didn't because we needed to unite.
I think the jobs [at the top] are unbelievably difficult, and there is nothing easier than second-guessing people. The thing that I have had the most trouble with is that those of us who have asked questions are considered unpatriotic. I consider it my patriotic duty as an ordinary citizen -- not as Secretary of State -- to ask questions. I think we have to ask ourselves the tough questions.