Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that it’s “ridiculous” for Republican critics to accuse former Senator Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama’s choice for defense secretary, of being anti-Israel.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We begin the show with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Madam Secretary, thank you so much for being with us.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Good to be with you, Al.
HUNT: Let’s start with Chuck Hagel, who you support. Senator Lindsey Graham says that he would be the most anti- Israel defense secretary in history.
ALBRIGHT: I think that’s ridiculous. I think that Senator Hagel has been somebody that has voted for help for Israel over the years, has made very clear his support for Israel, and has talked about the historic bond. And so I think that is just a charge that doesn’t make any sense at all.
HUNT: So why are the neocons so upset about him?
ALBRIGHT: I don’t know. I think that they just decided they weren’t going to like whomever. And I think it’s totally unjustified. I know Senator Hagel very well. I worked with him when I was secretary and he was on the Foreign Relations Committee. I have since -- we serve on the Defense Advisory Board together. We actually teach together at Georgetown. And I think he has really the most kind of well-thought-out views and is a very careful analyst and student of foreign affairs and understands it. So I think he’s a really, really great nominee.
HUNT: The other issue they picked up on and one of the other issues is that he’s soft on Iran. And the appointment -the Hagel appointment got good reviews in the state-run press over in Iran. Is there a danger that Tehran will misread this appointment?
ALBRIGHT: No, I don’t think so, because I think that the president has made very clear what his message is on Iran, as have others, with senator and about-to-be Secretary of State Kerry, if confirmed. And generally the American position and our position in the P5-plus-one talks is that containment is not a policy and that all options are on the table. So I think that the president has made very clear what our policy is on Iran.
HUNT: What are the probabilities that we’ll have to take action in 2013?
ALBRIGHT: I know people ask that. I’m not really good at those kind of probabilities. I do think that we are very concerned about how things are evolving in Iran and have to maintain a tough position in conjunction with our friends and allies.
And I think that the issue here is, I happen to believe that one always needs to leave all options on the table. That is, in a decision-making process, it’s very important to do that. And obviously, as the president has said, they have not taken any option off the table.
But there’s a real question as to whether a strike or a use of force would accomplish what is necessary. And when you’re choosing a tool, you need to choose one that you know will work and doesn’t have unintended consequences.
HUNT: Let’s talk about what tools could or couldn’t be used in Syria. The Assad brutality continues. Is it time now to aggressively arm the opposition or even take out the Syrian air force, which would be the vehicle for any use of chemical weapons?
ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that every day brings some kind of new development in the Syria story. I thought President Assad’s speech really was delusional, as Victoria Nuland at State said, and that it is very clear that President Assad cannot be part of any transitional government or provisional government.
I think we’re doing the right thing there, also, in terms of providing a variety of different kind of assistance, non- lethal assistance, humanitarian support. Also, I think in terms of now providing assistance for Patriot missiles in Turkey, because people are afraid of the spread of things.
HUNT: We have found out in other countries -- Iraq and Libya -- that when dictators are toppled, that Jeffersonian democrats don’t necessarily take over. What are your worries about a post-Assad Syria?
ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that just in an analysis of it, one is concerned about sectarian fighting, and Syria is a country composed of a number of different groupings, that those that would be the majority, that they would in some way inflict punishment on the minority, and in the worst of all possible worlds, that there would be some kind of more civil war fighting.
And then also what I’m concerned about is the spread into other parts of the region. So we talked about Turkey, but mostly problems in Lebanon and Jordan, the neighboring parts, and that there would really be kind of an unsettled situation in Syria, where there wouldn’t be immediate resolution.
I think there is a question always about arming various elements within a provisional group. And I think people are very concerned and looking at that.
HUNT: We’re moving just to another trouble spot, Afghanistan. General Stanley McChrystal, the former U.S. commander there, warned that too sharp and too precipitous a withdrawal might enable the Taliban to take over much of the country, destabilize Pakistan, women’s rights would be lost. Is that a legitimate concern?
ALBRIGHT: Well, I think there is a concern about what happens. Our - as I understand the American position - combat troops will be out by the end of 2014. But, again, as I understand this, the -- President Obama and his team are looking at what the options are. And there are a number of options, in terms of all troops out, some kind of median number, a larger number. One of the things you do learn always in decision-making at the White House, there are always three options.
And -- but what you really need to do is look at them and see what needs to be done, but also there are other ways to support Afghanistan and the kind of structure with non-military means. And I -- and it’s my sense that we’re not just going to walk out of Afghanistan, that there will be a variety of programs, and I do think many people are concerned about what happens to the women’s issues and that the Taliban does not kind of really re-impose the terrible life that they had about women at the time.
HUNT: Madam Secretary, a striking quality about the emerging second Obama term or the people they’ve appointed so far is that there’s a bunch of middle-aged white guys. Are you bothered by the lack of women being appointed to new positions?
ALBRIGHT: Well, the Cabinet isn’t complete. And I think we have to see what will happen. I do think that a Cabinet benefits and a president benefits with a diversity, not just a diversity in the way people look or their gender, but also in diversity of views. And I have admired President Obama for his confidence in listening to diverse views.
HUNT: So you think there will be more -- a more diverse Cabinet?
ALBRIGHT: I do. I mean, I don’t know, but I do think the Cabinet is not complete, and there are many different positions, and - and I respect the people that have been named, so - as individuals. I’ve worked with all of them. But I do think that a diversity of ideas is important.
HUNT: Let me ask you a final question. You’ve - you have deep experience in national security and intelligence. The new movie, “Zero Dark Thirty,” which is coming out, clearly suggests that torture was the key to getting bin Laden. I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie or not, but what’s your take on that -- on that --
ALBRIGHT: I have not seen the movie. And I don’t know whether that’s really the conclusion. But from what I understand is that torture is not the way to get information and often counterproductive. And somebody that I really respect on this is Senator McCain, who happens to know in personal terms.
And so -- and I also -- that it’s not something that fits with American values. And as one goes back and look at the kind of things that took place, it would not be something that I would favor. And I don’t think, from what evidence, is that it doesn’t actually bring the kind of information that you want. But I am going to see the movie. I did see “Argo,” which I thought was a very good movie.
HUNT: You remember -
ALBRIGHT: I do. I do remember that, yes.
HUNT: Madam Secretary, as always, it’s really terrific to talk to you.
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