Muddled Madeleine

Albright's musings on the Israeli Arab conflict feed Arab, Iranian attempts to level the playing field.

Albright 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Albright 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
In trying to figure out how the various potential US presidents might steer foreign policy, much effort has been expended on reading tea leaves based on figures at the fringes of the campaign. But more attention should be paid to what a mainstream Democratic figure, close to Hillary Clinton, is saying. A recent op-ed by Clinton administration secretary of state Madeleine K. Albright in the International Herald Tribune, based on a speech to the US-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar, bears examination. Part of Albright's op-ed was refreshing and bears repeating by all candidates. "America is criticized for not doing enough to bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians and perhaps this is fair," Albright writes. "But where are the Arab leaders who will truly reach out to Israel and say, 'Enough of missiles and bombs, enough of incitement and hate, enough of killing and sorrow - let us agree on a realistic formula for permanent and comprehensive peace?'" The lack of interest in the Arab world to truly drive toward peace with Israel, as opposed to using an endless "peace process" for its own purposes, is truly the crux of the matter. But it is precisely the recognition of the fundamental sources of anti-Western aggression that is missing in the main part of Albright's analysis. "First, it is a mistake to conceive of this region of the world as divided between people who do no wrong and those who do no right; between moderates and extremists, secular and religious, evil and good," says Albright. Though this is an obvious political dig at the current US administration, from a substantive point of view it is not only a strange but a harmful thing to say. There is indeed an epic struggle taking place for the soul of the Muslim world between totalitarian Islamists - such as Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hizbullah, Hamas, al-Qaida and the Taliban - who believe in evil means to achieve an evil agenda, and a handful of beleaguered democrats who want to free their nations from both corrupt kleptocracies and Islamist tyrannies. "Blame for past mistakes and current disputes must be widely shared; and answers will not be found unless the interests of all are taken into account," the former secretary continues. Again, this pretends that conflicts are mainly based on misunderstandings, and that there is always a basis of shared or at least compatible interests. Does anyone really have to tell Albright, whose family personally experienced the struggles against both Nazism and Soviet domination, that totalitarian movements cannot be appeased and do not share the interests of their victims and enemies? No American cultural faux paux justifies 9/11 or any other act of aggression by the jihadists. Talk of "shared blame," aside from being morally offensive, is practically mistaken: It projects exactly the sort of confusion and weakness that has encouraged Islamist aggression in the first place. "Second," Albright goes on, "America's enemy is not Islam, nor any subset of Islam. Nor is it Islamic terrorism, for terrorism is by its nature un-Islamic. In the fight against al-Qaida, Americans of every faith and faithful Muslims of every description are on the same side." This is simply incomprehensible. It is one thing to say that Islam as whole is not the problem; it is quite another to say that the problem has nothing to do with Islam and does not arise from even a "subset" of this faith. Again, denial is not a promising basis for foreign policy, let alone fighting a war. "Third, neither America nor any other country can be considered above the law... [including] UN Security Council resolutions." This is not just harmless pandering, it actually feeds risible Arab and Iranian attempts to level the moral and legal playing field. If anything, rogue regimes are not held to near high enough standards by the international system regarding terrorism, human rights or attempts to nuclearize. Finally, as icing on the cake, Albright writes, America must be "determined and even-handed" by supporting Israel's "survival and security" and Palestinian "dignity and legitimate aspirations." This is hardly controversial, but it is also based on a fundamental misconception. "Evenhandedness" has been disastrous for the cause of peace, because it has allowed the Arab world to obscure the fundamental obstacle to peace: its own refusal to accept a Jewish state. The fact that this mistake is old and bipartisan does not make it less of a failed policy. The next US president should do better.