Former Secretary of State Albright admonishes the current administration as she weighs in on al-Qaeda, the mistake of going to war in Iraq and the role of religion in foreign policy.
The author makes the not-exactly-controversial case that religious faith can move people and countries toward inspiring results (Pope John Paul II’s 1981 visit to then-communist Poland) or destruction (Osama bin Laden’s terrorism). She then suggests the diplomatic strategy the U.S. should take when dealing with conflicts involving religion, especially Islam. Negotiators, she writes, often prefer to steer away from thorny matters of belief. This is a mistake, as religion is inherent to many conflicts not only in the Middle East but around the world. Better to understand other faiths and try to find commonalities than to hope the differences go away, declares Albright (Madam Secretary, 2003). Unsurprisingly, she lauds former boss Bill Clinton for working to do this with the Palestinians and Israelis. She faults George Bush for projecting a sense of his own righteousness and launching the Iraq war, which she says may be one of America’s worst foreign-policy disasters ever. However, this is no polemic. Albright maintains a measured tone throughout, infusing her observations with personal anecdotes. She covers a lot of territory, with chapters on the teachings of Islam, faith and politics in the U.S., and the race between Christians and Muslims to convert Africans. To turn back radical Islam, she concludes, Americans need to develop nuanced understandings of individual Islamic countries, bolstering promising governments such as that of Turkey and treading carefully elsewhere to avoid igniting further passions. Rather than seeking to dominate through military force, Albright writes, America should work with its allies—and within international institutions and laws—to isolate violent religious extremists.
A valuable primer on foreign-policy challenges that are sure to bedevil the United States for a long time to come.