Interview with Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright

Interview with Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright

By State of the Union - February 6, 2011

And joining me now here in Washington, former secretary of State Madeleine Albright, chair of the National Democratic Institute. Thank you for being here.

ALBRIGHT: It's good to be with you, Candy. Thank you.

CROWLEY: Does the U.S. want Hosni Mubarak to resign?

ALBRIGHT: The U.S. wants to have a process that provides a peaceful transition. President Obama has said that the transition process had to begin. It didn't begin particularly well in terms of the mobs on the streets. Secretary Clinton has made very clear that the transition has to be pursued and that it has to have certain elements to it. It does have to be a -- a rapid process, it has to be democratic, it has to be inclusive, and I think that we're very clear that there has to be a transition process that represents the will of the Egyptian people.

CROWLEY: Which they have been saying, and I understand that, and then they have to be diplomatic. Look, from the very beginning, it was like we can't insult Mubarak. He's been an ally, albeit a flawed one. He might have survived. We didn't know what was going to happen in the beginning. Now it's pretty clear. He's not going to run again at the very least. I mean, he is going to be gone when and if there is a next election.

But the question here is the signals seem to be getting a little mixed up. But I want to -- I want to play you first from a man you know well, former Ambassador Wisner, who was talking about Mubarak yesterday I believe. And I want you to just listen to a little of what he said.


FRANK WISNER, FRM. U.S. AMBASSADOR: The president must stay in office in order to steer those changes through. I, therefore, believe President Mubarak's continued leadership is critical. It's his opportunity to write his own legacy. He's given 60 years of his life to the service of his country. This is an ideal moment for him to show the way forward.


CROWLEY: Now, he was a special envoy who went to Egypt on behalf of the Obama administration last week to give a message to President Mubarak, and the State Department has pushed back a little bit, saying he's speaking for himself. He said that. Nonetheless, this is a pretty high profile guy. If you add that up with something that Hillary Clinton said recently and I want you to listen to that, and we'll see what we have in terms of what the message is. Here she is.


CLINTON: There are risks with the transition to democracy. It can be chaotic. It can cause short-term instability even worse than we have seen it before. The transition can back slide into just another authoritarian regime.


CROWLEY: So it sounds to a lot of people as though the U.S. has now gone, okay, there is a way in which Suleiman can run the transition. Mubarak keeps his title symbolically until he can leave with some dignity. And I hate to do this to you, I don't -- I want to read you one last thing. And this came from ElBaradei who is -- who is seen as an opposition leader. And here was his response particularly to Wisner.

"If the message coming out from Washington is that Mubarak can continue and his head of intelligence will lead the change this will send a completely wrong message to the Egyptian people."

So I'm not the only one confused here about what the U.S. wants.

ALBRIGHT: Well first of all, I think we all agree this is an incredibly complicated and delicate situation changing very, very rapidly. And if I may just take a minute, I think the opposition groups in Egypt are very interesting, they are not monolithic. They had some tactical differences in them, there are some personalities involved. They are also trying to figure out how to operate together. There is a desire I believe on behalf of some within the government to split the opposition, so that you have a variety of voices coming out of Egypt.

The United States I think cannot micromanage the process. What we have to do, however, is make clear that the process itself is important and arriving at a democratic solution is important which is, in fact, inclusive democratic, peaceful, and rapid. And I think that the administration has been walking a very delicate line quite well. It's difficult.

Now, as far as Ambassador Wisner is concerned, I think he had an assignment to go there. I don't know how the rest of the relationship has gone, but he clearly -- that was his view. It is not the administration view. And I think that what we're going to have to do is to be really good analysts in terms of seeing what's happening on the street.

What is interesting from Ivan's report is that there are the negotiators who are creating themselves in a variety of groups, and then there are the people on the street who have been remarkable, Candy, terms of their stick-to-it-iveness and sometimes joy and sometimes helping themselves against rock throwers. But what is going on is a revolution that we're seeing unroll, the Egyptian government as well as the protesters, as well as the opposition groups are looking for some kind of a mechanism to have a transition. And the problem here as Secretary Clinton said is how you work it out so that you develop a set of institutions that can deal with this important problem, and not have extremists take advantage of a chaotic situation.

So the process is important, but it has to move specifically and the tactics may differ a little bit among the opposition groups.

CROWLEY: President Mubarak said a couple of days ago to Christiane Amanpour, if he just left, if he just resigned -- he's like to, but if he resigned, there would be chaos. Would there be right now if he came on and said, okay, enough, I'm out of here, would there be chaos?

ALBRIGHT: I think that's very hard to say. I think that my own personal opinion is that there are a variety of other structures in place. The question is what the army would do.

ALBRIGHT: As has been pointed out in a lot of the reports. I think that it must be very hard after you've been a leader for a long time and everybody has told you how wonderful you are, is that your time is up.

And I think we are about to be in a different era in Egypt. And I think that what is the chaos scenario has been held out there for a very long time. It is what the Mubarak government has said would happen all along if there were real parliamentary elections.

And by the way, one of the things that really triggered this were the completely fraudulent parliamentary elections. And so the people in Egypt are knowledgeable. This is a very interesting group out there. These are young, educated people to a great extent. The media has played a very large role.

And so the chaos scenario is one that has been held out there to say it's either Mubarak or an Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and nothing in between. And the problem has been is that the nothing in between is not true, that there are rising groups within Egypt that are working out a mechanism to go to the next phase.

CROWLEY: If I were to read these tea leaves now, from what various people are saying and add them up, would I be wrong to come to this summation? The U.S. thinks the probable scenario is that Mubarak is sidelined, but stays in that -- with that title, while Suleiman works with these various opposition groups to set something in place, and then Mubarak resigns somewhere down the road, a couple of months.

ALBRIGHT: I think that's obviously part of the discussion, but I think it's very hard. It tells a little bit, you know, what's going on is like driving a car and you've got one foot on the brake and one foot on the accelerator. And they are trying to get the right speed.

And what is hard here is when you have got people out on the streets, then there is a dynamic that develops even...

CROWLEY: And they don't all listen to one person...

ALBRIGHT: Well, they don't.

CROWLEY: ... isn't that the problem?

ALBRIGHT: That's the problem. And so I have studied, I have to tell you, revolutions and uprisings for a long time. They are all slightly different, but what they all look for is some kind of a mechanism to go from an authoritarian system to an open, democratic system. And that's what's going on here.

CROWLEY: I want to ask you about the region in general, but this last question on Egypt specifically. What do you think Mubarak should do? Should he quit? If it were up to you and you could say, I've known for you a long time, Mr. President, here's what you should do, do you think he should quit?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that the timing -- you know, in some ways, if he had made the speech that he made a few days ago earlier, I think it might have helped. I think that there is never an indispensable leader, you know? I think that there is a time with dignity that one needs to leave. But it is not -- they have to make the decision there. I think that the Mubarak era, my own personal opinion, is the Mubarak era is over and the question is how to have a process that really works properly, that allows these various voices to come together and not disagree on some of the tactical aspects.

CROWLEY: Have you by chance talked to him since this started?

ALBRIGHT: President Mubarak?


ALBRIGHT: No, no. I am not an official of any kind.

CROWLEY: I just know you know him. So that's why I asked. Let me ask you about the region, specifically Israel. Is Israel worried? And should it be worried about what's going on?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that it's hard -- you know, Israel has every reason to be anxious. They knew -- have known forever that they live in a very dangerous neighborhood and they clearly are concerned. And I think that Egypt has played a key role in terms of a peace with Israel. And they have reason to be anxious.

But I think we all care about the security of Israel, and my own feeling is that it's very hard for Egypt to play the important role that it has to if it is not moving into a -- this transitional phase and developing a democratic system that allows it to be a stable country.

So I can see why Israel is anxious, but I think Israel has to deal with its neighborhood, why I have believed in the two-state solution, and I hope that the peace talks go forward.

CROWLEY: Secretary Madeleine Albright, it is a pleasure to have you here. I appreciate it.

ALBRIGHT: Thank you, Candy. Great to be with you.


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