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Rice, Albright Share Concerns on Drones, China

By Alexis Simendinger - November 13, 2012

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The former secretaries also disagreed about the essence of the nation’s current budgetary crisis. Rice said the “really big problem” is entitlement spending projected to explode as a percentage of gross domestic product in the long term. (The audience of financial industry representatives applauded loudly.) Albright said the accumulated debt problem stems from a decade of Bush-era wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (She did not mention that Obama continued both wars using borrowed money.)

But looking ahead, the duo found issues on which they agree, and the government’s reliance on unmanned drones was one. Albright and Rice concurred that drone warfare saves American lives and is effective, but both expressed worries about the long-range implications and encouraged the Obama administration to focus during its second term on the issues surrounding deployment of such weapons.

Despite the administration’s unwillingness to acknowledge its covert drone program, an independent United Nations investigator, working through the U.N. Human Rights Council, recently pledged to launch an investigation into the U.S. drone strikes and their deadly impact on civilians.

Albright said she was “not sure” about the human targets who wind up on the administration’s drone-strike lists, and she raised concerns about the use of unmanned drones by other nations. Rice predicted the technology “will become ubiquitous,” and she questioned how the United States would be able to protest if Russia decided to use drones domestically in Chechnya, or China used them against targets in Tibet.

“It makes me quite uncomfortable,” Rice said. A protocol or system for drone use looms ahead, she suggested.

On U.S. policy with China more generally, Albright and Rice agreed about the strategic importance of relations with the Chinese. Both advocated economic engagement, despite worries about Beijing’s territorial assertiveness in the South China Sea. “We need to lead with our economic foot, not our military foot,” Rice said, pointing to trade policy as an important and, she argued, neglected tool during Obama’s first term.

“We don’t need to go to war with China,” Albright said. “And I’m glad we don’t declare them a currency manipulator,” she added, taking a swipe at one of Romney’s oft-repeated campaign promises.

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Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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