- The Washington Times - Friday, October 17, 2008

NEWSMAKER INTERVIEW:

Former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright said Thursday the Iraq war has created damaging consequences for U.S. diplomacy, but Washington should not agree to a specific deadline for withdrawing troops in the midst of conflict - something proposed last year by the candidate she now supports, Sen. Barack Obama.

“I never was for a date certain,” Mrs. Albright told editors and reporters at The Washington Times. “In Bosnia, we gave a date certain, and then we couldn’t get out and that undercut our credibility.”

She was referring to the pullout of 20,000 U.S. troops from the war-torn Balkans. The troops were sent to help enforce the 1995 Dayton peace accords that ended the Bosnia war, following the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, but stayed beyond a 1996 deadline initially set by President Clinton.

Mr. Obama has said that he is committed to ending the Iraq war, and that, if elected, he will start working toward that goal on his first day in the White House. He has also said that “the removal of our troops will be responsible and phased.”



“Military experts believe we can safely redeploy combat brigades from Iraq at a pace of one to two brigades a month that would remove them in 16 months. That would be the summer of 2010 - more than 7 years after the war began,” the Obama campaign Web site says.

Mr. Obama’s position has changed, however, during the campaign. He was outspoken about setting a withdrawal date during the primaries and voted for legislation that included timelines.

In early 2007, he proposed a Senate bill that would have removed all combat brigades from Iraq by March 31, 2008. “The days of our open-ended commitment must come to a close,” he said at the time.

More recently, he has conditioned the pace of a pullout on realities on the ground.

Mrs. Albright called for “a plan to get out in a systematic way.” She said she supports a timeline, which she insisted is different from a “date certain.”

Both the Iraqi government and the Bush administration have embraced the idea of a timetable as part of an agreement that is near completion. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has said the agreement will call for the redeployment of all U.S. combat troops from Iraqi cities by next year, and the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces by the end of 2011.

Mrs. Albright said she understood the rationale for the Iraq war but not the timing. “Iraq will go down in history as the worst disaster in American foreign policy,” she said.

At the same time, she criticized European countries for not doing enough to stabilize Iraq.

“The U.S. did not start World War I and II, but when we saw that it affected our national interest, we went in there and did something about it,” she said. “Countries might have disagreed with how this started, but a totally destabilized Iraq doesn’t help their national interest, either.”

Although she was a major supporter of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in the primaries, Mrs. Albright said she was enthusiastic about Mr. Obama. She compared him favorably to Mr. Clinton, saying Mr. Obama had “the same kind of calm and curious approach … confidence … and a sense of history.”

She also praised the Obama campaign as “very well-managed and disciplined,” and suggested that was an indication of how Mr. Obama would run an administration.

Author of the recent book “Memo to the President,” Mrs. Albright urged the winner of next month’s election to pick up where the Bush administration leaves off in negotiations with North Korea.

She said she “resents” the fact that Mr. Bush “dropped” the progress the Clinton administration had made with the North.

A new president should not abandon policies pursued by his predecessor just because he is from a different political party, said Ms. Albright, who is the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit North Korea.

“Foreign policy does not come in four-year cycles. The rest of the world doesn’t operate on our election cycle,” she said. “I would hope that, while I’m a little unclear about what the last North Korea agreement was, we shouldn’t just junk all that, and there should be a way to see how the six-party talks can be picked up.”

Under a deal reached in six-nation talks last year, the North has almost disabled its main nuclear complex and submitted an account of its nuclear activities. The Bush administration removed it from the U.S. blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism last week. The next step is verifying the declaration.

When it came to office in 2001, the Bush administration refused to talk to Pyongyang, but it reversed course three years ago.

Mrs. Albright said an Obama victory would be a “huge message” to the world and help counteract the anti-Americanism that has mushroomed during the Bush administration. At the same time, she said, other countries have gone too far in their finger-pointing when it comes to U.S. leadership.

“I find it very difficult to deal with everybody blaming America for everything. It drives me crazy. In addition to Iraq, now they are going to blame us for their economic problems,” she said.

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