Ask most Americans what they think of the Middle East, says former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and their assessment can be boiled down to two words:
But Albright, who served under President Bill Clinton, says the Trump administration’s travel ban has just made things worse.
Addressing Nerinx Hall high school students on Wednesday, Albright called the ban “one of the worst things I’ve seen’’ during her years as a diplomat.
The ban, now embroiled in court, barred people from seven Middle Eastern countries from traveling into the United States, initially, even if they had visas or green cards.
Blasts “unintended consequences”
Albright says the ban was poorly written, and failed to meet the traditional test for major White House edicts – including consultation among the agencies involved.
“You need to know what could go wrong,’’ Albright said. “What are the unintended consequences?”
She noted that initial White House estimates claimed just over 100 travelers were affected; the State Department later put the number at 60,000-100,000.
In the case of the ban, she said it has been particularly harmful to U.S. troops stationed overseas.
“The danger was to our troops who are over there, who can’t have the partnerships they need with the people on the ground, or the interpreters that have been helping them,’’ Albright said.
“It has undermined a lot of our intelligence relationships that we need actually in order to deal with potential terrorists. It is like a gift to ISIS/Daesh because it’s like a recruitment poster for them, and it’s not humanitarian.”
That said, Albright – who had backed Democrat Hillary Clinton for president – appeared to give Republican Donald Trump’s administration the benefit of a doubt, when she was asked in an interview to assess their approach to the Middle East.
“I think it’s very hard to tell. They have been focused on the ban,’’ Albright said. “They’ve only been in office a few weeks, so there’s an awful lot to absorb.”
Joking that she prefers to make "lemonade out of lemons,'' Albright said the one bright spot in the travel-ban controversy was that the court fight demonstrates that the United States is a nation of laws that govern everyone, even the president.
Joining Albright at Nerinx, and earlier at Washington University, was former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. He served under Republican George W. Bush.
Hadley noted that Trump has talked about the need to be more forceful against ISIS, the terror group also known as Daesh. “They will be engaged in the Middle East,’’ Hadley said. “Exactly what that will look like, it’s a little too soon to say.”
Hadley and Albright said that solutions to the Middle East violence will need to be diplomatic, even if military force is necessary in some instances. Both emphasized that international cooperation will be a must.
Visit organized by Pulitzer Center
The two former officials are co-chairs of the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Strategy Task Force. Their appearances in St. Louis were moderated by Pulitzer Center Executive Director Jon Sawyer. The Pulitzer Center co-hosted the events, along with the Atlantic Council.
The Pulitzer Center has had a longstanding arrangement with Nerinx Hall, a Catholic, all-girls high school in Webster Groves. Albright has an affinity for single-sex education, noting that she attended a single-sex high school and later attended Wellesley College, a women’s college.
At Nerinx, Albright and Hadley met with some of the students who had been studying the task force’s Middle East report.
Isabel Sherman, a junior, said that she was most impressed that the report was crafted by Republicans and Democrats.
"Lately, it seems as if the goal of bipartisanship in negotiations has lost some of its luster,'' she said.
As a result, seeing Albright and Hadley discuss their views amiably on stage was, as Sherman put it, "pretty inspiring."