Madeleine Albright Opens Up

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Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright speaks about the nation's security at Union Station in Washington, March 29, 2006.

Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State under President Clinton, is back with a new book, The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God and World Affairs. She talked with TIME assistant managing editor Romesh Ratnesar

TIME: You argue in the book that "we can't and we shouldn't" keep religion out of our foreign policy. Was that a conclusion you expected to reach when you set out to write?

Albright: One of my premises was that, whereas before, as a practical diplomat we tried to keep God and religion out of foreign policy, it was evident to me even as I was completing my time as Secretary of State that religion was playing a larger and larger part in what was going on in the world.

And when you look at the issues we're dealing with today that have to do with the Muslim world, for instance, we absolutely do not understand Islam per se. We have pictures of it that are portrayed only in harsh terms. But we don't have a real understanding of various apects of Islam. And as Secretary of State you have all kinds of advisers — economic adisers and arms control advisers and climate change advisers — and the point I want to make is that it would be good to have some religious advisers too. There are elements of religious history that are playing themselves out today — primarily in the Muslim world — that affect the way countries behave and the way they see the West. And so it affects how the battle of ideas is carried forward.

What is it that Americans don't fully understand about the role religion plays in U.S. foreign policy?

When I began this book I looked at President Bush as an anomaly. But in working on the book I found that all American Presidents in one way or another invoke God. If you look at U.S. history through religious history, there is very much a motif that shows the importance religion has played in the U.S. We're a very religious country and it affects the way we look at varioius political issues. President Bush is a little different because he's so sure about what religion is telling him.

Is that dangerous?

What we're trying to do right now is to get as many people on our side as possible. That after all is fundamental to the U.S. national interest — to get other countries to agree with what we're doing and to be supportive. But where it has gotten off track is when the choice has been framed in a way that narrows the numbers of people that can support us. Right after 9/11, President Bush was saying we were against the terrorists. And so people who were definitely opposed to seeing airplanes fly into the Twin Towers, who were against acts of terror, could be on our side. But when the choice was enlarged or changed by the President saying, you need to be with us on Iraq or what we're doing on Iran or in other parts of world, it became much harder for other people to be with us. We get into problems when there's an absolute definition of what it is that one has to agree with to be on the side of U.S.

It's one thing to be religious, but it's another thing to make religion your policy. I have looked at foreign policy and interntional relations issues all my life and I've never seen the world in such turmoil. What I'm looking at is whether there are elements within all religions that allow us to work to solve problems rather than using religion as a divisive issue. And I do believe there's enough commonality if we see religion as a practical way to solve problems.

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