The Last Word: Madeleine Albright

You wouldn't be alone if you thought the world was spinning out of control: war in Lebanon, North Korean missile launches, Iran's nuclear program, Iraq's civil war and real disagreements among world leaders at the G8. As secretary of State under Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright handled variations on many of these issues. Now serving as cochair of the Pew Global Attitudes Project, she spoke to NEWSWEEK's Zvika Krieger to give her take on events--and yes, it's as bad as she's ever seen it. Excerpts:

ALBRIGHT: It is very serious and I am very worried. While not everything is the United States' fault, our lack of attention to many of the issues in the Middle East, except for Iraq, has not helped the situ-ation. I am very worried about the interaction of all these different aspects, of spreading violence in the Middle East.

I hope I'm wrong, but I am afraid that Iraq is going to turn out to be the greatest disaster in American foreign policy--worse than Vietnam, not in the number who died, but in terms of its unintended consequences and its reverberation throughout the region. I would say that Iran has gained a great deal out of the war in Iraq in terms of influence, particularly its ability to manipulate various other forces in the Middle East. Clearly, Hizbullah is a group that has been funded through some contributions by Iran. Also, Syria and Iran share a feeling that they've been isolated or squeezed out of any discussions in the Middle East, and are finding solace in each other. There is no question that this is a time when Iran is showing where it can have certain influences.

Reality has actually set in for the Bush administration--in some cases--in terms of the necessity for diplomacy. Especially as they are now dealing with the problems in Iran and North Korea, they are seeing that it is absolutely essential to have some cooperation in the international community. And so I think that they are less unilateral, but I still think they are unidimensional. They [are not] looking enough at the variety of issues out there in which the U.S. needs to play a role.

Nothing was working. There wasn't a lot of traction on a variety of things that they were involved in. At a certain stage, everybody learns.

I have to say that in the meeting of, as I call us, "the former people"--former secretaries of State and Defense--with the president in May, one of the suggestions I made was that they needed to deal with Iran directly. Not just in order to check a box, as the vice president was reported to have said, but because I think it is valuable to deliver your messages directly.

The Bush administration has not done what I think they need to do. We were in the middle of negotiations with North Korea when we left office. And I actually would argue that sometimes it's very useful to have continuity in foreign policy. You have to forget about partisanship and pick up where one team left off. After all, all of us are trying to do the best for America. The Bush administration totally switched signals on everything and went from direct talks to multilateral talks, and I think that on North Korea it would be useful to pursue bilateral talks.

I was not for boycotting the G8 summit. It provides the president an opportunity to state a case about what we believe in, not only to President Putin directly but also in front of the others. I would question whether he should look into President Putin's eyes again, meaning that President Putin is pretty clever about looking the way he wants to look. As President Reagan said, "Trust but verify." So trying to see President Putin's soul is not exactly the way to go.

I think that it continues to be a pretty ideological administration. I get the sense, in reading about them as well as a couple of meetings at the White House, that they continue to believe that they have the right answers. Their certainty about things is something that damages their ability to move forward on a whole host of issues. I can't think of an area where things have improved in the last five years. One of the things that troubles me is the certainty with which the Bush administration is convinced that God is on their side and that they are following a very specific plan. So when plan A doesn't work, there is no plan B. And that's ideological.