Revolutions spreading through the Middle East added timeliness and weight to the convening of three former secretaries of state by American Jewish University (AJU) on Feb. 28, at the Gibson Amphitheatre at Universal CityWalk. Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, all active authors and advocates on the international scene, joined AJU President Robert Wexler on stage to agree on just about everything and bicker over only a few matters.
Wexler asked Rice about her 2008 trip to Tripoli to meet with Muammar Gadhafi, which led to the reinstatement of the dictator in international good graces. Rice expressed no regrets, even knowing what she knows now, and said the trip was made on the condition that Gadhafi give up his weapons and offer a settlement for the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. “It is better that he is not sitting there now with his weapons,” Rice said.
On Israel, there was not much disagreement. Rice said she hopes that the Israelis will reach out to continue the peace process: “I would like to think it’s possible to push for a deal,” she said. But there is also “a longtime problem on the Palestinian side,” because of WikiLeaks, which hurt the leading Palestinian negotiators. She also noted other factors. “Israel should be doing everything that they can to support the current leadership in the West Bank,” she said. “This is not a time for inactivity.” Albright called the current situation in the West Bank a “public-private partnership” and called Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad “remarkable.”
The division came over Iran, as well as the foreign diplomacy of President Barack Obama.
When Albright suggested that Iran is gaining influence in the region, Rice retorted, “I think Iranians have a lot of trouble,” saying their nuclear program has isolated them, their economy is weak, their clerics are divided and, she said, “I think we shouldn’t underestimate that 70 percent of Iranians are under the age of 30.”
But it was when Wexler brought up Donald Rumsfeld’s new memoir that some sparks flew between Albright and Rice over the face Obama is showing the world. Albright said Obama is seeing the nation as a partner among nations, which seemed to anger Rice. Repeatedly calling the United States an “exceptional nation,” she said the president should portray the U.S. as a leader and not just one of the pack. Albright retorted that as an immigrant herself, no one could be more proud of this country, to which Rice pointed out that as a black woman raised in Birmingham, Ala., where she was not allowed to go where whites went, she knew what America could offer. “America has to lead,” she said, “because we surely have something special to say.”
Wexler’s final question sparked both introspection and humor. He asked the panel what they might do over, if they got one opportunity to do so.
Rice said she would have focused more on a comprehensive immigration bill: “I don’t know when immigrants became our enemies.” Powell referred to the moment when he told the United Nations that the war in Iraq was necessary, based on what he now knows was faulty CIA intelligence. “I would ask the president to have Condi give the speech at the U.N.,” he said to laughter. “But after that, immigration.”
And Albright ended the night with regret over work she did as ambassador to the United Nations. “I regret,” she said, “that I didn’t push harder on what was going on in Rwanda,” she said of the massive genocide that occurred there in 1994. “I can explain it,” based on what else was happening at the time, she said, “but I regret it.”