What role, if any, should faith play in U.S. foreign policy?
In her new book, The Mighty & The Almighty: Reflections on America, God and World Affairs (HarperCollins, $25.95), former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright examines religion’s impact on geopolitics in a post-9/11 world.
While she’s sharply critical of the ”good vs. evil” rhetoric of the Bush administration, Albright takes a measured position on how religious values inform public policy.
In a frank and often surprising exploration of Islam, Christian fundamentalism and the war on terrorism, Albright argues that world leaders should take matters of faith as seriously as economic, social and cultural factors.
Albright recently spoke with The Miami Herald.
Q: What motivated you to write a book about faith and foreign policy?
A: After 9/11, it was key to address these kinds of questions. We either have to find a way to make religion a source for peace or it’s going to remain a source of conflict. In an age of nuclear and biological weapons, when people are willing to die for their faith, we can’t afford that.
Q: Did faith influence your foreign policy in any way?
A: I obviously believe in God, and I think that provided me with a moral core.
Q: Can you recall any specific instances when your policy was guided by a sense of faith-based morality?
A: One place that my decisions were guided from a sense of morality was in the Balkans. I was born in Europe, and I was born before World War II. Looking at the things that happened there, I felt that it never could happen again.
Q: Looking back on your work in the Clinton administration, are there instances where you feel your policy failed as judged by your own moral standards?
A: I think that’s Rwanda. I do wish that we had done more. President Clinton and I both apologized. We didn’t have all the facts that we have now.
Q: In your book, you write that history would be very different if world leaders didn’t tend to hear God most clearly when he is saying what they want to hear. Should politicians’ faith inform their policy?
A: I happened to work for two presidents, President Jimmy Carter and President Clinton, who were both very religious. Their faith informed what they were doing, but they didn’t make it policy.
Q: You contend that President Bush’s use of terms like ”good and evil” distorts Christian values, because Christians would view the task of ridding the world of evil as something only God, not a nation, could accomplish. Is the main difference simply that Bush is more vocal about his beliefs?
A: They didn’t have this sense of certainty, as if they were the carriers of truth. What troubles me about President Bush’s position is he has made his faith his policy. In the Bible, Paul says ‘I see through a glass darkly.’ He didn’t have the answers for everything.
Q: You were raised Catholic, married an Episcopalian and learned as an adult that your ancestors were Jewish. How did your religious identity change when you realized you were Jewish?
A: It’s a little complicated when you’re 60 to change your life. What I’ve tried to do is to research and find the common threads of these various religions.
Q: You discuss how American leaders underestimated the forces of global fundamentalism. Now that the threat is better understood, how should American foreign policymakers confront Islamic fundamentalism without fueling anti-American feelings?
A: We have a very serious set of issues confronting the U.S. at the moment. It’s very important for us to win this battle of ideas. We have to frame the issue in a way that will make it easier rather than harder to isolate the terrorists.
God and religion clearly play a very important role in the policies of many countries and it behooves those people who are problem solvers to understand what’s going on.
As secretary of state, I had economic advisors and arms control advisors and environmental advisors. Why not have advisors who understand religion?