Saturday, Oct. 18, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Sen. Barack Obama’s response to the recent economic crisis should assure voters that he will prove a measured, thoughtful and effective commander-in-chief during a time when the country is facing deep challenges in its global relations, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Friday in an interview with the Sun.
Albright has been crisscrossing the swing states to put her own foreign policy credentials and service in two Democratic administrations behind a candidate whose resume is light on foreign affairs.
The diminutive “madam secretary” spoke to the Sun after a forum before about 100 people at UNLV in which she framed the election as setting “the tone for the United States for the 21st century.”
Albright favors diplomacy to deal with problems the next president will face, including fighting terrorism without emboldening terrorists, trying to fix a broken system of trying to contain the spread of nuclear weapons, reducing the growing gap between the rich and poor in the United States and abroad, stabilizing Iraq, and responding to food and energy shortages.
Obama has come under fire from rival John McCain for advocating discussions with foreign leaders without preconditions. McCain’s position underscores his belief that some outlier nations should be considered enemies with which a president will not confer because, among other things, presidential involvement bestows legitimacy upon those nations.
In her talk at UNLV, Albright said McCain’s position indicates a misunderstanding of diplomacy.
“Diplomacy is not about cookies and tea and making nice all the time,” Albright said. “It’s how countries and leaders talk to each other. It can be nice or you can deliver a pretty tough message.
“Ronald Reagan talked to the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War. If (Republicans) quote him on everything, they might as well quote him on that.”
In the interview, Albright said fallout from the international economic crises has jumped to the top of a list of foreign policy concerns.
She said she is concerned that other countries whose banks and economies are failing will point to the United States. The country’s reputation in the world is suffering from the fallout of the Iraq war, she said.
“It makes me very sad to see the United States blamed for everything,” Albright said.
Albright also framed responses to the bank failures as a barometer of how the candidates will deal with a foreign policy crisis.
In polls, Obama scores high on economic matters, which have dominated the campaigns in recent weeks. But public opinion polls show that McCain is still seen as better prepared to serve as commander-in-chief.
Albright pointed to Obama’s response to the financial crisis as evidence that he, too, is fit to be commander-in-chief.
“He had a calm, steady and thoughtful approach,” Albright said. She said she was impressed that he convened a meeting of economic advisers and listened to and considered different points of view before coming out with a plan.
She witnessed a similar approach in past meetings with Obama, whom she has advised on foreign issues.
“He asks people’s opinion in a very respectful way,” Albright said. “I want a confident president, but not a certain president.”
She said direct experience in foreign affairs is not as important as other factors.
“I worked for two presidents — Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton — who were both accused of not having experience, and it doesn’t make any sense,” Albright said. “You look for a sense of judgment and wisdom and I feel very comfortable with Barack Obama on that score.”
Albright said that as Congress considered a $700 billion bailout of Wall Street, McCain’s behavior, which included flying to Washington to become involved in discussions and briefly announcing suspension of his campaign, “had no purpose” and was “erratic.”
“Instead of giving people confidence I think it came out as ‘I want to do something to make a statement,’ ” Albright said.
She also criticized McCain for his proposals to maintain bases in Iraq indefinitely, remove Russia from the Group of Eight major industrial nations, and establish a new international organization made up only of democracies.
“You can’t decide not to deal with countries that are not like ours,” Albright said.