Today's date:
Spring 2008

Are Putin and Chavez the Future?

Madeleine Albright is a former U.S secretary of state and a foreign policy adviser to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Her new book is Memo to the President Elect: How We Can Restore America's Reputation and Leadership. She spoke with NPQ in January.

NPQ | Kosovo has declared independence. Is that the outcome you wanted when you bombed Serbia on behalf of the Kosovars in "Madeleine's war"?

Madeleine Albright | We wanted the people of Kosovo to be able to govern themselves, to run their own lives. Belgrade, by refusing to consider any number of models for self-government within Serbia in its negotiations with the Kosovars in the long interim period since the war, made that impossible. Given that, the current situation was inevitable.

The bottom line here is that the Serbian people need to understand that their future is within Europe. As the other parts of the former Yugoslavia become a part of Europe -- amazingly, Slovenia now holds the EU presidency -- Serbia has been left behind. It can be a part of something much larger.

Also, the Bush administration did not have to put forward a proposition in the United Nations Security Council to which the Russians could not agree and would inevitably say no. This is not a similar situation to how the Kosovo war started, except that we knew the Russians would veto any military operations to force (Serbian President Slobodan) Milosevic's hand. So we didn't go to the Security Council. We did it with NATO.

Bush's policy has given Russia leverage over this issue. Now it part of the equation and we have to deal with that. So, we need patience on this matter, and to let the Serbians know that at some point they will be welcome into the EU if they come around on Kosovo as well as give up the war criminals (Ratko) Mladic and (Radovan) Karadzic.

NPQ | Are the United States and Europe right to recognize Kosovo as an independent state?

Albright | In my personal view, yes. I thought the Martti Ahtisaari plan for some kind of supervised independence was a good plan. That along with other ideas that would have allowed autonomy within Serbia were turned down. So, there aren't a lot of options. It has now taken so long, it is very hard not to allow Kosovars their independence.

NPQ | Your chief worry these days is that "the cement is hardening between the democratic and non-democratic worlds." What do you mean by this, and why has it happened during the Bush presidency?

Albright | Yes, I do worry that, 25 years after the end of the Cold War, (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and (Venezuelan President Hugo) Chavez may point the way to the future rather than the likes of (Lech) Walesa, (Vaclav) Havel and (Nelson) Mandela, who were harbingers of democracy in their time.

Why is this happening? First, democracy has gotten a bad name during the Bush administration because of the attempt to impose American-style democracy by military force. Because of Bush's policy in Iraq, democracy has become associated in the minds of many people around the world with occupation. Without question, Bush has damaged democracy's reputation.

Second, we are seeing a backlash in countries which have become democratic, but in which democracy has not delivered a better life, particularly economically. Democracy is not sustainable without economic betterment for those who have been given power at the ballot box. If people are not doing better economically, they question the value of democracy itself.

In 1991, I spent a lot of time in Russia doing public opinion polling. Everyone said they were for democracy and free markets. But when you asked the average Russians if they believed in profits or private banks, they would say no. Clearly, many Russians, especially retirees or those on fixed incomes who had lived under order and authority, weren't prepared for the removal of their safety net.

If democratic freedom came at the cost of chaos and insecurity, they weren't so interested. Putin stepped into that situation, and he didn't have to pursue any reforms because of high oil prices.

I went to Venezuela before Chavez. The place had been run by a bunch of tired old men who had no connection to the people. That opened the way for Chavez to come in, who told the people he would share the oil wealth and bring the indigenous into the system. He is a classic populist for whom power is like a marriage vow -- till death do us part. So, what we see is a movement toward phony democracies or autocracies.

NPQ | What can the US, and the West more generally, do to stop this division into a democratic and non-democratic world from hardening?

Albright | Fundamentally, it requires a different approach to the way America deals with other countries. We cannot do what Bush did, which is divide the world into those who are with us and those who are against us. Bush not only has had a unilateral foreign policy, but a unidimensional one. He has focused on only one part of the world, the Middle East, and used only one foreign policy tool, military force.

There has to be a much greater understanding of the history, cultural background and -- as we have been discussing -- the transitional complexities of various countries. We need to support indigenous democratic movements, not try to impose our democratic forms from the outside. We just can't say: "Here is the model, follow it." And we need to work with other countries and revive our alliance structures and our investment in international organizations.

In particular, we need a greater partnership with Europe, with which we have the most in common, in promoting political and economic development globally.