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February 27, 2019

A Few Questions for Madeleine Albright at HFAC

Today, former secretary of state Madeleine Albright appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) at its hearing on “The Trump Administration’s Foreign Policy: A Mid-Term Assessment.” In advance of the hearing, Human Rights First’s Senior Vice President for Policy Rob Berschinski proposed the following questions for Albright to the committee:

  • The foreign policy mantra of the Trump Administration seems to be that “’America First’ is not America Alone,” a strangely defensive slogan. While it’s not accurate to characterize the United States as “alone” in the world, the headlines from the recent Munich Security Conference reflect that our closest European allies are increasingly willing to publicly rebuke U.S. policy on everything from our approach to Iran, to climate change, to trade. The actions of various democratic leaders largely mirror the views of their voters. When polls are taken around the world of how the United States is viewed under the Trump administration, the results are startlingly poor. That matters, because we need our allies to be with us when we ask them to tackle the most pressing priorities the world has to offer. Yet our president seems to characterize allies as enemies, and dictators like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un as friends. Given your long history as a diplomat, can you tell us what is lost when the United States isn’t viewed as an indispensable partner, and isn’t seen as sharing the values of our democratic allies? How are U.S. national interests impacted?
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has in recent months given two big speeches—one in Brussels dealing with Europe, and one in Cairo dealing with the Middle East.
  • In the Brussels speech, Secretary Pompeo seemed to go out of his way to attack many of the multilateral institutions—from the United Nations to the European Union, from the World Bank to the International Monetary Fund—that the United States either largely created or nurtured. With respect to that speech, can you tell us why these institutions matter today, and provide us with your assessment of the impact of the U.S. government attacking multilateral institutions as we compete with the likes of China and Russia? 
  • In the Cairo speech, Secretary Pompeo notably declared that the United States is a force for good in the region, while praising Egypt’s increasingly repressive leader, and all but omitting any reference to U.S. support for human rights. This administration is seemingly able to reference support for individual liberty and dignity, but only in the context of a few countries, like Iran and Venezuela. As the case concerning accountability for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi shows us, in some instances the administration seems more eager to cover for the grievous crimes of our allies than to speak out confidently. Now, foreign policy is a complicated matter, and at times our interests—including our interest in promoting democracy and human rights—are in tension. Every administration is, to one degree or another, hypocritical when it comes to supporting human rights. But this one seems to take that dynamic to an extreme, in terms of the praise it heaps upon some repressive governments, and its disinterest is standing up for the values that underpin a functioning international system, outside of a few instances. Can you say a few words about the impact on U.S. foreign policy when the United States isn’t seen as a moral leader?
  • In your recent book “Fascism, a Warning,” you spent a significant amount of time talking about the decline of democracy and rise of authoritarianism in Hungary. Freedom House recently labeled Hungary under Prime Minister Viktor Orban “partially free”—the first time that an EU member state has ever been labeled anything other than “free.” In addition to worrying attacks on NGOs, a free press, an independent judiciary, and academic institutions, in the two years of the Trump Administration Hungary made several moves to draw closer to Russia. This includes everything from opposing U.S. and NATO policy toward Ukraine; to engaging in a very murky deal to buy a Russian nuclear plant; to extraditing Russian arms dealers back to Russia—rather than working with the United States to have them face justice here. Hungary is also engaged in a very active effort to undermine aspects of EU policy, and as we know, undermining the EU is a key Russian policy goal. Now, Hungary is a NATO ally and a close partner of the United States. But the core of partnership is being frank with one another. In the case of Hungary, the Trump Administration has done a 180 on the U.S. government’s earlier policy position. Rather than stand up for the democratic values on which the NATO alliance rests, Secretary Pompeo and his assistant secretary for Europe have made clear that they intend to play down the Hungarian government’s slide toward authoritarianism. The administration has gone so far as to cancel a State Department grant that was meant to help independent media in Hungary, in an environment in which all media is being re-centralized in the hands of the state and its backers. The administration’s stated rationale is that this approach is the best means to counter Russia. But facts seem to bear out just the opposite. Would you please comment on this matter, and how we should approach democratic backsliding amongst our NATO allies?