Mrs. Albright, You are famous for wearing brooches that send a message. If you went to a dinner party today – which one would you wear?
I would pick one of my very American brooches: the American flag, the American eagle, or one that I really like and that is known as the Abraham Lincoln Band. It says: one belief, one country, one fate. The Union of America!
Will America Become the World’s Leading Nation Again?
Yes! This is exactly what you will experience. I know Joe Biden very well, he is someone who has been interested in our relationships with other countries all his life. As a senator, he served on the Committee on Foreign Affairs. He knows a lot of foreign personalities and I think he will revive our relationships with other nations.
He has the ability to do so. But he will not do it to dominate others, rather he will come as a partner. You will see the United States sit down at the table again. We want to have a voice again, but not to exclude others. We want to be partners.
How much has the transatlantic partnership suffered? Can they be repaired?
I think there is nothing irreparable. To be honest – if things had continued for four years as it is now, then maybe it could have happened that way. But there is in fact a lot to be repaired, I learned that on my last trip abroad – in February 2020 for the Munich Security Conference. It was very sobering to see that Secretary of State Pompeo and former Secretary of Defense Esper were on another planet. When they spoke, it was clear that they were not at all adequately familiar with the main points of discussion.
But we’re honest with each other. We know what to fix and that the US must act with humility. However, it also became very clear to me that the voice of America was missing. A voice that believes in the transatlantic relationship. It’s late in the year and I came to the United States on a November day, 1948. I am, so to speak, the living proof of our transatlantic partnership.
We may have differences of opinion, but we have a similar value system. And we know we are stronger when we work together. There has to be a way we can – I’ll call it that – renew our vows.
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What will the new government expect from Germany in particular?
So there is no doubt that Germany and Chancellor Merkel played an incredibly important role in keeping everything together. Germany was the voice of reason. It is expected that we will become strong partners again and that we will share common goals …
Common goal? Where?
There are a number of questions about how we should behave in the 21st century. How we live with the virus, how our trading system evolves, how we face climate change and so on. I can’t speak for the Biden administration, but I have a lot of friends there and I think that German-American friendship will be very important in all of these things, of course within the transatlantic partnership.
American interests will not change that much, especially with regard to the turn to Asia under Obama. Don’t you think the new government will expect something from the EU, from Germany?
Moment! I’ve really been something of an antenna for news from Europe lately because I’m European myself, with the difference that I grew up in the USA. When the Obama-Biden administration decided to turn more to Asia, many of my friends said to me, what did you do? You left us! And I said: No! You used to be a problem, but now you are part of the solution. Now we have to work together.
In terms of closeness and understanding, there are hardly two groups of people who are closer than Americans and Europeans. And that’s why we need to cooperate more with Asia, especially China. We may have different points of view on Russia, but turning to Asia doesn’t mean the US is neglecting Europe. On the contrary: This is an invitation to work in partnership in other parts of the world.
But when it comes to interests – or partnerships, as you say – what about Russia? For example, there is a lot of disagreement regarding Nord Stream 2 …
That is my personal opinion and I speak for myself and not for the Biden administration: One has to be concerned about Russia’s oil policy. And not just about oil policy, but about energy policy as a whole. We must not allow the Russians to blackmail other countries by threatening them to cut off their energy supply.
We need to be clear about what they can do with it. Each country will make its decision there. And that worries me when I think about Nord Stream 2.
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Is there anything good that remains of Trump’s presidency in terms of foreign policy?
I find it interesting what he has done in the Middle East. I think the agreements between Israel and some Arab countries have some potential. It’s worth watching. But I’m not exactly a great admirer of Trump’s foreign policy …
… not how he’s putting pressure on China?
Of course, China is the focus of the discussion. How many meetings do you think I’ve had all about China. And yes, we have to worry about what is happening in the South China Sea and look closely at how China is doing there. I am also very concerned about how China is handling human rights in Hong Kong, the pressure it is putting on Taiwan, and where the Silk Road project is leading. It keeps expanding and making China richer and fatter.
While I’m not sure Trump had the right approach, we need to be alarmed. We must remember that through the People’s Congress, President Xi Jinping secured lifelong rule. For this reason alone, we need to cooperate more with Europe, because China will exert pressure on issues that affect us all – such as trade relations and climate change.
Joe Biden presented a four-point agenda for his presidency: contain the pandemic, reconcile the nation, create jobs and fight climate change, at least at home – how much more energy and time will he have for foreign policy?
I am apparently thrilled that the Biden Harris team and the Democrats won the election because they have an understanding of what is going on in other countries. But everyone knows it won’t be easy. They are prepared, they know that the United States of America must be rebuilt before it can regain influence abroad.
That means: infrastructure, new health programs, ethnic tensions, all of this must be tackled at the same time. And they won’t do it alone. It is a lot of work, and therefore they need cooperation, both within the country and with our allies.
But isn’t that an enormous burden on her shoulders?
You are the leader! You have to reach out. This country is incredibly big and very diverse. There needs to be more collaboration with governors, mayors and local government levels to understand what is needed locally. You can’t do that from Washington. You can lead the movement from Washington, and we need leaders who bring the country together, not divide it. Our federal system needs solutions at the local level. And that will take a lot of work.
As we look to the 2024 election, will the American political system resist an autocratic candidate who is more coordinated, smarter, and more accomplished than Trump?
I definitely believe in the resilience of American democracy. You could see that in the large turnout, despite difficult circumstances in this pandemic. Democracy is not easy, we all know that. But the fact that the world’s oldest democracy has gone through a crisis like the one we have just seen is a sign to me that it is capable of correcting itself.
What will happen to Trump? Where do you see him In jail or on a new TV show?
To be honest – I have no idea. I just laughed at a picture in the newspaper. It’s from Madame Tussaud’s Museum, where they’ve put him in plaid pants and a shirt. He looks like he’s just playing golf.
The interview was conducted and translated by Nana Brink. A longer version appears in the January / February issue of the magazine “Internationale Politik”.