Albright-Guttenberg Interview

Complex Answers for a Complex World

MANHATTAN, NEW YORK, MARCH 24, 2016 People are seen attending Handelsblatt Germany Dinner that featured panelists Dr. Madeleine Albright and Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, moderated by Gabor Steingart, publisher of Handelsblatt Global Edition and sponsored by the American Council of Germany and Handelsblatt Global Edition at the University Club in Manhattan, NY. From left are Steingart, Albright, and zu Guttenberg.3/24/2016 Photo by ©Jennifer S. Altman
Madeleine Albright at the Germany Dinner, hosted by Handelsblatt Global Edition and the American Council on Germany.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The two former top political officials from the United States and Germany warn that today’s politicians and the media need to do a better job of confronting populism and restoring trans-Atlantic ties.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Madeleine Albright and Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg are former U.S. secretary of state and former German defense minister, respectively.
    • The discussion with Ms. Albright and Mr. Guttenberg was conducted Thursday at a dinner in New York hosted by Handelsblatt Global Edition and the American Council on Germany.
    • The dinner marked the end of a 10-day U.S. road trip by Handelsblatt that included meetings with various think tanks and global institutions through New York and Washington DC.
  • Audio

    Audio

  • Pdf

Madeleine Albright was in a relaxed and playful mood as she sat down for Handelsblatt Global Edition’s inaugural “Germany Dinner” in New York last week. Looking back on her time as the top U.S. diplomat, she couldn’t resist offering a series of tales from her past life, including her use of pins as a diplomatic weapon and her first encounters with Vladimir Putin.

Ms. Albright may no longer have an official political role, but she’s certainly not far from the limelight. The former U.S. secretary of state under President Bill Clinton has been one of Hillary Clinton’s most ardent supporters, joining her on the campaign trail and headlining events for her too.

Nor has she been quiet on foreign policy. Ms. Albright has been organizing a regular gathering of former foreign ministers to discuss global challenges – a group she playfully calls “Madeleine and her Exes.” She also regaled the audience of 200 at New York’s University Club of her trip to the Middle East with Stephen Hadley, President George W. Bush’s national security advisor.

Like Ms. Albright, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg is no longer in German government, but he too isn’t forgotten. Once a rising star in German politics and a possible successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel, Mr. Guttenberg’s career suffered when he was resigned as German defense minister in 2011 after being stripped of his doctorate amid plagiarism allegations.

Now living in the United States, Mr. Guttenberg sounded remorseful about his failings and insisted he had little interest in rejoining the political fray. Mr. Guttenberg, who was also German’s economics minister, said he was busy building a career as an investor in startups. He has emerged as a leader on trans-Atlantic issues and the importance of rebuilding German-American ties.

Ms. Albright and Mr. Guttenberg agree that the world of today is more complex than they encountered during their political careers. Both urged current leaders and the media to do a better job of listening to a frustrated electorate that, if left unchecked, could turn toward demagogues.

 

The following is the transcript of the interview held by Handelsblatt CEO Gabor Steingart with Ms. Albright and Mr. Guttenberg last Thursday.

 

Madame Secretary, when you wake up in the morning, what comes to your mind first: Thank God that I’m not in charge anymore? Or do you wish they would call you back into office so that you can reestablish some order?

Madeline Albright: I loved being secretary of state. And certainly for someone who wasn’t born in the United States it was an honor to represent the country. And so, in many ways I wish I were there. I am a problem solver.

But then you start reading the newspapers …..

Albright: …and then I’m glad that I’m not. The bottom line is that there are so many things to do and I happen to be a person that believes the United States needs to be actively involved in trying to help solve problems. President Clinton used the term first in terms of saying: “We are an indispensable nation.” I used it so often that it became identified with me. But there is nothing in the word indispensable that says “alone.” It just means we need to be engaged.

Is there more complexity in today’s world, or is it just the impression of current generations?

Albright: I think there is more complexity and part of it is that we actually know everything that is going on everywhere. I think there were times that people could deny, or say that they didn’t know what was happening. Now we do know. So there is that aspect of technology being a double-edged sword of being so connected.

A bestial World War II and the Cold War between a hostile Soviet Union and the Western states were also challenging times, weren’t they?

I am a child both of World War II and the Cold War. And they were simpler. In the Cold War the world was divided into the Red and the Red, and the Red, White and Blue. And we were trying to get countries to be on our side and the Soviets were trying to do the same thing. I think the hardest part now is trying to figure out who the enemy really is. And when you use the tools of the national security toolbox – what do you do when you don’t know who can help you with all these issues. I think it’s fair to say that it’s as difficult and complex as anything I’ve ever seen.

Mr. Guttenberg, as the former defense minister and the former economics minister in Germany, you are now living and working in the U.S. Does the situation feel different from the other side of the Atlantic?

Guttenberg: It certainly does. And I want to be careful to compare my experience, which was a tiny fraction of what Madam Secretary has lived through. But being over here led to a different picture of Europe, which in some regards was already sliding into that direction while I was still in office and at least tried to do some politics. The distance is to one extent helpful, but on the other hand it is extremely frustrating.

Who are you in this moment? You are a businessman, you have been a politician. Are you still involved in politics in some way? How would you describe your identity?

Guttenberg: For some a Franconian in exile. I’ve been a politician for a while. I have been in the lucky situation to go through a remarkable experience. I have been an equally remarkable jerk at a certain point. And I am now back in the private sector which I very much enjoy but I have not lost my interest in politics. And I live at a place where I have been given the opportunity to learn a couple of things, to learn to understand the world from a different perspective. To look into relations and connections where political life does not give you the opportunity.

Please give us an example.

As a politician you’re in 20-30 minute decision-making cycles and if you’re forced to react to a media cycle which is grueling and where both sides are just trying to keep up with the pace of the other, you simply don’t have the time to think substantially about the complexities of the situation. America is in many regards fantastic – it gave me the chance to learn a combination of humbleness, humility, resilience and other things. But I also started to read Europe differently in its history and its interconnections with other places around the world. And that’s one thing I am doing right now, in addition to being an investor. So this is my answer to your question of who am I.

Do you think you will get a call? Maybe from Munich (the capital of Bavaria, where Mr. Guttenberg’s party, the Christian Social Union, is based)?

Guttenberg: Maybe from someone inviting me to a soccer game? I would love to attend.

Madam Secretary. You are known for wearing different kinds of pins, fitting to respective events that you are attending. Today you are wearing pins that depict a typewriter, a pen and glasses. What does it mean?

Albright: I thought it would be appropriate for an evening with a journalist. Although no one uses a typewriter anymore. But I am such an admirer of your profession and the role in terms of communicating to people. And at the beginning of my career I wanted to be a journalist. I was somebody that loved international affairs and so I thought I would be able to do journalism.

And you have started successfully in that profession working at the Denver Post. So what went wrong between you and my profession?

Albright: I worked for the Denver Post while when I was in college. And then I was one of the editors at the newspaper. I married a journalist and while he was in the army I worked at a small newspaper in Missouri and then we went to Chicago and he already had a job and we were having dinner with his managing editor. I was 22 years old and the managing editor looked at me and said: So what are you gonna do, honey? I said I’d like to work at a newspaper. He said “I don’t think so. You can’t work at the same paper as your husband because of media regulations.” And even though there are three other newspapers in Chicago at the time, he said “You wouldn’t want to compete with your husband.” I know what I would say now, but I kind of saluted and turned to another life. I went and worked for Encyclopedia Britannica. This age group knows that it’s a book.

Your pins are more than accessories. Please let us know how the whole pin business started?

Albright: So, I really liked jewelry and I went to the United Nations, right at the end of the Gulf War. And I was an instructive ambassador. And a ceasefire has been translated into a series of sanctions. And my instructions were to make sure that the sanctions stayed in place. So every day I said something terrible about Saddam Hussein, which he deserved because he invaded Kuwait. So all of a sudden a column appeared in the papers of Baghdad, comparing me to many things, but amongst them an unparalleled serpent. And I had a snake pin. So I decided to wear the snake pin whenever I talked about Iraq. And one time when all the ambassadors came out, all of a sudden the cameras zoomed in and they asked me: Why are you wearing that snake pin? And I said because Saddam Hussein compared me to an unparalleled serpent. So I thought this was fun, so I went out and bought a lot of custom jewelry to depict whatever we were going to do on any given day. So on a good day I wore flowers and butterflies and balloons and on bad days a lot of spiders and things like that. So when the other ambassadors asked me what are we going to do today, I would say: read my pins.

How many pins do you have now?

Albright: I have no idea. They are all going around in a show now at various museums. And by the way the reason I started is that I wanted to make foreign policy less foreign.

Mr. Guttenberg, did you have similar habits when you were in office? Sometimes politicians use ties to express certain things.

Guttenberg: Certainly not pins. Mostly I would rely on the expression of my face. But also on the music I would listen to in the morning when I could not bring myself to listen to the mumbling of the morning news on my way from the house to the ministry. And it spanned from hard rock to classical music. So at least the people with me at that time would exactly know what kind of day it was.

Madame Secretary: You were born in Czechoslovakia. Do you remember anything from the dark side of European history, when you were a child and had to leave the country?

Albright: Yes, I was born in 1937 in Prague and my father at that time was actually the press attaché of Belgrade but my mother wanted to have me in Prague. So that’s where I was born. We went back to Belgrade. Then my father was recalled and he was in Prague when the Nazis marched in, in March 1939. He got out by bribing somebody and he ended up in London with the government in exile. So I spent the war in England and was a very proper little English girl. A couple of years later we move to the United States and I went to Wellesley College. I graduated in 1959, 10 years ahead of Hillary Clinton. So two former secretaries of state went to Wellesley College.

You jumped from journalism directly into a man’s world. We all remember the pictures where there is one lady in the middle who is surrounded by old men in black suits.

Albright: Well, I certainly was fat, because one of the things that happens when you are secretary of state is you have to eat for your country.  And being a woman from the United States I would always sit next to the head of state. And I tried to move my food around and they always said: Why aren’t you eating our national… whatever?

You met a lot of impressive figures. Who would you say was the most impressive personality you have met in your life?

Albright: That is hard. I had the honor of meeting a lot of impressive people. But I would say President Clinton is truly one of the most impressive personalities. In terms of the way he loved being the president of the United States, the way that he absorbed the information, the way he negotiated and the way he was able to establish good personal relations with people.

Isn’t Putin also impressive?

Albright: No.

Quite different from Clinton of course, but when you look at his comeback. The heads of government pushed him out of G8, he came back to the table. His vote matters when it comes to Syria and other hot button issues.

Albright: Well I guess, I mean he is a KGB officer. The first time I met Putin was at the APEC meeting in New Zealand. And at that time he wanted everybody to like him. He is a very smart man. I think he has been playing a weak hand very well and he is a tactitioner. And my own sense about him is what he wants more than anything is to represent the Grandness of Russia.

But who else could be an impressive figure except your former boss? How about Hillary Clinton?

Albright: Very impressive. With any luck she will be the next president of the United States.

MANHATTAN, NEW YORK, MARCH 24, 2016 People are seen attending Handelsblatt Germany Dinner that featured panelists Dr. Madeleine Albright and Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, moderated by Gabor Steingart, publisher of Handelsblatt Global Edition and sponsored by the American Council of Germany and Handelsblatt Global Edition at the University Club in Manhattan, NY. From left are Steingart, Albright, and zu Guttenberg.3/24/2016 Photo by ©Jennifer S. Altman
Madeleine Albright and Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg (r), moderator Gabor Steingart (l). Source: Jennifer S. Altman for Handelsblatt

Mr. Guttenberg, many in the United States are asking Germany to take on more responsibility. They often mean we could engage more with our troops. Do you think we should and we can deliver more?

Guttenberg: We delivered a lot. We were just too shy and too reluctant to tell our story, at home and abroad – out of whatever understanding of history we may have had at that time, out of whatever understanding of our old interconnections to our presence at that very moment. I think where we failed is to make this clear. People here are surprised when I tell them we were the third biggest troop supplier in Afghanistan for many years, until now actually. We have done a lot in the last couple of years to gain credibility in foreign affairs. Still, would I like to see more? Yes. Would I like to see more coherence in our movements? Yes.

Here I would ask you to be more precise, if possible.

Guttenberg: Take the example: Yes, we have been in Afghanistan, yes, we have been in Congo. Yes, we have played a huge role in Bosnia-Herzegovina. But we ducked down when it came to Libya in a very strange way. There may have been good reasons not to take part, but we communicated it in a lousy, lousy way. So when I say we need more coherence it is because at the end of the day that is impacting our stability at home as well.

Madam Albright, what is your take on that? Should Germany take on more responsibility?

I think people can understand why Germans are reluctant to take on a leading role. [Former German Forign Minister] Joschka Fischer and I talked about that a lot. But I also think this then leads to a misunderstanding about what Germany does. And you pointed out that people needed to understand how many troops you had in Afghanistan and take credit for it. Because in the United States there is a sense from ordinary people, not from those who make the decisions, that Germany should be taking on a larger role. One of the huge misunderstandings at the moment is that the person who thinks he’s going to be president of the United States says that we shouldn’t be doing that much in NATO because partners are not doing enough. So that is part of it.

And you think Donald Trump is wrong?

Albright: NATO is one of the most important alliances in the history of the world, and the United States needs to be an integral part of it. The other countries need to pay the 2 percent of GDP on defense and live up to the obligations. It is the best functioning alliance of history.

And the man we were just talking about: Is he crazy?

Albright: Yes.

Always?

Albright: I don’t know him. I think the only thing he believes in is himself. And it’s very hard. I have just been abroad trying to explain what is going on here. But the Libya issue, I think that is a more complex issue: One of the things that I learned at the United Nations is to learn where our responsibilities are in peace-keeping operations. There is a new concept which is the responsibility to protect. When you know the leader of a country is going to kill his people and Gadhafi said he would, then the international community needs to do something about it. I believe that. The problem is of not having a follow-through plan after we have been there. So I do think the international community with the help of Germany obviously needs to think through: If we believe in this concept of responsibility to protect – we also need to think about what comes after.

Guttenberg: That is certainly one of the reasons why we have – to put it mildly – a lot of misunderstandings across the Atlantic right now. The accusations in Germany and other places that the United States missed the debate of following up properly in the Middle East and other places is a fact. It is of course a cheap discussion sometimes, because we could have done more in our neighborhood as well. Second point: I agree with you that the Libya issue cannot be shrunk just to the question of whether or not we take part in some bombings and then all leave again. It has to be seen in its interconnecting lines to the whole region – all the way up to our refugee crisis right now. It was very unfortunate that at that very moment we did not have a proper amount of communication between Germany, Europe and the White House. And it went even so far that they didn’t talk for days with each other and then were surprised that we had certain movements in Germany or on the other side of the Atlantic. This is a matter that urgently needs to be improved. And it is a matter of sometimes very simple communication and also a skillset to reach out on a personal level as you have, Madam Secretary. It is important not to only spend time on a professional level but also to sit down for a few hours and really get to know the other side.

Don’t you think it has improved under the current foreign minister in Germany?

Guttenberg: I think the working level between the ministries is good. Steinmeier and Kerry do communicate. And they pushed a few things forward. What I don’t see is a linkage, a personal fondness between the chancellor and the president. And there have been a lot of missed chances and opportunities which lead us to a situation like that on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s not that the professional working level is in a circle of mistrust, but leading people mistrust each other. And that is one of the things which we need to work on. Of course, the American Council on Germany is doing great work and the Global Edition of Handelsblatt is a wonderful thing and necessary. But we need to push our decision makers to do more than just the professional duty to meet at the G8 and G20 meetings and then go to bed the moment when others will still stay together. That was one of the great achievements of President Clinton and Chancellor Kohl – they could drink until 4 in the morning. Sometimes the personal level matters and I think it matters even more in times when we are surrounded by digital movements.

What do you think about Angela Merkel? How is your relationship with her? Is there a relationship?

Guttenberg: There is a good relationship, and this is not just a diplomatic answer.  Putting aside any rumors about this relationship, we have stayed in touch with each other. We talk to each other here and there.

What about the other way round? Do you think she is missing you, too?

Guttenberg: No (laughs)

The CSU, Chancellor Merkel’s Bavarian sister party to which you belonged, has become something of an evil force for Ms. Merkel since you left…

Guttenberg: The conservative parties have always been in these kind of awkward relations with their so-called respective sister party. There’s a certain tradition there.

But you don’t think some people are missing you back in Germany?

Guttenberg: In the professional business of politics, there’s no such thing as missing someone who is out of office. Again on the chancellor: The relationship to her from my side is still driven by a lot of admiration for certain things she did, a lot of things she still does. She was always willing also to accept criticism and she was always willing to listen even to a young chap as I was at the time, and she would ask for an opinion. And that’s a picture that many people don’t have of her. She is a listener. At the very moment some people would say she acts like a stubborn child in this refugee crisis. I think there is still an ability in her to actually allow people to approach her and to listen to them. However, I don’t know how many of these people there are.

A form of open-arms policy?

Guttenberg: She’s not the embracing character. She’s not the Bill Clinton type, but she could also have a glass of wine at night and I think she would wish to have such counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic.

Do you see a role for yourself in American politics?

Guttenberg: No, certainly not. There have been a couple of peculiar Austrians already trying that (laughs). But I would humbly add myself to a group of people who have seen both sides of the Atlantic. I think, in whatever role we are in right now, we still have to do more to work on a relationship, which is currently strained.

Will it get better if the U.S. conservatives , the counterparts to your own party, take over here?

Guttenberg: Sure, if we have a blond lunatic taking over here and the AfD on the other side of the Atlantic, I’m sure that will work out fantastically. (laughs)

Seriously, what do you think about the Republican frontrunner here?

Guttenberg: I’m in shock and awe. I’m not an American citizen and only an observer. But if I did have a choice right now and I were to vote conservative over here – and I’m not even sure that I would – the only remaining option would be John Kasich. I’m not impressed by someone who puts ideology before anything else, and I’m not impressed by someone who seems to win by insulting other people.

 

Trump-AP
Populism is on the rise on both sides of the Atlantic. Donald Trump is the American embodiment. Source: AP

 

Should the party resist Trump even if he gets a lot of votes in the primary? Should the party establishment step in?

Guttenberg: A brokered convention would be a very risky undertaking, if it comes to that point. I think the amount of populism we are facing in the U.S. at the very moment doesn’t differ too much from the type of populism we are seeing in Europe. And many of the arguments are very similar – whether on the far left with Mr. Sanders or Mr. Trump on the right spectrum. If you listen to the Kaczinskis of Poland, to the Wilders of the Netherlands and the Le Pens of France, and also to some players in Germany, it is all tied to one issue: How do you relate to the frustration of the people towards the media and towards the so-called establishment. Maybe there is even a cathartic element to somebody succeeding this mess, hopefully only in the primaries. All this will lead us to question whether our beloved and so important and still growing democratic system is as stable as we would like it to be, or whether we need to look at it from a new creative point of view.

It used to be said that things that happen in the United States arrive in Europe five years later. This time we are united, we see the rise of populism in both our continents. The refugee crisis and the social divide of our societies have fueled hate and anger. Madam Secretary, how would you address these two issues? They are real and will not go away, even if somebody takes Trump out of the game.

Albright: I think they won’t. Part of what has happened is, there is a combination of two things happening in the world. We all talk about globalization, and it is a double-edged sword. It has obviously connected us across the world, but it is also faceless. And so people are more likely to identify with their own kind because they don’t just want to be part of some larger group. That raises the issue of identity, which then leads to hyper-nationalism, which is dangerous.

The other is technology. Technology is very good in terms of connecting people, for example in Africa allowing people to pay their bills on mobile phones rather than walk hundreds of miles. But there’s another aspect to this, in that it has disaggregated voices. People are talking to their governments on 21st century technology, the governments hear them on 20th century technology and are providing 19th century responses. And so there is no faith in institutions. The normal lines of communication are gone and that brings people to the streets.

It sounds like there’s a good reason for people to protest, if the establishment is not responding.

Albright: It is not responding, and I think that this is a problem. And also there unfortunately are more divisions between the rich and the poor. There is inequality, certainly in the United States. When we came to the United States in 1950, this was a middle class country. Now it is not. I think that is causing some of our current issues, as well as a lack of faith in the institutions. I still believe in the American system, but it is based on the executive and legislative branch actually talking to each other. When people were elected – the Tea Party – to come to Washington and do nothing, that is when the gridlock begins. At the moment, President Obama has presented a budget for 2017. Congress has decided not to even take it up. The president has presented a member of the Supreme Court. Congress doesn’t even want to take it up.  That is an example of lack of faith in institutions. The question is, how do people get informed?

Your answer?

That is where the media comes in. The hardest part is how one campaigns and discusses this with the electorate. We have to ask why they believe these things. Why this is going on. I think this is where the media has not fulfilled its responsibilities in terms of trying to inform people. Information comes in very quickly. I made a rule when I was in office that the first bit of information that comes in is always wrong. And yet, then you have to make a decision on something, because the press will ask you what your decision is before you have time to absorb it.

I agree. The media has to do a better job of making a complex world understandable. There’s too much small talk in our capitals and in our media. What people need is big talk that translates into relevant information and orientation. Mr. Guttenberg, what is your take on how we should address the social divide and the refugee crisis in Germany?

Guttenberg: Part of the solution is not only to complain about our institutional weaknesses but to use them properly, especially at the multinational level. The UN is still stuck in the 1940s. NATO is in many regards of course still an institution we have to have, but we need to push NATO into the realities of today. And then we come to the European Union and the question of who actually deals with whatever has happened over the last few months, regardless of who caused it. When we look at the European Union today, we see a patient European Union on the operating table, 28 very distinctly talented doctors standing around it, and somebody stumbling over the cable for the heart-lung machine.

Careful what you say about doctors…

Guttenberg: Yes, I have nothing against doctors, for sure. I must be very careful with that. But the point is, you always find a doctor who puts the plug back into the wall and then they will all be happy that the patient is still alive. In the United States, you have this wonderful saying that describes progress in Europe – to kick the can down the road. In Europe, we’re doing even better. We kick the can up the road, watch it come down again and we call that progress.

So let’s kick the can down the road.  Solving the refugee problem could be a major win for the establishment. Do you have any solutions?

Guttenberg: If I had any solutions, my family at least would start calling me a politician again. But there is one thing we do need to get on the right path again right now: In an environment of a dramatic de-solidarization in the European Union, in an environment of fragmentation of the European Union, in an environment of multiple finger pointing, not only in the European Union but also across the Atlantic, the approach to seek a European solution is correct. Because anything else will lead to a disaster on the continent. The flow of refugees has to be resolved on a European basis.

Madam Secretary, you said that to defeat ISIS the next US president must rally the world, not withdraw from it. So how would you address the multitude of challenges we are facing in Syria, in Iraq, in Iran?

Albright: Part of the issue here goes back to the complexity of it and how all of this is inter-related and it’s impossible to build walls or decide that just one country can deal with it. The only way to deal the refugee crisis is to deal with Syria. I’m a refugee myself, but most people would like to live in the country where they were born.  If you listen to some of the stories from the Syrians, they want to be in their country. The question is how one even begins to resolve that, for example whether the Russians are going to play a positive role. I could expand on all those interconnections, but the problem is: What are the institutions that actually can deal with it? I agree completely that there’s no confidence in international institutions. I have believed in the United Nations, but it is not operating at this point.

You were once the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations…

Albright: And it was a great job at the time. It was a period, frankly, in the 1990s where people thought the UN could work.

Now it’s a bureaucratic monster.

Albright: I have to tell you, the Security Council is like the Rubix Cube. When the United States suggested that the Security Council should be expanded, we suggested that Germany and Japan should become permanent members. The first country that came to me to object was Italy, saying this was outrageous because “we lost the war too,” which was not a great reason. What would also happen is, at any given time of the 15 members of the Security Council, there would be five Europeans. And I would go to a European member and say I need your help on a vote and the ambassador would say “I’m so sorry, I can’t talk to you because the E.U. doesn’t yet have a common position.” And then two days later I would go to the same person and say “can you help me” and they’d say “no, the E.U. does have a common position.” This really means the E.U. should have one seat, which of course would never happen because the British and French would object. It’s an example of the various complicated aspects of it all.

Point taken, but what would the alternative look like?

Albright: I do think the only way to handle all of this may be to create more ad-hoc organizational structures. I’ve just come from the Middle East, where I am doing a taskforce. I do try to be bipartisan and so I’m doing this with Steve Hadley, who was the national security advisor of President George W. Bush. We have divided things in terms of looking first at what the local issues are, issues of governance.

Then there is the regional aspect. There needs to be some kind of regional organization in the Middle East where there can be cooperation, and then there’s the global issue, because the Russians are playing in there, so are we, so are the French to some extent, the Turks. What people hate is whenever I open my mouth and I say it’s complicated. But it is complicated. And I think the question is how we understand the complications, and then as decision makers take one section at a time. I do think that the only way that this is going to be resolved is that the United States and Europe work together and I feel myself to be the epitome of the Euro-Atlantic relationship. And it isn’t working the way it should at the moment.

Guttenberg: I entirely underline what Madam Secretary just said. There’s a complexity and that we have a tendency to take only certain pieces and work on them. For that reason, only focusing on Syria is insufficient. It is an important piece, but at the same time we have to deal with Yemen, we have to deal with Libya and with the flow of other African nations.

We also have to critically ask ourselves who actually has the credibility in that very region to convene something that goes further than just Syria, and who could actually bring together players from the different camps and also from the Muslim community. To be honest, former imperial forces down there don’t work. Russia doesn’t work. I’m deeply sorry to say it, but the credibility of the United States in the region is also morally damaged.

Earlier we talked about Germany taking on more responsibility. Do you see us as problem solver in this region?

Guttenberg: Of course we have to deal with the mess of the refugee crisis, but at the same time I think the region is looking more and more at us right now. Ironically, because of the refugee crisis and the fact that we brought them all in, we have a huge credibility in Shiite circles. Germany could therefore do more here in that regard.

And the United States should withdraw?

Albright: We should be taking more people in. We cannot tell other countries what to do without doing it ourselves. I have flown over the United States many times. It is a large country and there’s a lot of room. And I think we should be a better example here.

America is the home country of optimism. So please Mr. Guttenberg und Secretary Albright, give us two good reasons to be optimistic about our future.

Guttenberg: Characters like Madam Secretary.

Albright: We have the privilege to live in a democracy. We need to have the right conversations, and we need media who push us to do that.

Oscar Wilde once famously said: Everything is going to be fine at the end. And if it’s not fine, it’s simply not the end.” Thank you Madam Secretary and thank you Mr. Guttenberg for having this great conversation.

 

The interview was conducted by Gabor Steingart, Handelsblatt’s publisher and former editor-in-chief, who also spent a number of years as bureau chief in Washington D.C. with Germany’s Spiegel magazine. Christopher Cermak of Handelsblatt Global Edition wrote the introduction. To contact the author: steingart@handelsblatt.com

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