U.S. Needs Religious Advisers in Diplomacy, Says Albright in Book

Article excerpt

Former secretary of state Madeleine Albright is breaking ranks with the conventional wisdom of her profession. Diplomats, she says, were traditionally taught to keep far away from potentially controversial subjects like religion.

Albright is now making a high-profile plea for religion--and religious leaders--to play a more prominent role both in the making of foreign policy and in the training diplomats receive.

"We need their help," she told the PBS program Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly. "In looking at what was going on in the world," said Albright, "it was evident that religion and the force of religion and people's interpretation of how they saw God really is very much a part of international relations."

She spells out her views in a 314-page book, The Mighty and the Almighty. First, she sees a need for increased study of religion in educating U.S. diplomats. "They have not really focused on religion per se as a subject of study."

Second, and more provocatively, Albright calls for a hands-on role for a group of outsiders--religious leaders. "A secretary of state has economic advisers and arms control advisers and environmental advisers," she noted. "And so I would advocate having religious advisers that are complementing all the other advisers."

Albright said religious experts could be used "prior to negotiations at high levels among different parties," and then afterward to "validate some of the decisions that have been made after negotiators have finished." But she acknowledged that it can be a delicate balancing act.

"It's a question as to how much you really want religious doctrine to intrude into issues of how the state is run," she said. "I believe in the separation of church and state. But you cannot separate people from their faith."

Albright conceded that the Clinton administration didn't always get religion right. "One issue where we considered a lot of the religious dimensions, but I think made some mistakes, was at Camp David," she said, describing the efforts to negotiate a Middle East peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

"There were lots of aspects of the Palestinian issue that as a Palestinian leader, Chairman [Yasir] Arafat could make decisions on," she said. …