Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright says it’s a “most unfortunate signal” that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will skip the first NATO foreign ministers meeting since he took office, though she blamed the issue on scheduling.
“I think it’s a most unfortunate signal,” Albright told the House Armed Services Committee. “I would blame it on schedulers. I do think that is part of the problem. He will have met with a lot of ministers in other venues, but given the discussion that’s going on about NATO, I think it’s an unfortunate scheduling problem.”
She was testifying alongside former national security adviser Stephen Hadley on America’s role in the world, where both strongly rebutted President Trump’s worldview.
NATO is scheduled to hold a meeting of foreign ministers from April 5 to 6, the first such meeting since Tillerson was confirmed as secretary of State.
Reuters first reported late Monday that Tillerson will skip the meeting because Chinese President Xi Jinping is visiting the U.S. on April 6–7.
The decision to skip the NATO meeting raised eyebrows as it was also reported that Tillerson will travel to Russia later in April.
Trump has come under scrutiny for his overtures on improving relations with Russia. Trump has also repeatedly blasted NATO as “obsolete” and questioned whether he would come to the defense of allies if they didn’t pay on their defense.
Throughout Tuesday’s hearing, Albright and Hadley urged the U.S. not to retreat from the world stage.
“While it is comforting to believe that we can wall ourselves off from the ailments of the world, history teaches us that whenever problems abroad are allowed to fester and grow, sooner or later they come home to America,” she said in her opening statement.
The pair also strongly condemned the administration’s proposal to cut State Department funding by 28 percent.
Albright, who previously said proposed cuts to the State Department budget “will undercut American diplomacy,” on Tuesday expressed astonishment that such deep cuts were even proposed.
“I think they are so stunningly damaging to America’s position that I find it hard to believe that somebody that is in the U.S. government could even suggest them,” she said.
Albright, who also served as ambassador to the United Nations, acknowledged the body needs reforms, but said the U.S. will not be able to accomplish meaningful change if it cuts funding and thereby loses influence.
Funds for diplomacy also help to create environments where terrorists cannot prosper, she said.
“I teach a course on the national security toolbox; there’s not a lot in it, and if we decide that we’re not going to fund half of them, then we have lowered the possibility of the United States, our national interest being met,” she said.
Hadley, chairman of the board of the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP), cited the institute’s work in Iraq training locals to negotiate peace among tribes as being vital work that would take a hit in the budget. The budget proposes to cut all of the institute’s government funding.
“A lot of our soft power converts into real hard power,” Hadley said. “In 2007, USIP, in Mahmudiyah province, the Triangle of Death, negotiated an arrangement among the tribes to accept the U.S. military presence there. Violence went down dramatically. The U.S. military presence was able to reduce by 80 percent. It saved a lot of lives. It saved a lot of dollars, and that basic peace agreement among the tribes has held up for 10 years.”