Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said she is worried too many Americans want to “insulate” themselves from the Syrian refugee crisis and other conflicts around the world.
“I have long said that Americans are the most generous people in the world. But we do have the shortest attention spans and, when it comes to global crisis today, I fear that too many people in the United States believe we can insulate ourselves from the world’s problems and leave it to the countries of the region and Europe to sort out,” Albright said at the U.S. Institute of Peace’s “Beyond Refugees” event.
“The idea we can stand aside or wait for others to act is an illusion mocked by the lessons of history. It would be naïve to expect that a solution to this crisis will arrive soon or that when it does take shape, it will be implemented quickly and without further pain. But it will not come at all if we fail to uphold our own standards and values,” she added.
Addressing America’s response to the crisis, Albright said the U.S. should not ask other countries to take in a significant number of refugees if it won’t do the same.
“I think in terms of the density you gave and those of us that fly across this country a lot – there’s a lot of space here. I do actually think that the United States needs to – we cannot ask other countries to be taking on a burden if we don’t do it ourselves,” she said. “I did quote the Statue of Liberty statement on purpose. I do think this is what we are about. I think there needs to be more public outcry about the fact that we have to share in responsibility for this.”
Nancy Lindborg, president of the U.S. Institute of Peace, pointed out that the U.S. has spent about $4 billion on the civil war in Syria in addition to “several billions of dollars” of financial support to Jordan and Lebanon.
“The U.S. has been a leader in providing the financial assistance. I think the bigger question is what is the role of the U.S. in seeking to really get at the roots of this and solving the Syrian crisis?” she said. “None of this is going to staunch the flow of people fleeing so it’s really looking far more seriously at the diplomatic approaches.”
Albright, who served in the Clinton administration, encouraged the public to call their members of Congress about the issue. She said the Syrian refugee crisis would eventually get worse if the U.S. does not take action.
“This is not a task we can accomplish alone but it is a responsibility that we cannot in good conscience ignore or refuse to accept,” she said.
The refugee crisis hits home for Albright. Born in Czechoslovakia two years before Hitler’s troops marched into Prague, Albright said she left with her family for England. She returned to Prague when she was 8 before the communists took over the region.
“My family was forced into exile in a new and welcoming home, the United States of America, and I will never forget sailing by the Statue of Liberty on November 11, 1948. For much of my life I’ve been described as a refugee, which is accurate, but in contrast to many who came to America before and after, my family was not a hardship case,” she said.
“We didn’t have to escape through barbed wire. We didn’t have much money but we did come on diplomatic passports, and so I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to endure even a fraction of what so many millions of people are going through today,” she added.
According to Secretary of State John Kerry, the U.S. plans to accept 85,000 refugees from around the world next year and 100,000 in 2017.
Albright said the U.S. and Russia should work together to address the Syrian refugee crisis.
“I think we should work with Russia on Syria but we cannot forget what the Russians have done in Ukraine – and it would be a mistake if we decided all of the sudden to forget all of that,” he said.
To date, Congress has approved $500 million to train and equip about 5,000 rebels. The head of U.S. Central Command recently told Congress only four or five rebels have been trained so far.
“It is taking a bit longer to get things done, but it must be this way if we are to achieve lasting and positive effects,” Gen. Lloyd Austin said.
According to multiple reports, ISIS has intercepted some of the U.S. weapons that were meant for Syrian rebels.
In September of 2014, PJ Media asked Albright if the Obama administration’s decision to arm Syrian rebels could backfire in the future.
“I hope not, because basically what has to happen is the president of the United States needs to have partners with us there. This is not – this is their story. This is a regional story and obviously of great interest to the United States and I know that a lot of care has been taken in terms of figuring out which members of the opposition and they need to be a part of solving the problem and so I think it’s the right thing to do,” Albright said.