Refugee ban ‘a gift to those that hate us,’ says Madeleine Albright

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, for more on the executive order on refugees and visa holders and changes the president to the makeup of the National Security Council, we turn first to former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. She served as the United States’ top diplomat during the Clinton administration.

When we spoke a short time ago, I began by asking her reaction to the Trump White House ban on immigrants from seven countries.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, Former U.S. Secretary of State: Judy, I’m appalled, because it’s done everything except keep America safer.

And let me just say, I kind of have looked at things thinking that they made this executive action without really understanding what it’s all about. So, it was unprepared, I would say, because they didn’t really see how the government works. They didn’t really contact the various departments that are part of this homeland security, trying to figure out what would happen once you do something like this from the Oval Office.

So, unprepared. And then I think, also, part of the problem was, they didn’t understand what I say the unintended consequences of this, because the truth is that the countries that have been designated are now reacting, creating more problems for us, and then banning people — our people from going there.

For instance, in Iraq, how do we protect our troops? What about the people that are interpreting? And then I think all of it is based on untrue facts. And so I think it is a very serious problem in terms of how the whole system works.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me take a couple of those, one at a time.

What they’re saying is if — they’re saying, if they had let the rest of the government know what they were doing, that it would have leaked, and they said there would have been a flood of people trying to get in. And they also say that they’re basically only following what the Obama administration had done a few years ago in listing countries that were the most for the United States to fear in terms of terrorism.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, the latter is true.

What was happened was, there was an incident where something was coming out of Iraq. They were concerned about what the facts really were. They wanted to re-vet some people. They didn’t have enough manpower to do that, so things slowed down.

So there is nothing like that that happened in the Obama administration. I think the excuse about not letting others know, first of all, they need to understand that the government, in fact, when people trust each other, doesn’t leak out when it’s an important issue.

But how can you not let the departments that have something to do with executing the order not know? Because I think that they were genuinely surprised by, you know, how slow it was, what happened when they detained people, what happened then when there were demonstrations against it.

So I’m willing to say they were surprised at the reaction to it, but that’s a sign of the fact they didn’t understand what they were doing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The other argument they make, Secretary Albright, is this will all settle out, it’s just the hurly-burly of the first few days, that it’s only 109 people, they said, out of over 300,000 travelers over the weekend, and that we’re all making too much of this.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: No, we’re not, because what it’s shown is that the United States is not prepared to deal with something that the president has decided he wants to do, so it puts real question as to how the system works.

It also has undermined other countries’ trust in what we do, trying to figure out who in the department is responsible for what. And then I actually think it’s a gift to those that hate us, because now what has happened is ISIS is really kind of saying, yes, right, this is what America is like, you can’t trust us.

And so I think they basically were completely unprepared for what they kind of unwrapped, without really considering the unintended consequences, and I don’t think it makes us any safer.

JUDY WOODRUFF: One of the other moves the Trump administration made over the weekend was to announce a reorganization of the National Security Council, which, in effect, appears to downgrade the role of the director of national intelligence, and also the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

They had also downgraded the role of the CIA director, but they now in the last — today have restored that. How do you read that move on the part of President Trump?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I teach about decision-making, so I have been thinking about this.

And I think it also wasn’t thought out, and partially because — we have heard a lot of stories about how the transition really wasn’t done very well. I have been transitioned into and I have done the transitioning. It’s a fascinating process of turning over the crown jewels when it’s done properly. That didn’t happen.

And so I think they didn’t understand how the system works, and, in fact, downgrading the role of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Maybe they think they already have too many generals, but the bottom line is that it’s important for that person to be in the meetings no matter what.

And what they have done is say only when it’s really necessary, decided by the national security adviser, and the same for the director of national intelligence. It’s important to know the intelligence and the response of the military.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The other change they made was to add Steve Bannon, who is a senior adviser to the president, to the — the campaign adviser — add him to the National Security Council attendees, principals — I guess you call it principals list.

Their argument is, well, the Obama administration had people like David Axelrod and others who sat in on national security meeting.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: That — you know, frankly, that is the most outrageous thing that they have done, is to add somebody with an extreme ideology to those that are supposed to be making decisions based on U.S. national interests, not on ideology.

And it’s one thing to have one of the advisers come in on occasion when the issue is some combination of domestic and foreign policy, but not to have somebody with the views of Bannon that we now hear to be there all the time.

And the troublesome part about all this is, what is the circle around the president? Who does he listen to? And the examples that we have had, whether it’s now with the immigration executive action or just generally, is the decision-making process.

We’re not a new country. We have had a decision-making process. And they have, in fact, developed something different. And, Judy, I thought the following. Disruption is not a bad thing for bureaucracy. Destruction, however, is very dangerous.

And so what we have seen in the last week, I think, is dangerous.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Very quickly, last question. Impression of Rex Tillerson, who is the president’s designee to be the next secretary of state?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I have met him. I think he’s a very fine person. He’s been a very good CEO of Exxon.

The question is how he’s going to operate within this particular setup, how he’s going to work with the State Department, where a top group of people have left who are some of the operational people, and then how is he going to define what the roles of the State Department is?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Madeleine Albright, former secretary of state, thank you very much for talking with us.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Great to be with you. Thank you.

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