DES MOINES - The invasion of Iraq has led to a series of misfortunes "that should have been anticipated" and the United States lacks clear and palatable options in that country, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Saturday.
"Instead of winning friends for America, it has poisoned our relations with many countries in the Mideast and the Muslim world," Albright said. "In Iraq, there are no good options at this point and the worst days may be ahead of us."
Albright, secretary of state under President Clinton, was the keynote speaker at a conference focusing on the role that citizens can play in helping to shape the nation's image abroad.
"Believe me, it matters how America is perceived around the world," she said.
Albright pointed to surveys taken in 17 separate countries asking residents which country they would seek if they were able to move. Only in India, was the United States the most preferred destination.
Australia, China and many countries in Europe were more popular destinations, largely because the U.S. has adopted a unilateral foreign policy stance, and is increasingly viewed around the world as too quick to resort to military force, Albright said.
"There are many other surveys that show international support for U.S. foreign policy is at the lowest point since the Vietnam War," Albright said.
Albright argued that American diplomacy must be based firmly in the best interests of the U.S., but also must include an understanding of the needs of other countries.
"Certainly the unilateralism we have seen in recent years hasn't worked," she said.
Albright saluted the effort in Iowa, which has a long tradition of Sister State relations with other countries and active involvement by citizens in international affairs.
While the nation's image has been badly hammered by Iraq, there are still opportunities to make improvements, she said.
Albright pointed to the quick and huge outpouring of aid dispatched in the wake of last year's tsunami. "It made a huge difference in how America is perceived," she said.
One major mistake the country is making in Iraq, Albright said, is looking for a simple and quick solution to an unstable nation.
"I think that if it were put to a vote, the Iraqi people might want the U.S. to stay for some period of time," said Albright. "What they don't want is a sense that we might be there forever."
Albright said many Iraqis are suspicious that the U.S. is occupying the country to assure itself access to Mideastern oil.
Gov. Tom Vilsack told the conference that the concept of citizen diplomacy requires a new mode of thinking.
"That's what you really want to advance, the opportunity for two human beings to connect," said Vilsack. "We're also going to have to raise our children to understand what peace is all about."