July 16, 2006— -- Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright criticized the Bush administration for not getting more involved in the crisis in the Middle East and said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice should leave the G8 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, and begin Mideast shuttle diplomacy.
"I'm very worried that we're at a crossroads and we're not going to take the right turn here," Albright told "This Week with George Stephanopoulos." "I still do think that we actually need to be more involved. And I wish that the secretary had announced that she was leaving."
Rice, appearing on "This Week" before Albright, defended Israel's right to counter the terrorist group Hezbollah's deadliest rocket attacks in a decade, and resisted calls for an immediate cease-fire.
"We support, at this point, an effort to make certain than when there is a cease-fire that it is one that is sustainable," Rice said.
Rice said that the United States' Middle Eastern policy now focuses on supporting democratic change in the region.
"For the last 60 years, American administrations of both stripes -- Democrat, Republican -- traded what they thought was security and stability and turned a blind eye to the absence of democratic forces, to the absence of pluralism in the region. And out of that set of policies we got a situation that produced or helped produce al Qaeda and other extremist elements," she said. "That policy has changed."
Critics have said U.S. operations in Iraq have shaken Middle East stability even though President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that democracy in Iraq would reverberate throughout the region. Rice said the turmoil in Lebanon and other regions has been stirring for years.
"Iraq has diverted everybody's attention from really looking at a whole host of other issues," Albright said. "I think that it's very hard to say that [the Iraq war] has not made it worse. … It is absolutely clear that it has made it worse."
Nevertheless, the Middle East has a long history of conflict, dating back to 1948 when Israel became a state. From 1975 to 1990, Lebanon was embroiled in a bloody civil war. Israel got involved when militants used Lebanon to attack the Jewish state.
"Those hostilities were not very well contained, as we found out on Sept. 11 -- and so the notion that somehow policies that finally confront extremism are actually causing extremism, I find grotesque," she said. "For all of those who believe that we somehow had stability in the Middle East over the last 60 years and it's now been disturbed, where do we think Hezbollah and Hamas and these other extremist forces came from? They weren't born yesterday, these forces have been developing and threatening the Middle East and arresting positive developments for decades."
Albright, who served during a Clinton administration that was often criticized for being too involved in the Middle East conflict, agreed with Rice that the "root causes" are the source of the recent turmoil, but asserted, "Diplomacy is essential."
"You don't just pass a resolution and then hope that somehow it's enforced," Albright said. "I believe that it's not possible for the U.S. to get over-involved."
Rice said President Bush is "deeply engaged" in the Middle East crisis, and did not rule out her own personal intervention.
"I'm certainly willing to play whatever role I'm needed to play," she said. "We have to go at the root cause. It's fine to have a cessation of violence. We want to have a cessation of violence. We're worried about the escalating casualties on all sides, but unless we go to the fundamentals here, we're going to continue to have these spikes of violence in the Middle East as we have had for the past 30 years."
George Stephanopoulos' entire interview with Albright can be viewed at "This Week's" Web page at www.abcnews.com.