Dame Theory: What Madeleine Albright Can Teach Bush about Toppling Dictators

Article excerpt

Madam Secretary: A Memoir By Madeleine Albright Miramax, $27.95

Few secretaries of state have managed to collect as diverse an assortment of critics as Madeleine Albright. Foreign Service bureaucrats resented her for making policy with a tight group of advisors in her seventh-floor offices, liberal interventionists slammed her record as Ambassador to the United Nations during the Rwanda crisis, when she lobbied to dismantle the small mission of U.N. peacekeepers just as Hutu militias began slaughtering" hundreds of thousands of thousands. But no one had more venom for the secretary than the neoconservatives. To them, Alright was the cruise director on what George Will dubbed America's vacation from history. She may have sounded like a neocon when she spoke of America as the "indispensable nation," but she tried to cut deals with two of the three members of the axis of evil, Iron and North Korea, and she stood idly by as the economic sanctions she had championed early in the 1990s against its third member, Iraq, were whittled away by smuggling, lax enforcement, mad outright defiance. A fine example of Albright's combination of weakness and naivete was her frantic pursuit of Yasser Arafat at the U.S. Ambassador's residence in Paris in late October 2000, begging him not to leave yet another of her fruitless negotiations to end dm war he was inciting against his old peace partner.

In her new memoir, Madam Secretary, Albright has few kind words for Arafat, calling him at various points, a "professional victim," and a "manipulator and survivor." During a visit to her farm in Virginia, her two-year old grandson let out a "piercing scream" at the first sight of the Palestinian leader. Such colorful touches are common in this often plodding and pedantic memoir focusing on Albright's four years, from 1997 to 2001, at the height of power. For example, she recounts how she learned of her Jewish ancestry from Washington Post reporter Michael Dobbs. Unfortunately, the book does not offer much in the way of news. We do learn that in 1998, Iran's Prime Minister Mohammed Khatami sent word to Ararat that Iran would support a negotiated settlement between Israel mad the Palestinians--a position at odds with the charter of Iran's Islamic Revolution, She 'also confirms that, at the request of South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, President Clinton was indeed ready to travel to Pyongyang at the end of his presidency. But anyone expecting a persuasive rebuttal of the toughest charges frequently leveled against the Clinton administration's foreign policy--for instance, that the president was not as committed as he should have been to hunting Osama bin Laden, or that the United States failed to stop the Saudis beheading the two prime suspects in the 1996 bombing of Khobar Towers that killed 19 Americans--will be disappointed. Reading this book, Albright's conservative critics will be tempted to gloat that they were right about her all along.

Yet they do so at their own risk: As the Bush administration encounters one snag after another in Iraq, it is becoming clear that, at least as of today, Albright has proved a more successful regime -changer than the very neocons who coined the phrase. For all her efforts to cut deals with Arafat, Kim Jong Il, and the Iranians, this Czech refugee whose family escaped both Nazism and communism, demonstrated not only moral clarity but also effectiveness in opposing a ruthless and wily tyrant, Yugoslavia's Slobodan Mizlosevic. Albright's patient multilateral diplomacy, combined with forceful moral rhetoric and quiet funding for the opposition, may prove a far better model for ridding the Middle East of its dictators than last March's invasion.

Divine and overthrow

Albright's crowning moment came on Oct. 5, 2000 after Slobodan Milosevic clumsily tried to steal what turned out to be his final election and found himself overwhelmed by popular outrage on the streets of Belgrade and international condemnation abroad. …