My Favorite Mistake

Article excerpt

Byline: Madeleine Albright

Madeleine Albright on the time she stuck it to Putin.

When I was America's biggest diplomat, I made a really bad mistake. This is how it happened.

In 1999, President Clinton, Defense Secretary William Cohen, and I were in a room together, celebrating the 50th anniversary of NATO. It was a completely accidental thing; we were just sitting and joking around, and we pretended to be the "See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil" monkeys. I then decided to go out and buy three monkey pins. A year later, President Clinton and I were going to Moscow for a summit. I was appalled at the brutality of Russian military actions in Chechnya. I thought they were evil. So I wore the three monkey pins to our meeting with President Vladimir Putin.

I began wearing pins to signal my mood when I was ambassador to the United Nations. We had sanctions on Iraq then, and I was instructed to keep saying terrible things about Saddam Hussein. In response, he published a poem in the newspaper comparing me to an unparalleled serpent. I had a snake pin, so I decided to wear it. When the press asked me why I was wearing the pin, I said, "Because Saddam Hussein compared me to an unparalleled serpent. …