Madeleine Albright's Milder Side

Article excerpt

The greater part of the excitement at Wednesday's confirmation hearing for secretary of state-designate Madeleine Albright was actually not provided by Mrs. Albright or by any of the senators on the panel. It came from the spectator stands where one protester after another stood up to yell about U.N. sanctions against Iraq. Once they were ejected from the committee room, Sen. Jesse Helms waving them goodbye, there was not exactly a whole lot of drama involved. For those looking for a romantic moment, there was the ground-breaking kiss between the incoming and the outgoing U.S. secretaries of state. There's one for the annals of American history (even if it would be old hat in France).

By the looks of it, one could be forgiven for thinking that we will see a more bipartisan foreign policy over the next four years. Whether that's indeed the case remains to be seen. In certain areas, Mrs. Albright's reassuring statements seemed at odds with administration policy. She talked a good game, but her answers were often a bit vague - and, one would have to say, the gentlemanly senators (in Diane Feinstein's case gentlewomanly) chose not to press her very hard on the specifics.

On State Department reform, Mrs. Albright pushed all the right buttons by promising to keep an open mind on Mr. Helms' reorganization plan. This was a smart move, given that reorganization has been a bone of bitter contention between the White House and Mr. Helms for several years now. Mrs. Albright made an eloquent pitch for increasing the U.S. budget for foreign affairs. Could anyone not be impressed by the fact that the U.S. Ambassador to Moldova has to wash her dishes in the bath tub? Thirty Embassies and consulates have been closed, and 2,000 State Department employees laid off, she noted. Enough is enough. This is actually a compelling argument for Mr. Helms' plan for a vertical reorganization. It will make current budget go farther, and might even incline Mr. Helms to ease the purse strings a bit. Mrs. Albright would do well to keep her mind open on the subject.

On the question of "assertive multilateralism," a phrase often attributed to Mrs. Albright herself, she was very brief and simply referred to the model of the Gulf War coalition. She also promised never to coin another -ism, which is probably good in general, and especially given the commotion caused by this one. But - was that really all there was to assertive multilateralism? Back in early 1993, it surely seemed like there was a lot more, as the Clinton administration pondered the ways in which U. …