The Lady Is a Hawk

By Cooper, Matthew | Newsweek, December 16, 1996 | Go to article overview

The Lady Is a Hawk


Cooper, Matthew, Newsweek


What makes Madeleine Albright so tough? She was tempered by a refugee childhood, a painful divorce and the Beltway's hardball politics. Now she's facing her greatest test.

IT WAS SPRINGTIME IN CONNECTICUT. IN MAY 1993 Madeleine Albright had come up from New York City to suburban Stamford to visit her new grandson at the home of her daughter Alice. As Albright held the child in her arms, the phone rang. It was, of all people, Boutros Boutros-Ghali. So with one arm she cradled the newborn, with the other she cradled a phone connecting her to the secretary-general of the United Nations. "It was quite a balancing act" recalls her daughter Anne. It's hard to imagine Warren Christopher or Henry Kissinger mixing diapers and diplomacy. But with Albright's nomination to be secretary of state, Bill Clinton made a decision that reverberates not only in the elite world of capitals and communiques but in the larger culture as well. Another all-male bastion has fallen.

Ironically, it would be hard to find a less likely revolutionary than Madeleine Korbel Albright. Though Albright's gender is pathbreaking, her views are in the activist mainstream of American diplomacy. Indeed, Clinton has said he was less concerned with revolution and more with a "team" approach to his cabinet. Albright is a team player, yes, but she's hawkish and willing to use her elbows--with world powers and in the Beltway. Most of all, though, Albright is a survivor--of a childhood fleeing Hitler and communism, of a devastating divorce, of a rise through the male-dominated foreign-policy establishment. Now the question is whether this tough-minded woman can endure at the top of Foggy Bottom. One way she'll cope, and conduct policy, is through pithy sound bites. On the day of her appointment, she joked of Christopher: "I hope my heels can fill his shoes."

Since the election, some wondered when Clinton would get around to filling Christopher's shoes--or anyone else's. Like a college student who keeps getting extensions on his term paper, the president kept putting off his selection of a national-security team, hoping to think about it just a wee bit longer. Finally, last week, in the middle of the annual black-tie Congressional Ball, outgoing chief of staff Leon Panetta got the call from Clinton: "I think I've come to a conclusion here." The fiftysomething line-up was familiar. Albright had been U.N. ambassador for four years. Samuel (Sandy) Berger rises from No. 2 to the top job at the National Security Council. Anthony Lake got the dubious honor of trying to bring order to the CIA. Only one new face was added-retiring GOP Sen. William Cohen of Maine, the most prominent across-theaisle appointment since JFK put two Republicans in his cabinet.

Albright survived a difficult sweepstakes. NEWSWEEK has learned that Al Gore favored veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke for the top job at State, although it was a point he pushed gingerly, and he liked Albright as well. (One insider said Albright and Holbrooke both told the president that if one of them couldn't have the job, the other should get it.) Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton favored Albright's ascension. The two Wellesley alumnae had traveled through Europe together earlier this year, and the First Lady, say insiders, found Holbrooke too headstrong. Still, he could emerge as U.N. ambassador--or as secretary of state if Albright were to falter.

For now, she's dearly having a honeymoon. Jesse Helms, the archconservative chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, lauded her. So did liberals, particularly the women's groups that had pushed for Albright's appointment. (Behind the scenes Albright allies had begged the feminists not to campaign for her, fearing it would backfire. "Don't turn her into a quota," said one aide.) In foreign capitals reactions varied. The Russians said they could do business with her. The Israelis cheered. In Asia, where Albright has little experience, leaders greeted the news with caution. …

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