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Madeleine Albright

As a young girl Madeline Albright fled Czechoslovakia with her parents as the Nazis approached.

By JANE AMMESON

Foreign policy is personal for Madeleine Albright, the 64th secretary of state and the first woman in U.S. history to hold that position. As a young girl Maria Jana Korbel fled Czechoslovakia with her parents as the Nazis approached. It was a move that probably saved her life--her grandparents died in a concentration camp. Years later, after receiving a Ph.D. from Columbia University's Department of Public Law and Government, Korbel, now known as Madeleine Albright, says "My whole life has been tied up with foreign policy. I saw the suffering people endured because the United States didn't get involved at first during World War II and how quickly things changed when they did. I am very grateful that I live in the United States."

Though Albright, secretary of state under President Bill Clinton from 1997 to 2001, believes in a pro-active foreign policy, but says she disagrees with the current administration's way of dealing with other countries.

"We have lost our moral authority," says Albright, who speaks six languages. "People are afraid of us.?But in protecting our society we can't become like them. The moral authority of a country is very important, and if you lose it, it's very hard work getting it back. It's going to take an active set of policies to try to reverse what is going on now, and it's absolutely essential that the U.S. administration listen to what other countries are saying and not just dismiss it as being anti-American. We don't have to win popularity contests, but we do need to be respected. I can't tell you how much damage the whole torture issue has done. I wasn't born here, and for me to have the opportunity to be secretary and represent this country was the highest conceivable honor. It's truly painful when I go abroad now to participate in conferences to have people be so terribly critical of America and not understand what a special country we are when they see us basically involved in things that undermine our value system."

Besides winning back global good will, Albright also sees a need for a positive resolution in Iraq--a goal we are still well short of achieving, she says.

"This administration has a tendency to count its chickens before they are hatched," she says. "It's quite remarkable what the Iraqi people did in terms of getting out to vote, but one of the things that I know so well from my work in democratization is elections are just the very first part of the process. Democracy is an ongoing process. Iraq is clearly a country with different ethnic groups and factions within it, and trying to get them to agree is very difficult."

Albright is chairman of the board for the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, an organization that is offering various tools to help Iraqis achieve democracy, including assisting them in understanding that power has to be shared--a difficult concept for even the most developed of countries.

"I have said about this war that it was a war of choice not of necessity," says Albright. "But getting it right is a necessity and not a choice. And the hard part here is that the U.S. presence is both the problem and the solution because Iraq is not yet capable of either running themselves or providing their own security, and yet the continued American presence is a magnet for the insurgency. It has also at some stage become a support system. It's like a trapeze and they are not sure yet that there will be somebody on the other side if they jump."

With a foreign policy that has lately focused predominately on the Middle East, many struggling countries elsewhere have been overlooked, Albright says.

"I think that what has happened in the last four or five years is that Africa has become the forgotten continent," she says. "We have concentrated so much on dealing first with Afghanistan and now Iraq that there really has not been enough attention paid to Africa, where there are boundary and internal disputes within the countries, horrors of HIV and AIDS, lots of refugees from previous encounters and unresolved disputes or disputes that have been resolved on paper but not on the ground. There is a lot to be done, and it's a mixture of things. Attention must be paid. You can't just ignore that many people. More needs to be done in assistance, more needs to be done in terms of trade opportunities, and more has to be done in terms of supporting peace-keeping operations--it can't just be a continent that we write off while we're paying attention to other parts of the world.

"Africa is put in the 'it's too hard to do category,' which we can't do," continues Albright, who recently wrote about her foreign policy experiences in Madame Secretary: A Memoir (Miramax Books). "If

people can only concentrate on fighting terrorism then they ought to understand that while we're not ever quite clear what causes terrorists, some of it has to do with poverty, lack of dignity and lack of opportunity, and that is certainly something that is very clear in Africa. Everything has to be put into that particular framework."

Despite her busy schedule, Albright still finds time for writing. She is at work on two other books, including one on her brooches. Albright often coordinated her decorative pins with the event. After Saddam Hussein called her a snake, she made sure that the next time she met him she had one pinned to her suit.

"When we discovered a Russian bug in the State Department I wore a huge bug to a meeting with the Russians," she says, proving that being a foreign policy geek doesn't make one dull. "And when I was talking about the antiballistic missile treaty with the Russian foreign minister [I wore] a pin somebody had given me that looked like a little rocket. The minister said, 'So is that one of your interceptors?' and I said, 'Yes, it is, and we make them very small.'"

Albright says she enjoys when business brings her to Chicago--where she once lived. Her ex-husband, Joseph Albright, was the grandson of Joseph Medill, the owner and publisher of the Chicago Tribune (Albright's daughter's name is Katherine Medill Albright). Her father-in-law was the well-known painter Ivan Albright.

"When I first met all of them," she says about her in-laws, "I was having dinner at their house on East Division Street. In the dining room they had a painting of the Temptations of St. Anthony, which had all these grizzly worms and stuff crawling around, and I thought, this is not so good in the dining room."

When Albright and her husband were first married she worked for Encyclopaedia Britannica in Chicago.

"I was in Chicago in 1960, and my first vote in Chicago was for John Kennedy," she says. Albright, who also teaches at Georgetown University, finds time to knit, be with her grandchildren, exercise, read and shop.

"I call it retail therapy," she says with a laugh. "As I travel to various cities their economic level rises."

Published: June 01, 2005
Issue: Summer 2005

Comments

Madeleine Albright said that killing half a million Iraqi childr
This is puff piece. Are Jane Ammeson and her editor unaware of Madeleine Albright's bloody hands? As Clinton's Secretary of State, Albright helped enforce the U.S.-led "Sanctions of Mass Destruction" against the population of Iraq. When asked in a 1996 interview by CBS reporter Leslie Stahl if the killing of half a million Iraqi children was worth the U.S. policy objectives, Albright said yes, the price was worth it. More here... /index.php?page=1084> Is it the role of Chicago Life to glorify and flatter powerful government officials? Isn't that what press releases are for?
A reader with higher expectations for Chicago Life, Oct-23-2009
'We Think the Price Is Worth It'
I'll try re-posting the above link because it did not come through correctly the first time... http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=1084 If that still doesn't work, try this... www(dot)fair(dot)org/index.php?page=1084 Thank you.
A reader with higher expectations for Chicago Life, Oct-23-2009