Standing For Freedom . Madeleing Albright
President Clinton’s key advisers could hardly believe their ears when Madeleine K. Albright put it straight to tough guy Russian Foreign Minister Primakov.
Tense negotiations were under way in the State Department conference room. Primakov was insisting that Moscow could not accept a NATO committed to the defense of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic---the very states forced into the Soviet empire 50 years ago.
Fixing her eyes on his, Albright said firmly, “Neither the President nor I will allow the security or the rights of the Eastern European states to be bargained away.
Primakov, the former chief of the Russian foreign intelligence service, had no answer for such simple yet resolute words that left no diplomatic wiggle room.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright may look like a pleasantly rumbled housewife, eyes round and bright as full moons. But being an aide and security agent, she tools across the globe with the zeal of a super-saleswoman.
Her consuming wok is to explain to Americans the puzzles of post- Cold War foreign policy when, as she told Reader’s Digest, we confront “not an enemy with a face,” but huge problems such as international terrorism and nuclear proliferation.
Albright is particularly well-suited to the job., Certainly on American Secretary of State in history could approach her personal experiences: a family run out of Prague, Czechoslovakia, first by Adolf Hitler, then by Joseph Stalin. Those dreadful events set her far apart from the rest of Clinton’s national security staffers – many of them postwar baby boomers whose views of the world were formed during the counterculture protests of the Vietnam War. Albright’s own life has taught her the meaning of freedom, the importance of national security --- and the vital role the United States plays in restoring the world to order.
She was born on May 15, 1937, in Prague to Jewish parents. Shortly after Hitler arrived in Prague in March 1939, her father, Josef Korbel, a Czech diplomat, escaped with his wife and two-year-old daughter to a basement apartment in London, The city was soon in the middle of the Nazi blitz. “I spent huge portions of my life in air-raid shelters, singing ‘A Hundred GREen Bottles Hanging on the Wall,’” Abright said.
Soon the family moved to Walton-on-Thames, where “they had just invented some kind of steel table” Albright says. “If your house was bombed and you were under the table, you would survive. We ate on the table, slept under the table and played around the table.”
While her father worked against Hitler in Czechoslovakia’s government-in-exile, six-year-old Madeleine went to school. A 1943 report card described her as a “ quick and lively” student who “ learns easily and remembers well.” Her grades were solid----except for one surprisingly low grade in geography.
Abright was baptized and raised a Roman Catholic. She insists she was unaware of her Jewish background until recently, when Washington Post reporter Michael Dobbs disclosed the truth of her heritage. Albright learned that her grandparents and several other relatives had perished in the Holocaust.
How could she not have known? “Perhaps, when the truth about her family began to appear,” wrote Philip Taubman in the New York Times, “Albright thought it too late and too painful to dismantle the world her parents had constructed and she had preserved for herself and her children.”
Now she has to expand NATO, walk the tight line of engagement with China and persuade American taxpayers that keeping the world safe does not come cheap. That’s a tall order, but Madeleine Albright has made an auspicious start.