ALBRIGHT ALL DIMMED
Reactions to the death of former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright spanned the whole gamut, from “rest in power slay queen!” to “good riddance war criminal”. Here at the DDP, we aim to strike a balance where we can. Born in Czechoslovakia, her family escaped to the US during WWII because of their Jewish background (a diplomat’s daughter, she was taught for decades that the reason they fled was instead political). She worked up the Democratic ladder in the 70s, working as an assistant to figures such as Maine Senator Edmund Muskie and Scrabble darling Zbigniew Brzezinski. She achieved wider recognition both in the US and on the world stage after a freshly-inaugurated Bill Clinton selected her for the US Ambassador to the United Nations.
Her diplomatic approach came to light during her UN stint – a tough voice against authoritarianism coloured by a love of wearing symbolic pins and a belief in American exceptionalism, with a desire to increase US muscle in UN military operations where necessary. The post-Cold War, Boutros Boutros-Ghali era was a turbulent time for the UN, with inaction against the Rwandan genocide one of the darkest hours of the organisation and the biggest lament of Albright’s career. On the flipside, she was the first to raise to the UN’s attention evidence of genocide in Srebrenica during the Bosnian War, for which she remains a hero in Bosnia. Her relationship with Boutros-Ghali was fractious, with lingering bitterness from both Rwanda and the deaths of US peacekeepers during the Battle of Mogadishu. Alongside other US diplomats, she scuppered Boutros-Ghali’s run for a second term as UN Secretary General, a manoeuvre that impressed Bubba and put her in a strong position to replace the outgoing Warren Christopher as Secretary of State.
As the first female SoS, Albright’s time in the post was noted for her advocacy of NATO, which came most forcefully in light of the Serbian ethnic cleansing of Albanians in Kosovo. The 11-week NATO bombing campaign achieved its goal of halting Milosevic’s evils, and both its supporters and detractors associated the bombings heavily with Albright. Albright is now a venerated figure in Kosovo, where a statue of her stands in its capital, while opponents who questioned conducting the bombings without proper UN approval disparagingly dubbed it “Madeleine’s War”. She also attempted to negotiate some of the world’s most perennially thorny disputes, including peace talks between Israel and Palestine as well as attempts to end the North Korean nuclear programme. She tried, but I probably don’t need to tell you whether or not any of them were successful.
Albright’s lesser legacies were not aided by the callous comments she sometimes made. Her support of preexisting sanctions on Iraq during the Gulf War is best remembered by a justly-skewered 60 Minutes response where she said the price of half a million children’s lives was ultimately worth it. Although it turns out that the statistics were fabricated (years later, it was uncovered that child mortality didn’t substantially worsen in Iraq during its sanctions), and Albright eventually apologised, ordinary Iraqis still suffered under the sanctions and there’s no sidestepping that her initial response was equal parts cold and stupid. Likewise, tartly stating during the 2016 primaries that “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other” might’ve not been the most apt phrasing for women who were tired of the Democratic establishment forcing Hillary Clinton on people the way parents force their children to eat broccoli…
Madeleine Albright was still in the public eye, appearing at SoS successor Colin Powell’s funeral last November and writing an article lambasting Putin just last month, and so her death at 84 of cancer came as a surprise to many. No matter what you think of her complicated legacy, there’s no denying that the McDonald’s flag at Guantanamo Bay being flown at half-mast in her memory is fucking bizarre. She was a unique hit for as-it-says-on-the-tin theme MAGA Hit List.
15 May 1937 – 23 March 2022, aged 84
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