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The first woman Secretary of State is one tough cookie

By Jonathan Broder
Published December 5, 1996 8:00PM (EST)

WASHINGTON -- If there is one moment that defines Madeleine Albright's persona as a diplomat, it is the time last June when she stood before the United Nations General Assembly and assailed Cuba for shooting down a civilian plane piloted by anti-Castro activists. Using the vulgar Spanish anatomical term that means both "machismo" and "balls," the matronly U.N. ambassador fumed: "That wasn't cojones; that was cowardice."

The remark was vintage Albright: direct, pugnacious and eminently quotable. And with her nomination today to become President Clinton's new Secretary of State, the foreign policy establishment is expecting the 59-year-old Albright to transfer that sharper, more combative edge to Washington as she moves to center stage in the stewardship of American diplomacy.

Albright, assuming she is confirmed, would be the first women to hold America's top diplomatic post. But those who know her caution against any assumptions that her femininity will mean a softer, touchy-feely diplomatic style if the Senate approves her nomination. "She's one tough cookie," says an associate who works with Albright at the United Nations. "Just ask Colin Powell if she's a pushover."

The associate was referring to now-legendary confrontations between Albright, who had cabinet rank as U.N. ambassador, and Gen. Powell early on in the Clinton administration, when the president agonized over the use of American military force in Bosnia. At one cabinet meeting, Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, argued against it. Albright, who supported the use of force, reportedly asked Powell: "Since you have a splendid military, why are you afraid to use it?"

Powell was said to have been offended by Albright's remarks, but when U.S. air strikes eventually drove the Serbs to the Dayton talks, where a Bosnia peace accord was concluded, observers felt Albright's pro-interventionism had been vindicated.

The incident also points up Albright's mastery of an art in which her predecessor, Warren Christopher was notably weak: the sound bite. It was Albright who coined the term "assertive multilateralism," to describe the U.S. military's participation in United Nations forces in hot spots around the world. It was a catchy, attractive concept that announced a policy in which American muscle would be judiciously applied within a larger international coalition, rather than alone.

Such a policy, Albright proudly notes, has worked so far in Bosnia, where U.S. troops have been on the ground as part of a larger multinational force for a year and where U.S. troops will remain as part of a follow-on force for the next 18 months. However, Albright's multilateralism failed miserably in Somalia, where 30 U.S. soldiers were killed by the gunmen of a local warlord. Eventually, American troops pulled out of Somalia, and Albright hasn't used the term since.

"She'll be very good at the public side of the job," says Richard Haas, a former National Security Council aide during the Bush administration and now the director of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution. "She's very effective testifying before Congress and she's effective on television."

But her critics say Albright brings a major weakness to the post: the lack of any strategic vision. "She's doesn't represent any foreign policy perspective," Haas notes. "So the danger is that this administration could end up still being inconsistent and reactive in its foreign policy."

Another of Albright's weaknesses, critics say, is her lack of experience in international trade issues, the one foreign policy area where the Clinton administration has excelled. Clinton has been especially aggressive in getting Japan to open its markets, and Albright will need to be able to argue and articulate the president's trade policy if it is to be equally successful in his second term.

Albright's nomination reflects the growing power of women's groups, who claim the support of women in last November's election was the prime factor behind President Clinton's reelection. Also in Albright's corner was Vice President Al Gore, who argued that having her as secretary of state would improve his own chances for winning the presidency four years from now.

But other observers say Albright got the job largely because she simply didn't have any many negatives as the other candidates for the post. These included former Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia and former Democratic Sen. George Mitchell.

"Holbrooke was too forceful and difficult to work with, Mitchell was too partisan and not sufficiently knowledgeable, and Nunn was too independent," Haas said. "Madeleine's a team player. I just hope it's not going be four more years of the same policies."

The diplomatic challenges facing Albright are immense. In addition to the immediate problems of peacekeeping in Bosnia, Albright, who fled the communist takeover of Czechoslovakia as a child with her family, holds hawkish views favoring the expansion of NATO, an issue that has caused major tension with Russia. She must also deal with increasingly precarious relations with China over issues ranging from trade to human rights to China's military expansionism in the Pacific.

In the Middle East, the peace process between Israel and its Arab neighbors has faltered since the election last spring of conservative Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Even an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank town of Hebron, which is anticipated to take place soon, will not diminish the need for U.S. leadership to achieve a comprehensive peace settlement in the region.

Albright also will preside over what is shaping up to be a major overhaul of U.S. policy toward Iran. Until now, Washington has favored the "dual containment" of both Iraq and Iran. But with America's European allies ignoring Washington's calls for a boycott of Iran, some administration officials are said to favor a carrot-as-well-as-stick approach to Iran. According to those familiar with a high-level policy review, one carrot would be the removal of U.S. opposition to the construction of pipelines across Iran that would carry oil and natural gas from the Caucasus to Europe.

If such a policy is adopted, Albright is all but certain to run into a buzzsaw of opposition from a number of Republican lawmakers, particularly Sen. Alphonse D'Amato, R-N.Y., who authored legislation that imposes a secondary boycott on any foreign company that does business with Iran. Any warming of the administration's approach toward Iran also is likely to anger Israel's powerful allies on Capitol Hill, who view the revolutionary Islamic regime as the source of all terror and anti-Israeli actions throughout the world.

"If I were her, I would think twice before I start changing policy toward Iran," one pro-Israel lobbyist said.

Jonathan Broder is a frequent contributor to Salon. He is a senior editor for the weekend edition of "All Things Considered" and Washington correspondent for The Jerusalem Report.

The beginning of the end for Milosevic?

The ghost of democracy could finally emerge from dictatorship in the former Yugoslavia

By Eric D. Gordy

After two weeks of intense struggle, the balance of power may be shifting away from Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to the people in the streets. Anti-government demonstrations, despite radio station shut-downs and threats of violent confrontations, have not abated. In a sign of possible retreat, Milosevic on Tuesday fired the Socialist mayor in the industrial town of Nis and has pledged not to use force against demonstrators.

This time, democracy may finally come to life in Serbia.

Five years ago, massive anti-government demonstrations in Belgrade fizzled out without achieving any concrete results. That's not about to happen this time around. With or without a crackdown by the military and police, key facts are working in favor of the anti-Milosevic forces.

Most importantly, the opposition has finally got it "Together." For the first time, the "Zajedno" ("Together") coalition won majorities in the Nov. 17 municipal elections in every major city in Serbia, including such Milosevic strongholds as Nis, before the regime annulled the results. The 1991 and 1992 protests were limited to the capital, Belgrade, where the Milosevic regime has always been unpopular. But since the annulment of the election results, there have been protests in almost every city in Serbia.

The coalition brings together -- as members or sympathizers -- every major party except Milosevic's own, with the largest independent trade union thrown in for good measure. By putting aside the rivalries that have discredited it in the past, the "Together" coalition can now present itself as a democratic alternative. And the blatant overturning of the election results only burnished the opposition cause. Even those who are reluctant to support any particular opposition party resent the regime's illegal behavior.

In the past, Milosevic was able to neutralize popular discontent by appeals to Serbian nationalism. But defeat in the wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina have brought isolation and refugees rather than pride and conquest. They have also brought international economic sanctions, 50 percent unemployment, and wages well below a minimum subsistence level. As a result, Nenad Stefanovit writes in Serbia's still-uncensored weekly Vreme, "Serbian workers are taking to the streets more as workers, and less as Serbians."

Nor can Milosevic any longer count on the army and police. In 1991, army commanders were easily persuaded that a threat to Yugoslavia was at hand, and stood foursquare against the protests. Since then the army has been shaken by a devastating war and by repeated purges of its officer corps. Today's military is made up principally of those unwilling recruits who could not find a way to escape military service. Their loyalty to the regime is far from secure.

The massively expanded police forces draw heavily on refugees from Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Their families have also been victims of the war, and are likely to resent Milosevic's failure to make good on his promise to protect them. The older corps of professional police feel that by politicizing the police forces, the regime has prevented them from carrying out their work.

At the same time, Milosevic has alienated his civilian base. Pensioners and unskilled workers, among the strongest backers of the regime in past elections, have seen their living standard fall dramatically, and many are now joining the protests.

It is impossible to predict the outcome of the protests. But these demonstrations, the largest and most important Serbia has ever seen, have exposed the regime's weakness. There are reports that Milosevic has fired his information minister, Aleksandar Tijanic, and the editor of the state-run daily Politika Expres. More sackings and concessions can be expected.

"The rescue operation is under way," a Serbian political analyst was quoted by Reuters today. "But the damage may be beyond repair."

) Pacific News Service

Eric D. Gordy is a sociologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who specializes in the former Yugoslavia. He has lived in Belgrade for much of the last five years.

Quote of the day

Marriage, Korean style

"I was married at 28, and I'm 52 now. How could I have been married all these years and not beaten my wife?"

-- Lee Un Kee, who owns a rice paddy in the village of Punsooilai, South Korea. (From "Do Korean Men Still Beat Their Wives? Definitely," in Thursday's New York Times)

Jonathan Broder

Jonathan Broder is Salon's Washington correspondent.

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