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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Life Has Proven Albright's Mettle

WASHINGTON -- Last March, as she toured the ruined Croatian city of Vukovar, Madeleine Albright suddenly found herself the target of an angry Serbian mob. As protesters yelled obscenities at her and chanted "This is Serbia,'' the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations retreated slowly to her bus, with a grim smile on her face. Her motorcade drove off in a hail of stones.


"I think it is time to go,'' she murmured to an aide.


The incident in Vukovar, which was captured by Serbian forces in 1991 and will soon be returned to Croatia, illustrates several points about the 59-year-old woman U.S. President Bill Clinton named Thursday as his secretary of state.


The first is the notoriety she has earned around the world as a result of her service at the UN. There are very few other members of Clinton's Cabinet who would immediately be recognized by a crowd of angry Serbs in an obscure Balkan town and attacked with stones.


The second point is her ability to conduct herself with aplomb in a difficult and potentially dangerous situation. Confronted by the mob, Albright urged her aides to walk with dignity.


The third point was that she was the only member of her party who understood what the Serbian demonstrators were yelling. "Kucko, kucko'' -- "Bitch, bitch.''


As the daughter of a Czech diplomat, who was forced into exile following the German occupation in 1938, Albright spent part of her childhood in Belgrade. In addition to her fluent Czech, French and Russian, she also understands some Serbian. The experience of fleeing her country not once, but twice -- the second time was in 1948, after Communists staged a coup -- has helped to mold her foreign policy philosophy.


Albright's experience with Nazi and later Communist tyranny helps explain the strong emphasis that she has placed on human rights as U.S. ambassador to the UN. Within the Clinton administration, she was one of the leading advocates of using force in Bosnia to end the three-year war. In her acceptance remarks Thursday, she described America as "the world's indispensable nation'' and expressed allegiance to the "core values of democracy and respect for human dignity.''


Entering Democratic Party politics as a campaign volunteer in the early 1970s, she built a career that made her one of the stars of the Washington foreign policy establishment.


Albright got her first real taste of high-level politics in 1976, when she became chief legislative assistant to Senator Edward Muskie. Two years later, she joined the Carter administration as a proteg?e of National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who had supervised her Ph.D. thesis on the role of the press in the 1968 Czechoslovak democracy movement known as "The Prague Spring.''


From 1982 to 1983, Albright served as professor of foreign policy at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. Her personal life was troubled by her 1982 divorce from journalist Joseph Albright, heir to a major newspaper chain. Left with a generous settlement that included a town house in Georgetown, however, Albright hosted dinners for leading foreign policy thinkers.


In the Clinton administration, Albright has stood out because of her ability to make a point in brief, pithy sentences, and often undiplomatically earthy terms -- what some call "sound bite diplomacy.''


Typical was Albright's performance last February when she successfully shepherded a resolution through the Security Council censuring Cuba for the shooting down of two unarmed planes manned by Cuban exiles. She noted that a Cuban jet fighter pilot who fired a missile into the civilian plane had bragged of shooting in the cojones -- Spanish for "testicles.''


"Frankly, this is not cojones; this is cowardice,'' Albright told the council.


The remark was greeted with outrage by the predominantly male diplomats at the United Nations, but it went down well with Clinton who called it "probably the most effective one-liner in the whole administration's foreign policy.''