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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Albright Will Never Forget Heirs of Yalta

Madeleine Albright's first action as the new secretary of state was to bring in the portrait of her old boss, former U.S. senator and former secretary of state Ed Muskie. The twinkling grin of the craggy old Polish-American Democrat from the state of Maine now hangs in the plush sitting room of Albright's suite on the seventh floor of the State Department.


It was a reminder of her sense of loyalty to a handful of important men from East European stock who influenced her and advanced her career. One is Vaclav Havel, the president of the Czech Republic, who she has known since she was writing her Ph.D. thesis on the Czech media during the Prague Spring of 1968.


Another is her teacher and supervisor on that thesis, which she wrote at Columbia University, and later her boss at the National Security Council in President Jimmy Carter's White House, Zbigniew Brzezinski.


No one will ever begin to understand the moral urgency behind the current American policy of expanding NATO into Eastern Europe without realizing the role of America's own East Europeans.


Unlike Brzezinski and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Shalikashvili, Albright does not speak with any trace of accent. But she will never forget the shameful policies of appeasement of Adolf Hitler that saw Britain and France negotiate away her Czechoslovak homeland at the Munich conference in 1938, nor the way it fell again to Soviet power with the coup of 1948.


Last Friday evening, Albright threw a small party for old friends and colleagues to celebrate her confirmation by the U.S. Senate with the stunning vote of 99-0. It was held in the best-kept secret of Washington, the Ben Franklin rooms on the top floor of the State Department building.


From the outside, the giant shoe box of a building is too boring even to be called ugly. But once inside the concrete shell, the top floor is a jewel of 18th-century antiques and decor, with some of the grandest dining and reception rooms in Washington, and a vast ballroom that contains the world's largest carpet.


It was an extraordinarily good-humored and affectionate occasion, with the new secretary of state joking to the new defense secretary that, "I'll only ask you for American troops when it's really necessary."


Amid the portraits and the 18th-century antiques, it became one of those evenings when the U.S. capital seems like a small village where everybody knows everybody else. There were toasts to the first woman to reach this eminence, and jokes about her refusal to sign a letter of resignation as UN ambassador until she was formally sworn in as secretary of state -- just in case anything went wrong. So determined was she not to be left unemployed if the Senate blocked her nomination, she finally signed the letter, but left it undated until the very last moment.


Behind all the good humor, there were two moments of pure steel, when she told us, "I believe in the possibility of a marriage of force and diplomacy," and when she made it clear that NATO expansion was going ahead. Czech-Americans and Polish-Americans and all the other heirs of Yalta are adamant that Eastern Europe will never be left out of the West again.