When the Senate Foreign Relations Committee asked her in January 2007 whether she approved of Bush’s proposed “surge” in US troops in bloodied Iraq, she responded, “I think we need a surge in diplomacy. We are viewed in the Middle East as a colonial power, and our motives are suspect.”
Albright was an internationalist whose point of view was shaped in part by her background. Her family fled Czechoslovakia in 1939 as the Nazis took over their country, and she spent the war years in London.
As secretary of state, she played a key role in persuading Clinton to go to war against the Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic over his treatment of Kosovar Albanians in 1999. “My mindset is Munich,” she said frequently, referring to the German city where the Western allies abandoned her homeland to the Nazis.
She helped win Senate ratification of NATO’s expansion and a treaty imposing international restrictions on chemical weapons. She led a successful fight to keep Egyptian diplomat Boutros Boutros-Ghali from a second term as secretary-general of the United Nations. He accused her of deception and posing as a friend.
In her UN post, she advocated a tough US foreign policy, particularly in the case of Milosevic’s treatment of Bosnia. And she once exclaimed to Colin Powell, then the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?” Powell, who died last year, recalled in a memoir that Albright’s comments almost made him have an “aneurysm.”
“I am an eternal optimist,” Albright said in 1998, amid an effort as secretary of state to promote peace in the Middle East. But she said getting Israel to pull back on the West Bank and the Palestinians to rout terrorists posed serious problems.
As America’s top diplomat, Albright made limited progress at first in trying to expand the 1993 Oslo Accords that established the principle of self-rule for the Palestinians on the West Bank and in Gaza. But in 1998, she played a leading role in formulating the Wye Accords that turned over control of about 40 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinians.
She also spearheaded an ill-fated effort to negotiate a 2000 peace deal between Israel and Syria under Syria’s late President Hafez al-Assad. And she helped guide US foreign policy during conflicts in the Balkans and the Hutu-Tutsi genocide in Rwanda.
Born Marie Jana Korbel in Prague on May 15, 1937, she was the daughter of a diplomat, Joseph Korbel. The family was Jewish and converted to Roman Catholicism when she was 5. Three of her Jewish grandparents died in concentration camps.