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A Champion of Democracy or a Killer?

Albright was the face of US foreign policy in the decade between the end of the Cold War and the war on terror triggered by the September 11, 2001, attacks, an era heralded by President George H.W. Bush as a “new world order.” The US, particularly in Iraq and the Balkans, built international coalitions and occasionally intervened militarily to roll back autocratic regimes, and Albright — a self-identified “pragmatic idealist” who coined the term “assertive multilateralism” to describe the Clinton administration’s foreign policy — drew from her experience growing up in a family that fled the Nazis and communists in mid-20th century Europe to shape her worldview.

Brief Profile
Madeleine Albright was born Marie Jana Korbelova in Prague on May 15, 1937, the oldest of three children of Josef and Anna (Speeglova) Korbel. Her father was a press attaché in the Czech Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, and had worked for Czechoslovakia’s first democratic president, Tomas G. Masaryk, who retired in 1935, and his successor, Edvard Benes’s government-in-exile. After the war, Korbel became the Czech ambassador to Yugoslavia, and his family joined him in Belgrade. When Communists seized power in Prague in 1948, he was forced to resign. He joined a United Nations commission and sent his family first to London and then on to America.

Ms. Albright reached the United States in 1948, the same year her family applied for political asylum, arguing that they were unable to return home as opponents of their country’s communist regime.

At the Kent School for Girls, Madeleine Korbel founded an international relations club and graduated in 1955. At Wellesley College, she studied political science and graduated with honors in 1959. She became an American citizen in 1957. In 1959, she married Joseph Medill Patterson Albright and converted to Episcopalianism.

Entry into Politics
She got into politics in 1972, raising funds for the losing presidential campaign of Senator Edmund Muskie of Maine, a family friend, who named her his legislative aide. After Jimmy Carter’s 1976 presidential victory, Zbigniew Brzezinski became National Security Adviser and recruited his former Columbia student, Ms. Albright, as congressional liaison for Carter’s National Security Council.

Ms. Albright rose to power and fame as a brilliant analyst of world affairs and a White House counselor on national security. Under President Bill Clinton, she became the country’s representative to the United Nations (1993-97) and Secretary of State (1997-2001), making her the highest-ranking woman in the history of American government at the time.

As a diplomat, Albright helped shape the post-Soviet world during the Clinton administration, employing what she called “pragmatic idealism” to navigate uncharted geopolitical waters. That included, at times, an aggressive foreign policy that used US military might — in places like Iraq and the Balkans — when diplomacy failed.

The Nato bombing campaigns in the former Yugoslav states helped define a post-Soviet role for the Western alliance at a time when Nato’s future was very much in doubt.

Albright was also a champion of Nato expansion, overseeing the addition of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic in 1999 — a move whose repercussions are being keenly felt today.

Her greatest regret
At the time when Albright was representing the US at the United Nations, the Clinton administration, haunted by the military fiasco in Somalia a year earlier, argued for withdrawing the majority of UN troops from the country in the early days of the genocide. Thus the US, like most other member states, held back from aiding a small force of UN peacekeepers when Rwanda descended into genocide and rape in 1994 which resulted in planned slaughter of primarily ethnic Tutsis, as well as some moderate Hutus by Hutu extremists. As many as a million people were killed. Years later, Albright would call it her “greatest regret from that time.”

The killer of Iraqi children
However, the memory of Albright will forever be tainted by the stringent sanctions she helped place on Iraq at a time when the country was devastated by years of war. Millions of innocent Iraqis suffered terribly and hundreds of thousands died because of the sanctions which, in the end, achieved almost none of Washington’s policy objectives.

In an iconic interview she gave to CBS 60 Minutes in 1996, veteran journalist Lesley Stahl questioned Albright – then the US ambassador to the United Nations – on the catastrophic effect the rigorous US sanctions imposed after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait had on the Iraqi population. Stahl asked: “We have heard that half a million [Iraqi] children have died. I mean, that is more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?”

Ms. Albright answered: “I think that is a very hard choice but the price, we think, the price is worth it.”

With this response, Albright showed that she sees innocent Iraqi children as nothing more than disposable fodder in a conflict between the US administration and the Iraqi leadership.

After the demise of political figures, their troubling histories are often whitewashed in the name of respecting their memories and the feelings of their families. The passing of former United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has been no exception. Although Western media responded to the news of her death with a plethora of obituaries eulogising her achievements yet it is true that history never forgives and she will be remembered for her policy decisions that devastated the lives of millions of Iraqis and killed many thousands.

The writer is a student at UMT, Lahore.

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