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Late Thursday evening Albright and her crew reunited with the President, who had been visiting refugees in Germany, for the flight home on Air Force One. Relaxing in a Shetland sweater in his airborne office, Clinton describes Kosovo as an example of a policy in which America's values and its interests are intertwined. "It's to our advantage to have a Europe that is peaceful and prosperous. And there is the compelling humanitarian case: if the U.S. walks away from an atrocity like this where we can have an impact, then these types of situations will spread. The world is full of ethnic struggles, from Ireland to the Middle East to the Balkans. If we can convince people to bridge these tensions, we've served our interests as well as our values."
Although he allows that U.N. mediators "might play a useful role if they continue to adhere to NATO's principles," Clinton expresses more enthusiasm for allowing the Russians to be the lead negotiators with Belgrade. "This situation has led to the rise of nationalism in Russia and caused them to drift away from the West. The best outcome would be if Moscow helps get a good settlement that brings the Russians back into the international mainstream and closer to us. The U.N. should not undermine Russia's role."
Although Clinton appreciates Albright, they have not become close pals. She still resents that he allowed her to go before cameras early in the Lewinsky scandal and proclaim his innocence. Asked if he owes her a public apology, if he has anything to say about that, the President stares coldly for a few seconds and his face hardens. "No." Long pause. "No. I have nothing to say on that." He is more expansive on the personal qualities she brings to her role. "She not only learned the lessons of Munich, but also of Czechoslovakia under communism."
Indeed, Kosovo has illustrated how much Albright's outlook and style are rooted in her personal history. Her father, the wartime Czechoslovak diplomat Josef Korbel, was witty and gregarious, with a knack for survival. Madeleine, who as a child spent two lonely years in Belgrade when he was ambassador there, developed an instinctive antipathy toward thugs. As TIME's Ann Blackman explains in her Albright biography, Seasons of Her Life (Scribner), she mirrors him: she has a deep reservoir of intelligence and wit, but sometimes seems to wear blinders to protect her from things that clash with her self-image. For example, for years she almost willfully hid from herself, as her father had hidden from her, evidence that her family was Jewish and that many perished in the Holocaust.
People generally come out of such experiences in one of two ways. Some, like Albright, develop an aggressive moralism and idealism, pledging "never again" to let the world turn a blind eye to atrocities. Others--Henry Kissinger, another refugee from the Nazis, is an example--become hardened realists with a fingertip feel for the nuances of power, a vision of how interests clash on the world stage and a disdain for what they view as sentimental impulses and ideological fervor.
Albright does not have Kissinger's ability (or desire) to conceptualize overarching strategic frameworks and analyze how an action in one corner can ripple around the world as through a spider web. Nor does she excel at the cautious contingency planning that marked, and sometimes paralyzed, many of the corporate lawyers--Cyrus Vance, James Baker, Warren Christopher--who once held her job. Consequently, she urged intervention in Kosovo without worrying too much about either the geostrategic ramifications (how it would affect Russia, China, Macedonia, Greece, et al.) or about game planning all the contingencies (how to cope with a horrific tide of refugees and be ready to use ground troops if Milosevic was defiant).
The most scathing recent criticism along these lines was particularly painful. Peter Krogh, who had been her close friend and mentor when he was dean of Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service during her tenure there, wrote two weeks ago in the Wall Street Journal, "I cannot recall a time when our foreign policy was in less competent hands." The bombing of Iraq has only entrenched Saddam Hussein's power. The bombing of Serbia has likewise entrenched Milosevic and contributed to a refugee debacle. To make matters worse, these involvements have come at the expense of America's primary strategic interests: integrating Russia and China into the international system.