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Madeleine Albright:
The Spiritual Patron Of The Disaster In Kosovo

Filed April 1, 1999

If victory has a hundred fathers but defeat is an orphan, it is now time to trace the lineage of the humanitarian and strategic catastrophe in Serbia to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

``She is the spiritual patron of this,'' Michael Dobbs told me. Dobbs, whose book on Albright will be released later this month, attributes her foreign policy thinking to her memories of the dismemberment of her homeland, Czechoslovakia, by the Nazis. ``My mindset is Munich,'' he quotes her saying. ``Most of my generation's is Vietnam. I saw what happened when a dictator was allowed to take over a piece of a country and the country went down the tubes.''

Twice during her childhood her family was forced to flee Czechoslovakia, once in 1939 following Hitler's annexation of the country and again in 1948 after the Communist government stripped her father -- who had been the Czech ambassador in Belgrade -- of his citizenship. ``Her personal history has taken over in Kosovo,'' a close former associate of Albright
told me. ``She has been waiting to get into this fight for a long time.''

The Balkans have always been Albright's special project. ``Sandy Berger handled China,'' said another associate. ``Strobe Talbott handled Russia, Dick Holbrooke handled Eastern Europe. In fact, one of the reasons for her animosity toward Holbrooke is territorial. He was meddling in her area.''

Ann Blackman, author of ``Seasons of Her Life,'' the first biography of Albright, writes that, as far back as 1993, Albright was asserting in a tough memo to President Clinton that ``America's stewardship of foreign policy would be measured by its success in the Balkans.'' Even the president commented on her persistence: ``She pushed, and she pushed, and she pushed,'' he said in 1998. ``She was always out there, and that made a big difference to me.''

By all accounts, that same doggedness carried the day with the administration when it decided to bomb Serbia. Albright first threatened Milosevic with bombs more than a year ago, saying the United States would not ``stand by and watch the Serbian authorities do in Kosovo what they can no longer get away with doing in Bosnia.'' This was starkly at odds with the role she played in 1994 when she urged the Security Council not to send U.N. reinforcements to Rwanda, even though more than
half a million people were being massacred.

On Kosovo, so determined was she that nothing would get in the way of military action that she asked Congress to cancel its March 11 debate on the subject, claiming that it could cause divisions within NATO. Everyone in Albright's circle is very conscious of how anxious she has been to have a victory to call her own. Instead, she now has a calamity to call her own.

``She has never been a strategic thinker,'' Blackman told me. ``She cannot see six moves ahead. She can only see the next move.'' So blinkered was her vision that all warnings by the CIA about Serbian retaliations were ignored. In fact, when the Italian prime minister asked the president what he would do if Milosevic countered the bombings by intensifying his attacks on the Kosovo Albanians, Clinton, flummoxed, turned to Sandy Berger. ``We will continue the bombing,'' the National Security Advisor replied.

This is, of course, the Albright Doctrine -- not only in Kosovo, but in Iraq, where intermittent bombings are still going on while the arms inspection system has collapsed and Saddam Hussein builds up his nuclear and chemical stockpiles. Undaunted by the failure of unsupported air campaigns, both in Iraq and throughout modern history, Albright seemed convinced that she could bomb Milosevic into signing her Rambouillet agreement. And now, she seems unwilling to acknowledge that the accord
that NATO went to war to impose has been rendered obsolete by the fact that the Kosovo it intended to protect no longer exists. ``Over 580,000 people have been either internally displaced or forced to flee,'' said Albright's spokesman James Rubin, contradicting his boss' delusional statement on ``Face the Nation'' last Sunday: ``To say that this has now backfired is just dead wrong.''

This obstinacy is one of Albright's weaknesses that former British Ambassador to the U.N. Sir John Weston addressed in a cable to London when she was nominated for secretary of State: ``She is not good at devising a detailed game plan for pursuing broad objectives .... There is a mildly irritating tendency to create a fixed position and then to look around for others to save her from the detailed consequences of it .... Her reactions to being exposed or brought under pressure from sudden turns of events are sometimes tetchy, verging on the panicky.'' If Albright is panicking right about now, is she looking to ground
troops to save her from the consequences of admitting defeat?

Two years and two months have passed between the glowing ``A Star Is Born'' headlines that greeted the confirmation of the first woman secretary of State and the hell on Earth she helped unleash in Kosovo. The lesson Albright should have taken from Munich is that tragedies spring not only from unadulterated evil but also from honorable intentions coupled with terrible misjudgments.

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