The Madeleine Albright I Knew

The Consortium News editor-in-chief covered Madeleine Albright, who died on March 23, on a daily basis between 1993 and 1997 when she was the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Here are some of his recollections.

Security Council President Madeleine Albright, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nov.15, 1994. (UN Photo/Evan Schneider)

By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News

Every ambassador who represents the United States at the United Nations is arguably regarded by default as the most powerful person at the U.N. It has nothing to do with the individual qualities of the American diplomat, but of the pre-eminent position the U.S. plays in the world and at the U.N. 

As a correspondent based at U.N. Headquarters in New York for a quarter century from 1990 to 2015, I covered every U.S. ambassador, from the career civil servant Thomas Pickering, to the right-wing ideologue John Bolton, to the liberal interventionist Samatha Power to Madeleine Albright, who died last month and was memorialized on Wednesday.

All of them to one degree or another used U.S. clout at the U.N. to push America’s aggressive foreign policy in the world. Albright was among the most aggressive. She was in the forefront of America’s push for war in the Balkans and continued aggression on Iraq.

March 31, 1999: President Clinton briefed in Oval Office on Kosovo by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, CIA Director George Tenet, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Hugh Shelton and others. (William J. Clinton Presidential Library)

She did not have the best reputation, even among America’s U.N. allies. A European diplomat, at a background briefing with reporters that I attended, once called her an “intellectual lightweight.” That was supposed to stay in the room, but within hours I heard it circulating in the U.N. corridors. I would be surprised if it didn’t get back to Albright.  It had to bite because she tried to cultivate her image as a smart, tough woman, as smart and tough as any male diplomat.   

She also tried to cultivate the press to project that image. She and her spokesman, Jamie Rubin, who later followed her to the State Department, would invite three or four reporters, including me, out for drinks at a Manhattan bar near the U.N.  We were invited to parties at Rubin’s apartment, where she would appear. She developed a superficial friendliness to keep the press on side. (Reporters who were not seen as friendly could be subjected to tongue lashings by Rubin in front of other reporters at the Security Council press stakeout.)

One day this friendliness seemed to go too far.  I was walking down the corridor of the Conference Building, which connects the Security Council chamber with the General Assembly Building, with its huge floor to ceiling windows yielding a spectacular view of the Manhattan skyline. I saw Albright approaching in the opposite direction with Rubin. As we drew closer she caught my eye. 

And then she winked at me. 

I had no idea how to respond or what that meant. If that were a male U.S. ambassador winking at a female reporter what would people make of it today?

Her Enemies 

Albright caused eyebrows to raise too. There was hardly anyone at the U.N. I knew — diplomats, journalists and U.N. officials — who were not appalled by the answer she gave to Leslie Stahl of CBS’ 60 Minutes program, saying it was “worth it” to kill half a million Iraqi children.

She was particularly despised by Serbian diplomats and journalists at the U.N. for her perceived role in allowing the ethnic cleansing of 200,000 Serbs from Croatia in 1995. At the time, The New York Times reported that “Madeleine K. Albright, the United States representative to the United Nations, [argued] that a Croatian attack probably could not be stopped, and might bring some benefits.”

In this video, Albright’s car is stoned by Serbs during a visit a year later to Eastern Slavonia in Croatia, where many Serbs had been expelled from. After the deed was done, Albright says the remaining Serbs should stay because the U.S. wanted it to be a “multi-ethnic” area.

Albright is credited with helping to persuade President Bill Clinton to bomb Serbia during the Kosovo crisis in 1999. At the Rambouillet conference in 1999 Albright threatened Serbia with war if it didn’t agree to let Kosovo go. For her support of the criminal Kosovo Liberation Army and its leader, Hashim Thaci, the Serbs spread ugly rumors at the U.N. that Albright was having an affair with him. 

“She will be remembered in Serbia as a ruthless woman, one of the loudest advocates of the bombing of Yugoslavia and the independence of Kosovo,” the Serbian pro-government Vecernje Novosti newspaper said after her death. In Kosovo she was greeted in June 1999 with shouts of “Mother! Mother!”

Her hatred for the Serbs appears to have been mutual.  At this book signing she calls hecklers “disgusting Serbs.”

Her Biggest Foe

Probably her biggest enemy at the U.N. was the then secretary-general, the late Boutros Boutros-Ghali. They crossed swords on numerous occasions. American ambassadors are used to being listened to when they enter the SG’s office on the 38th floor. But the seasoned Egyptian diplomat had his own mind and he let her know it.  The two clashed over U.S. policy and the U.N. role in the vicious civil wars in Somalia, Rwanda and Bosnia.

In his memoir, Unvanquished: A US-UN Saga,” Boutros-Ghali calls Albright “an amateur,” and “unskilled” in diplomacy, with her “brutal” style falsely portrayed as candor. 

In 1996, TIME magazine reported that “Washington never gave Boutros–Ghali much of a chance”:

He told The Washington Post: “The fact that we differ on certain subjects is healthy. If the perception is that whatever is said by the United States is implemented by the United Nations, the United Nations will appear to be a subcontractor of the American administration.”

In his memoir, Boutros-Ghali writes that Albright displayed the same false friendliness to him [as she did to the press.] Former State Department official and U.N. protocol chief Joseph Verner Reed told him he heard her say, “I will make Boutros think I am his friend; then I will break his legs.”

Boutros-Ghali wrote:

“She had carried out her campaign with determination, letting pass no opportunity to demolish my authority and tarnish my image, all the while showing a serene face, wearing a friendly smile, and repeating expressions of friendship and admiration.  I recalled what a Hindu scholar once said to me: there is no difference between diplomacy and deception.” 

In the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union, there was great promise for the U.N., which had finally escaped the Cold War deadlock between the West and the U.S.S.R. But Boutros-Ghali made clear that instead of seeking a new international cooperation, the U.S. in this period was exercising its unilateralist muscle as the “sole superpower,” and Albright bore this pointed message to the U.N.  He wrote:

“Coming from a developing country, I was trained extensively in international law and diplomacy and mistakenly assumed that the great powers, especially the United States, also trained their representatives in diplomacy and accepted the value of it. But the Roman Empire had no need for diplomacy. Nor does the United States. Diplomacy is perceived by an imperial power as a waste of time and prestige and a sign of weakness.”

The result in November 1995 was that while 14 members of the U.N. Security Council voted to give Boutros-Ghali a second term, one did not. The U.S. vetoed him.  Here Albright hides behind the excuse that Boutros-Ghali did not “reform” the U.N., that is, cut programs popular in developing countries, whose opposition to the U.S. veto is expressed by these African leaders:

After Her Tenure

I had two interactions with Albright after she left the Clinton administration, where she served as the first female secretary of state. I was working on a profile in 2013 for The Wall Street Journal about Susan Rice, the then U.S. ambassador to the U.N., and Albright agreed to a telephone interview that lasted about half an hour. I focused most of it on the U.S. failure to act on a U.N. request to send peacekeepers to Rwanda to prevent the 1994 genocide there.

Rice, at the time on Clinton’s National Security Council, reportedly said, “If we use the word ‘genocide‘ and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November election?”  Albright defended Rice for whom she was a mentor but frankly admitted the guilt the U.S. felt for its inaction in Rwanda.

The last time I saw Albright was on a return visit she made to the U.N. around 2014.  She met with a few reporters in a small U.N. conference room. I sat across from her. She had a young female aide with her.

Albright repeatedly snapped at her. At one point when she wanted her water glass filled, the feminist champion who later said there was a place in hell for women who didn’t support Hillary Clinton for president, glared at the young woman. Without saying a word, she haughtily pointed at the glass. 

It was “brutal,” as Boutros Boutros-Ghali would say.

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former U.N. correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and numerous other newspapers. He was an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times of London and began his professional work as a 19-year old stringer for The New York Times.  He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @unjoe  


43 comments for “The Madeleine Albright I Knew

  1. Steve
    May 3, 2022 at 07:06

    Anyone with a little common sense and that have the initiative to research beyond the main stream knows these never ending series of wars ( and those that instigate them re Madeline ) since Roosevelt has been about hegemony and the ‘ wests’ need to keep dominance of the globe ( by west I mean the US and any other white Christian cowardly puppet powers that want to be in the US’s good little country book). The problem is by just writing these comments nothing will ever change; although this keeps the conversation alive. Unfortunately only direct action counts for anything now due to our corruption of our so called democratic political systems.

  2. Aaron
    April 29, 2022 at 22:16

    Imperious, sadistic, and opportunistic. It’s no wonder she and Clinton got along very well.

  3. Thomas
    April 29, 2022 at 13:51

    This woman was despicable but really not much different than the people in State Dept since her evil tenure; “diplomacy” has been a laughable and cynical joke in state dept up to the current day.

  4. Antiwar7
    April 29, 2022 at 12:15

    Madeleine Albright, what a repellent human being. According to Scott Ritter, she tried to start a war in Iraq using a demand-too-far for inspections, but Ritter got the Iraqi government to accede, spoiling her plans. He said she hated him for it.

    She succeeded in starting the Kosovo war, with the secret annex at Rambouillet, designed to be unacceptable (demanding Nato unhindered access to all of then Yugoslavia).

    I hope all her victims in life get their revenge on her in the afterlife.

  5. Theresa Barzee
    April 28, 2022 at 19:31

    Phenomenal, and getting more fantastic by the piece, Mr. Lauria! I am so much more educated by your lifework. Deep appreciation.

  6. Lois Gagnon
    April 28, 2022 at 16:51

    I feel continuously embarrassed by what passes for leadership in the US. Albright was certainly no exception. I guess psychopathic bullies are what the new Rome requires at the end of its reign. The empire’s comeuppance can’t come soon enough for humanity and all life on our fragile planet.

    • charles
      April 28, 2022 at 20:11

      She was disgusting.

    • Thot
      April 28, 2022 at 23:58

      la vielle putain est crevée ? il était temps ! cette pourriture sur pieds était bien un cancer, les anglos sont forts pour créer des cancers : ils sont la première menace du monde, ils sont le caner du monde !! !!!sans ces anglos, le monde entier se porterait mieux !

      • Em
        April 29, 2022 at 10:27

        Now here’s an unadulterated, obviously, rightfully angry, racist comment, free of self-censorship .
        Fortunately CN now offers translation; albeit Googles!

    • Margaret O'Brien
      April 29, 2022 at 11:46

      She was a monster, possibly a psychopath. But what actually stood out to me in this excellent account of unimpeded power was “The Roman Empire had no need for diplomacy, nor does the United States. Diplomacy is perceived by an imperial power as a waste of time and prestige and a sign of weakness”. Ukraine in 2022. The US position. But what happened to the Roman Empire?

  7. April 28, 2022 at 16:39

    All these comments about aggressive women who rise to power to by emulating aggressive men. Such women even try hard to be more aggressive. One who seems most comfortable acting like a woman yet projecting strength is Tulsi Gabbard with credentials that project strength. She has forcefully projected a rational foreign policy which she credits to her military service while continuing as a reserve officer. For such commendable credentials and her sensible prescriptions regarding Ukraine she is accused of treason by a Senator from Utah and a Putin puppet by those who silenced her in 2020 and will continue to do so today.

    The conclusion: if you want to be another Margaret Thatcher, follow the cue cards.

    • Charles
      April 28, 2022 at 20:18

      Tulsi is a breath of fresh air!! I would vote for her for president in two minutes! Those on top have to have an Albright. But there is coming a time when there will be a chance to rid the state department of people like her.

    • April 29, 2022 at 13:58

      Amen and Aloha.

  8. David Otness
    April 28, 2022 at 16:18

    Exceptionally enlightening.

  9. April 28, 2022 at 15:42

    A few years ago I got emails from the late Congressman John Lewis, who was one of the original 13 Freedom Riders, and who spoke at the 1963 March on Washington, and who became nationally known for his prominent role in the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965.

    In some of his emails he asked that we sign a petition to stand with Madeleine Albright as she was speaking out against Donald Trump. Of course speaking against Donald Trump sets a very low bar.

    I unsubscribed to his email list, and in telling why I was unsubscribing I said to John Lewis (or those reading my unsubscribe message) shame, shame, shame on them for asking that we stand with that nasty warmonger, and for dishonoring and betraying the legacy of Martin Luther King by asking us to stand with somebody like Madeleine Albright of all people.

    • Allen
      April 28, 2022 at 20:23

      John Lewis sullied his good name long before Trump. He grew to love the white power more than the cause he once stood for.

  10. Vincent ANDERSON
    April 28, 2022 at 15:32

    Amazingly particularized recall, Joe! Like the theory of the novel, that ‘every major plot movement has an adequate epigram.’ Or two….

    ‘Skirting’ ‘the gender issues a bit, and concentrating on the monster force that Ms. A represented, we could go back about 2000 years to the Pax Romana for a classic analog. Here is Tacitus’ rendition of the isolated ‘British’ (Caledonian) general Calgacus’ speech to his troops (A.D. 85) after the Roman navy came and went.

    ‘…Robbers of the world, having by their universal plunder exhausted the land, they rifle the deep. If the enemy be rich, they are rapacious; if he be poor, they lust for dominion; neither the east nor the west has been able to satisfy them. Alone among men they covet with equal eagerness poverty and riches. To robbery, slaughter, plunder, they give the lying name of empire; they make a solitude [alt trans. ‘desert’] and call it peace (ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant).’ [I have also seen ‘conflagration,’ or ‘desolation,’ followed by solitude.]

  11. Realist
    April 28, 2022 at 15:02

    So, poor Boutros-Ghali was the Putin of his day–Washington’s foe and target just for existing.

    Like most of Obama’s executive branch and now Biden’s, Clinton’s appointments were mostly made on the basis of identity politics rather than ability and probably not even on personal philosophy. Well, the war mongering certainly became convenient to all (Dems and GOPers alike) after Clinton decided to emulate Bushdaddy’s “kicking of the Vietnam syndrome.”

    Every POTUS to follow Reagan simply tossed his joint accomplishment with Gorbachev to end the Cold War unceremoniously into the rubbish bin. The last believer in that fairy tale seemed to be Putin who needed severe deprogramming against calling the West “partners.” And where does that leave us now? On the brink of mutual annihilation it would seem. Dear imbeciles in the White House: thanks for nothing.

    • Charles
      April 28, 2022 at 20:24

      Amen. And this day (4/28) I read that Biden has just approved a $33 billion budget to the Ukraine to help them overcome Putins barbarity. What a joke. We might have just signed our own death certificate.

  12. April 28, 2022 at 14:46

    Madeleine Albright will forever be remembered as the She Devil who is the representation of the true nature of the United States ruling class.
    “… who were not appalled by the answer she gave to Leslie Stahl of CBS’ 60 Minutes program, saying it was “worth it” to kill half a million Iraqi children”…? all to protect the interest of US Oil Companies and prevent the sale of oil and gas in Euros rather than the US dollar as Saddam wanted to do.

  13. Em
    April 28, 2022 at 14:37

    A comment; nothing more than an individual opinion!
    “(Madeleine Albright) tried to cultivate her image as a smart, tough woman, as smart and tough as any male diplomat.”
    Today Victoria Nuland has them all beat – both men and women, hands down!
    Now that’s one giant leap for women-of-a-kind, indistinguishable from their male counterparts of like breed. Who says there’s no equality between the sexes? All animals acting from instinct alone, are just that, unreasoning animals, hunting their prey, as their genetic architecture directs!
    ‘Human beings’, on the other hand, are those animals, gifted with a higher state of consciousness, capable of compassion, or so it is said! They are innately imbued with a faculty that permits of choice.
    “And then she winked at me… I had no idea how to respond or what that meant. If that were a male U.S. ambassador winking at a female reporter what would people make of it today?”
    Once an animal has reached a state where it just instinctively knows that some animals are more equal than others, it is taken for granted that the rules applying to the ‘lower’ animals no longer apply to them.
    Such is the nature of unequal power distribution in programmed learning within the ‘thinking’ species, be they male or female.
    Despicable, bigoted haters come in all shapes and sizes!

    • April 28, 2022 at 16:43

      I agree with your analogy of Nuland, still 500,000 thousand babies and children, not to mention the elderly men and woman who were denied geriatric medical care and medicines. I am sure that drives the numbers way up; don’t you.

      • Em
        April 28, 2022 at 17:49

        All I am able to respond with, tragically, for all of humanity is: “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings”, and this “She Devil” and her male cohort have not yet even begun to sing.

      • Milanco
        April 28, 2022 at 21:09

        Wait for it. Victoria Nuland is still alive. She still works for the devil. There is still plenty of bad things she will try to do.

        • Em
          April 29, 2022 at 13:59

          Is the last sentence in your comment from the horses mouth?

  14. Nika
    April 28, 2022 at 13:46

    I never judge a person by their appearance, but with this creature in the form of a person (I do not want to call her by name) – a special case. Her vile appearance matched the vileness within. I’m sorry she lived so long.

    • rbc
      May 2, 2022 at 15:06

      I’ve had the same thoughts. To me, she always looked like a bloated screeching fishwife. Of course her actions were the worst.

  15. renate
    April 28, 2022 at 12:09

    All the women making it to high office turn out to be real monsters, we see it in the Biden as well as the previous administrations. Presently Germany sticks out as well. They are monsters and warmongers, believing war is the solution to all problems.
    The US tarnished the UN by abusing and using the UN for American interests. Thanks for the article, as always you help me believe I am not insane.

    • Helga Fellay
      April 28, 2022 at 12:49

      renate, I have often wondered why women in high office turn out to be real monsters. The only conclusion I can draw is that it is still men who determine who is allowed to rise to high office, and women know it. So in order for an ambitious woman to get promoted, she assumes she must think and act like a man for men to think her worthy. To do this, they suppress their feminine qualities and become like imitation men, thus, in a sense, unnatural women. I have often heard the statement “a woman has to be twice as good as a man in order to get half as far.” Not being real men, women try to outdo men, not only in their good qualities, but especially in their bad ones. Most people in high office are monsters, but women, trying to outdo men in the monster department as well as all others, end up being the “real monsters” as you call them.

      • JoeSixPack
        April 28, 2022 at 13:28

        ” I have often wondered why women in high office turn out to be real monsters.

        Think a littler harder on that and you will find your answer. There is nothing masculine nor feminine about being a monster. This is a characteristic that is in everyone. It is those that listen to their better nature that rise above and treat others with kindness and compassion.

      • April 28, 2022 at 16:54

        Your point is well taken, but perhaps there are other factors working here. Maybe, some women admire the male traits of a Hitler or a Stalin, and deep inside have always wished to present themselves as such. Albright certainly presented herself as a ego manic, and once someone with that condition gets power Katy bars the door!

    • David Otness
      April 28, 2022 at 16:50

      “The US tarnished the UN by abusing and using the UN for American interests.” Come now, renate, the hour is late for our civilization; did you yet believe there were altruistic reasons for the U.S. to establish the UN but for a closely held (geographically) instrument for an ‘equitable’ dispensation of power and the uplifting of humanity? All of the pomp and circumstance of a showcase ‘world within a world,’ (A better world is possible!) of colorful flags and national costumes, and forgive me this over-used redundant sin, “Kumbaya.” Its aims just?

      No: Rockefeller, CFR, CIA, all the UN-soul-stirring majestic acronyms (UNICEF, UNESCO, UNF&AO etc) up the wazoo—all add up to NATO, TPP, GATT, NAFTA, TTP—US military-corporate power projection plain and simple. Through and through.
      An ethereal bubble masquerading for a covert, systematized, and very violent cabal of über-capitalists and their own epoch/age.

    • john brod
      April 29, 2022 at 03:17

      The UN tarnishes itself. What can one say about an organization which makes Tony Blair UN peace envoy in the Middle East and Alexander Downer, Australian defense minister, leading proponent for Iraq war, responsible for bugging East Timor in gas negotiations with Australia, UN envoy to Cyprus for establishing peace between Turks and Greeks. Both suitable for Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. Of course, both show the power and immorality of the US and its vassals. I won’t mention UN inaction years earlier when US bugged Kofi Annan’s office in UN——

  16. Jeff Harrison
    April 28, 2022 at 11:58

    Thank you, Mr. Lauria. I always had the sense that she was an evil woman and you have confirmed it. There’s a special place in hell for people like that.

    • renate
      April 28, 2022 at 12:12

      She must have been welcomed in hell, where she has lots of company.

  17. April 28, 2022 at 11:13

    Madeleine was truly the definition of, “sashaying pantsuits”

  18. Frank Lambert
    April 28, 2022 at 10:39

    Albright was a wicked woman, period! Look at her face and her eyes! Pure evil, and to think she got away with her infamous remark on 60 Minutes. Imagine a former Waffen SS security guard at one of the Nazi austerity camps telling Leslie Stahl that “As we had food shortages in Germany, we had to feed our troops first, as they were fighting to save Europe from the communists, and we thought it was more humane to gas the children rather than let them starve to death.” They would have “run him out of Dodge” in a hurry and probably not aired the interview on television.

    But then again, 60 Minutes is biased, in regards to American Imperialism.

    And thanks, Mr. Lauria, for highlighting some of your tenure as a reporter at the U.N. regarding Ms Albright.

    • Johan Meyer
      April 28, 2022 at 15:24

      Why write such rubbish as the peacekeeper nonsense? Robin Philpot and Christopher Black’s works (e.g. Rwanda and the New Scramble for Africa, The Dallaire Genocide Fax) are not secrets—the US went out of its way to arm the genocidal Ugandan baTúutsi invaders, and the vast majority of the victims were baHutu; the Habyarimana government repeatedly requested peacekeepers, but they were blocked by US puppets Dallaire and Kagame, with only Viktor Bout smuggling in the French peacekeepers who saved 130000 lives, while Dallaire trained Ugandan child soldiers.

      • Charles
        April 28, 2022 at 20:31

        Madeline Albright was the subjecct? Where are you going with your comment?

      • Allen
        April 28, 2022 at 20:36

        I did not know the history of the Rwanda genocide. Thank you for sharing. Sadly, I’m not at all surprised to learn that the seeds of the genocide were in the USA.

        April 29, 2022 at 07:14

        Please provide evidence that Dallaire trained Ugandan child soldiers.

  19. Vera Gottlieb
    April 28, 2022 at 10:27

    This bitch…good riddance.

  20. peter tusinski
    April 28, 2022 at 10:24

    A despicable woman that somehow gained the reins of power at the state dept. and the UN. Hopefully the souls of 500,000 starved and sick children will escort her to the gates of hell!

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