Madeleine Albright, America’s first female secretary of state, has died

The cause was cancer, Albright’s family said in a statement Wednesday.

“When I think of Madeleine, I will always be reminded of her fervent faith that ‘America is the indispensable nation,'” said Biden, who ordered the flags at the White House and all federal buildings up. half-mast in honor of Albright.

“Few leaders have been so perfectly suited to the times in which they served,” Clinton said in a statement. “As a child in a war-torn Europe, Madeleine and her family were forced to flee their home twice. When the end of the Cold War ushered in a new era of global interdependence, she became the voice of the America at the UN and then took the helm at the State Department, where she was a passionate force for freedom, democracy and human rights.”

Clinton later told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that he recently spoke with his former top diplomat.

She “spent the whole conversation talking about how Ukraine should be defended and that we put a lot of those who said we made a mistake in expanding NATO – she said that (Russia) doesn’t wasn’t going after NATO yet,” Clinton said on “The Situation Room.”

“She just wanted to support whatever we could do to support Ukraine. And that’s all she wanted to talk about. She was happy. She was optimistic,” he added. “And she didn’t want to venture into her health issues. She said, ‘I’m being treated, I’m doing my best. The main thing we can all do now is think about the world we want our children to go to.'”

Albright was a face of American foreign policy in the decade between the end of the Cold War and the war on terrorism sparked by the attacks of September 11, 2001, an era heralded by President George H. W. Bush as a “new world order”. . The United States, particularly in Iraq and the Balkans, has formed international coalitions and sometimes intervened militarily to overthrow autocratic regimes, and Albright, a self-proclaimed “pragmatic idealist” who coined the term “assertive multilateralism” to describe the foreign policy of the Clinton administration. – drew on her experience growing up in a family that fled the Nazis and Communists in mid-20th century Europe to shape her worldview.
She saw the United States as the “indispensable nation” when it came to using diplomacy backed by the use of force to uphold democratic values ​​around the world.

“We stand tall and we see farther than other countries into the future, and we see the danger here for all of us,” she told NBC in 1998. “I know that men and American women in uniform are always willing to sacrifice themselves for freedom, democracy and the American way of life.”

Her efforts to end violence in the Balkans are perhaps most notable, and she played a crucial role in pushing Clinton to intervene in Kosovo in 1999 to prevent a genocide against ethnic Muslims by the former Serbian leader. Slobodan Milosevic. She was haunted by the previous failure of the Clinton administration to end the genocide in Bosnia.

The breakup of communist Yugoslavia into several independent states, including Serbia and Montenegro, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia, in the 1990s caused unprecedented savage bloodshed on the continent since World War II. The term “ethnic cleansing” has become synonymous with Bosnia, where Serb forces loyal to Milosevic attempted to create a separate state by expelling the non-Serb civilian population.

The Clinton administration did not intervene until the Srebrenica massacre in 1995, when Serbs killed 8,000 Muslim men and boys, leading to the US-brokered Dayton Peace Plan. But when Milosevic then tried to shift his ethno-nationalist agenda to Kosovo, the Clinton administration assembled a coalition to stop him doing there what he had fled to Bosnia.
Albright accused Milosevic of creating “an horror of biblical proportions” in his “desire to exterminate a group of people” – Kosovo’s Muslim majority. She came under heavy criticism in Washington at the time, with some calling the NATO airstrikes ‘Albright’s war’ while others accused her of misjudging Milosevic’s resolve. . To that end, Albright said in 1999, “I take full responsibility with my colleagues for believing it was essential for us not to sit idly by and watch what Milosevic planned to do. “, adding that “we can’t look at crimes against humanity.”
Ultimately, the US-led coalition ended Serbian aggression and Kosovo declared independence in 2008.

Rwandan genocide among Albright’s greatest regrets

The effort contrasted with the Clinton administration’s opposition to international action to stop the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. When Albright represented the United States at the United Nations, the Clinton administration, haunted by the military fiasco in Somalia a year earlier, advocated for the withdrawal of the majority of UN troops from the country in the early days. of genocide. The planned massacre that would ensue, mostly of ethnic Tutsis, as well as some Hutus moderated by Hutu extremists, would kill at least 800,000.
Years later, Albright would call it his “biggest regret of that time”.
At the end of Clinton’s second term, Albright also participated in unsuccessful talks to foster peace between Israelis and Palestinians, which were followed by a second outbreak of violence in the region. She also participated in the effort to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear program by engaging with Kim Jong Il, an effort that was abandoned by George W. Bush.
Albright’s tenure as Secretary of State also saw the al-Qaeda bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 224 people. She called the attack the “toughest day” of her tenure, but would dismiss criticism that it should have spurred the United States into tougher action against the terror group that would later carry out the 9/11 terror attacks. September.
“It would have been very difficult, before 9/11, to persuade anyone that an invasion of Afghanistan was appropriate,” Albright told the 9/11 Commission in 2004. “I think he It took the mega-shock, unfortunately, of 9/11 to make people realize the enormous threat.”

Asked by the commission about the argument that the Clinton administration lacked actionable intelligence, Albright said, “We used every tool we had to try to figure out who the right targets would be and how to handle what we knew. ”

But she also expressed frustration at the reluctance to advance military force against al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.

“From my perspective, the Pentagon did not come up with viable options in response to what the president was asking for,” Albright said.

Longtime opponent of totalitarianism

Born Marie Jana Korbelova, daughter of a Czechoslovak diplomat, in Prague in 1937, Albright escaped Czechoslovakia with her family 10 days after the Nazi invasion. Her experience growing up in communist Yugoslavia and then fleeing to the United States made her a lifelong opponent of totalitarianism and fascism. She was raised Roman Catholic, although she later converted to Episcopal, and later in life learned of her family’s Jewish heritage.

Albright graduated from Wellesley College in 1959 and was married to Joseph Albright from 1959 until 1983, when they divorced. They had three children, twins Anne and Alice in 1961 and Katharine in 1967. She attended Columbia University for her master’s and doctorate, which she completed in 1976 before embarking on a decades-long career in government services and foreign affairs. under different politicians and democratic causes.

Albright was conscious of her pioneering role and often spoke of the challenges of being the first woman to head the State Department.

“I think there were real questions about whether a woman could be secretary of state. And not just in terms of dealing with issues, but in terms of dealing with people, especially in hierarchical societies. .. I found, actually, that I could do that,” she told CNN in 2005. “And people, I think, can now understand that it’s perfectly possible for a woman to to be Secretary of State, and I’m glad there’s a second,” a reference to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Throughout her career, Albright was known for wearing decorative brooches or pins to convey her foreign policy messages. When she discovered that the Russians had bugged the State Department, she carried a large bug pin to her next encounter with them. When Saddam Hussein called Albright a snake, she took to wearing a gold snake pin; when called a witch, she proudly brandished a miniature broom. When she called “completely un-American” Acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli’s suggestion that only immigrants who can “stand on their own two feet” are welcome in the United States, Albright wore a Statue of Liberty lapel pin.

After her tenure as secretary of state, Albright served as president of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs in Washington from 2001 until her death, and she taught at Georgetown University. She was also a prolific author, penning several books, including a 2003 memoir titled “Madame Secretary.” She also worked in the private sector for a time.

In 2012, Albright received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama, who said “his tenacity helped bring peace to the Balkans and paved the way for progress in some of the world’s most volatile corners” .

A Strong Voice on Retired Foreign Policy

Throughout her retirement, Albright continued to work for democracy around the world and speak out on American politics, directing particularly harsh criticism at President Donald Trump, whom she called “the most undemocratic president in the world.” modern American history”.
In a New York Times op-ed written last month just before Russia invaded Ukraine, Albright claimed Russian leader Vladimir Putin would be making “a historic mistake” and warned of devastating costs to his country.

“Instead of paving the way for Russian greatness, invading Ukraine would secure Mr. Putin’s infamy by leaving his country diplomatically isolated, economically crippled and strategically vulnerable to a stronger and more united Western alliance.” , wrote Albright.

Asked by USA Today in August 2020 about her definition of courage, Albright replied, “It’s when you stand up for what you believe in when it’s not always easy and you get criticized for it.”

“It took me a long time to find my voice. But after I find it, I’m not going to shut up,” Albright said. “I will use it to the best of my abilities to ensure that democracy is our form of government and that those around the world who want to live in a democracy have the opportunity to do so.”

This story has been updated with additional reactions and details.

CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Ingrid Formanek and Devan Cole contributed to this report.

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