Many say the experience of fleeing her country not once, but twice helped to mold Madeleine Albright’s foreign policy philosophy. "She watched her world fall apart, and ever since, she has dedicated her life to spreading to the rest of the world the freedom and tolerance her family found here in America," said former U.S President, Bill Clinton, as he named Albright the first female secretary of state in U.S. history.

Thomas Blood, author of “Madam Secretary, The Biography of Madeleine Albright�? also identifies Albright’s “uncanny ability to triumph over adversity,�? as one of the factors that shaped her life.

Born Marie Jana Korbelová in 1937, in Prague, Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic) Madeleine was the French version of "Madlenka", a Czech nickname given by her grandmother. Her family fled to London after Bohemia and Moravia were annexed by Germany in 1939. After World War II, the Korbel family moved back to Belgrade, where her father Josef Korbel served as Czechoslovakia's ambassador to Yugoslavia.

She and her parents fled again when the Communists assumed power over Czechoslovakia. The future U. S. Secretary of State arrived America in 1948 at the age of 11. Her father, became the founding dean of the Graduate School of International Studies at the University of Denver where she taught another future Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.

She became Madeleine Albright in 1959 when she married Chicago newspaper journalist and scion of a wealthy newspaper family, Joseph Medill Patterson Albright, whom she had met working a summer job with the Denver Post. The couple, however, divorced in 1982. She became a U.S. citizen in 1957 Albright's personal background as a refugee from communism and Nazism made her more disposed to an activist foreign policy than some of her colleagues. Records, which are based on transportation lists captured from the Nazis at the end of World War II, show that some of Albright's relatives were killed in the gas chambers at Auschwitz. Others died of typhoid and malnutrition at a holding camp at Terezin, where Czech Jews were kept before being sent to Auschwitz.

This most probably explains the strong emphasis she placed on human rights as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Within the Clinton administration, she was one of the leading advocates of using force to end the war in Bosnia. At various times, she described America as "the world's indispensable nation" and expressed allegiance to the "core values of democracy and respect for human dignity."

Her professional journey to becoming the nation's top diplomat started when she entered Democratic Party politics as a campaign volunteer in the early 1970s.From that bottom of the ladder, she built a career that made her one of the stars of the Washington foreign policy establishment.

Albright gained recognition as a foreign policy adviser to vice-presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and to presidential candidate Michael Dukakis in 1988. Though both failed to be elected, she emerged as a key adviser to Democrats on foreign policy. Albright was appointed ambassador to the UN, her first diplomatic post, shortly after Clinton was inaugurated, presenting her credentials on February 9, 1993. During her tenure at the UN, she had a rocky relationship with the United Nations Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali. She did not take action against the genocide in Rwanda. "It was a very very very difficult time, the situation was so unclear. You know in retrospect it all looks very clear" Albright said in the PBS Documentary "Ghosts of Rwanda"

Albright considerably influenced American policy in Bosnia and the Middle East. She incurred the wrath of a number of Serbs in the former Yugoslavia for her perceived personal anti-Serb position and her role in participating in the formulation of U.S. policy during the Kosovo War and Bosnian war as well as the rest of the Balkans. She was also criticized for defending the sanctions of Iraq under Saddam Hussein, which led to civilian deaths. She has also been criticised for saying, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price… we think the price is worth it,�? in response to a question on the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children due to sanctions placed on Iraq in a 1996 interview with “60 Minutes.�? In a January 8, 2001 Clinton administration press release, Albright is quoted as saying, "The United States will continue to press Iraq to destroy all its weapons of mass destruction as a condition of lifting economic sanctions, even after the end of the Clinton administration January 20."

In 1998, at the 50th anniversary NATO summit, Albright articulated what would become known as the "three Ds" of NATO weapons policy: that there must be no decoupling of the United States from NATO, duplication of effort or resources, or discrimination against NATO allies. In 2000, she became one of the highest level Western diplomats to ever meet Kim Jong-il, the isolationist leader of North Korea. Also in 2000, as part of her efforts to advocate democracy, Albright also spearheaded the effort to create a Community of Democracies.

Madeleine Albright graduated from Kent Denver high school in 1955. Awarded a B.A. from Wellesley College with honors in Political Science, she studied at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, received a Certificate from the Russian Institute at Columbia University, and her Masters and Doctorate from Columbia University's Department of Public Law and Government. She was also awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Winnipeg in 2005.

In 1982, Albright was appointed Research Professor of International Affairs and Director of Women in Foreign Service Program at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. She taught undergraduate and graduate courses in international affairs, U.S. foreign policy, Russian foreign policy, and Central and Eastern European politics. It was speculated that she might pursue a career in Czech politics after her term as U.S. Secretary of State. Czech President Vaclav Havel openly talked about the possibility of Albright succeeding him after he retired in 2002. After her retirement, Albright published her memoir, Madam Secretary (2003) ISBN 0786868430 and The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs (2006) ISBN 0060892579

Resources Used

Suggested Reading

  • Madam Secretary: The Biography of Madeleine Albright by Thomas Blood (Griffin Trade.1999)
  • Madeleine Albright: A Twentieth Century Odyssey by Michael Dobbs (Owl Farm 1999)
  • Madeleine Albright and the New American Diplomacy by Thomas Lippman (Westview Press, 2000)
  • UN Ambassador: A Behind-The-Scenes Look at Madeleine Albright’s World by Robert Maass
  • The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on Faith, God and World Affairs by Madeleine Albright and Bill Clinton (Hardcover – 5 May, 2006)
  • Madam Secretary: A Memoir by Madeleine K. Albright (Paperback – 5 November 2004)
  • Arab Reform: Independent Task Force Report by Madeleine K. Albright and Vin Weber (Paperback – 1 Sep, 2005)
  • Threats to Democracy: Prevention and Response, Independent Task Force by Madeleine Albright, Bronislaw Geremeck and Morton H. Halperin (Paperback – 1 August, 2003)

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