Albright's strength is power of words 1st woman nominated as secretary of state is a communicator

December 06, 1996|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- She would be the first female secretary of state. But it is her ability to communicate, not her gender, that sets Madeleine K. Albright apart, her supporters say.

With Congress reluctant to spend money overseas, the American public in an inward-looking mood, and no great threat that unites U.S. allies after the breakup of the Soviet bloc, the United States is increasingly forced to rely on the power of its arguments to achieve its goals in the world.

When Clinton announced Albright's promotion yesterday from United Nations ambassador to the nation's top foreign policy job -- subject to Senate confirmation -- she was ready in the Oval Office with a statement on why the United States is, as she put it, "truly the world's indispensable nation."

In a clear, modulated voice, she declared that America "need not and must not diverge from the core values of democracy and respect for human dignity that have long guided our nation and made American leadership not only possible, but welcome in so many parts of the world."

Deftly brushing aside the question of whether she can lead a male-dominated foreign policy establishment, she quipped to her predecessor, Warren Christopher: "I can only hope that my heels can fill your shoes."

Rarely has Christopher been able to speak as succinctly.

Indeed, the secretary of state often drew criticism, even in the White House, for his difficulty in articulating American policy.

Albright has the skill, says Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland, who lobbied Clinton to appoint Albright, to make "sure a farmer in Iowa or a poultry producer on the Eastern Shore can see how our foreign policy goals affect them."

In order to do her sales job effectively Albright needs a policy to sell, and the administration's record in crafting one is mixed.

So is her own record at influencing the president's decisions.

She was an early and strong advocate for military action against the Bosnian Serbs but failed to prevail during the first 2 1/2 years of the Clinton administration against the more cautious voices of Christopher and National Security Adviser Anthony Lake.

She stunned former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin L. Powell at one point by asking: "What's the point of having this superb military that you're always talking about if we can't use it?"

In his autobiography, the retired general writes: "I thought I would have an aneurysm" and records that Lake gently put her down.

Advocate of 'multilateralism'

In 1993, Albright got off to a shaky start as U.N. ambassador with her advocacy of "assertive multilateralism" -- her term for using the United Nations and other international groups to launch joint military and diplomatic operations.

The concept alarmed congressional Republicans and others who feared it would dilute American power and leadership.

When Clinton, under fierce political pressure, withdrew American forces from a U.N. mission in Somalia, Albright abandoned talk of multilateralism and also adopted a tactical distance from U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

Most recently, she helped lead the campaign to force the secretary-general into retirement and persuade other U.N. members to replace him.

The administration has drawn criticism for its heavy-handedness, but officials argue that without a change in leadership at the United Nations, the Republican-controlled Congress will refuse to increase funding for the world body.

Heroine to Cuban exiles

Albright's pugnacity and flair for the sound bite were on display after Cuban jet fighters shot down two unarmed U.S. planes over the Caribbean last winter. She ridiculed a Cuban pilot's boast that he had gotten an American flier by the "cojones," Spanish for testicles.

L "Frankly, this is not cojones; this is cowardice," she said.

The quote made Albright a heroine in the fiercely anti-Castro -- and heavily Republican -- Cuban exile community of Miami, where a crowd of 50,000 cheered her wildly a few days later.

It also served as a reminder that she can't be easily intimidated by the world's male-dominated foreign policy and military establishments.

"She has been very competent in establishing herself as serious and professional," says Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, who was President Ronald Reagan's U.N. ambassador. Among top officials around the world, "not many find gender an insuperable barrier to communication," Kirkpatrick said.

As to backstage criticism by other former government officials of FTC Albright as a lightweight thinker, Kirkpatrick retorts: "She's not described that way around Georgetown," referring to the university where Albright taught for many years.

Besides teaching international relations, Albright was a congressional staffer for Sen. Edmund S. Muskie of Maine, a member of President Jimmy Carter's national security staff, foreign policy adviser to 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael S. Dukakis and head of a centrist Democratic think tank, the Center for National Policy.

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