Albright's State Deportment | The Nation


Albright's State Deportment

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Blackman gives the dubious credit for sacking Boutros-Ghali to Albright without really explaining why she did it. Perhaps closer examination would have led Blackman to examine the most likely hypothesis: that, Salome-like, Albright danced in front of Jesse Helms with Boutros-Ghali's head, in return for promises of easy confirmation as Secretary of State from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman.

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Ian Williams
Ian Williams is The Nation's UN correspondent. In addition to his work for the magazine, he frequently comments on...

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Blackman fails to explore what is, on the face of it, a highly unlikely yet continuing alliance between Albright and Helms. In fact, they share an intensely parochial and reactionary view of the world. Perhaps the most germane comment is the cable home from former British Ambassador Sir John Weston, who, in best "Yes, Minister" style, alerted the Foreign Office to the failings of the new Secretary of State. "She is not always good at accepting the need to apply to the United States the same standards and expectations she requires of others.... 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 reaction to being exposed or brought under pressure from sudden turns of events are sometimes tetchy, verging on the panicky."

It is perhaps significant that Weston has retired from the Foreign Service. Most of the other diplomats who were privately so dismissive of her joined the fawning chorus of congratulations once she became Secretary of State. The same process has been obvious in the media, where her career has been written up as if she were some combination of Metternich and Mother Teresa.

In fact, most of the press who covered Albright at the UN had as little time for her as she had for them. Her spinman would go straight to Washington to get the pliable coverage he wanted, bypassing the New York staff. From the time of her arrival at the UN, it was obvious where her ambitions lay, and her media effort was directed solely at the State Department. However, she had apparently been cautioned that it would not do to look too eager, so everyone was supposed to conspire in pretending that it was not so.

I must confess an interest here. Not long after Albright took over, her spokesman, Jamie Rubin, bell, book and candled me from the US Mission in 1994 for writing a profile of Albright in the New York Observer that referred to her "barely concealed ambitions...to become Secretary of State." Rubin complained that I had not recorded his denial of any such ambition; she and her staff have a strong view of the proper role of journalists: as stenographers whose task is to write down every word.

When the Washington Post's Michael Dobbs revealed his findings about Albright's family being massacred during World War II, Blackman records that Albright's response was to call Post publisher Katharine Graham, who wisely realized that it was too late to do anything about the story. Rubin's response was to spoil Dobbs's scoop by leaking his results to other outlets who could assure a more sympathetic, if not sycophantic, stance. Later, one press occasion in Belgrade was canceled simply because Dobbs was the pool reporter.

Blackman says she asked Albright about the prevailing State Department doctrine that if someone writes something 99 percent positive and 1 percent negative about her, she will focus on the 1 percent. The champion of free speech and the American way of life told her chillingly, "So eliminate the 1 percent." It is to Blackman's credit that she has significantly exceeded the single percent. While most of her editorializations are in the traditional inside-the-Beltway mode of never attacking a possible source and the impressive negative percentage is always ascribed to others, I'd be surprised if Blackman ever got another exclusive interview. In Washington, access is given to stenographers, not investigators.

Blackman's integrity and resourcefulness show through the pink cotton wool padding. I only wish she had adopted the persona of the little girl revealing the insubstantiality of Empress Albright's new clothes and dug a little deeper. She could have explained just why Albright is the perfect embodiment of this Administration's content-free foreign policy, in which one deranged Senator from North Carolina or a campaign donation from a banana magnate has more weight than all of America's allies put together, let alone the rest of the world.

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