Madeleine Albright, First Female Secretary of State: “She saw her adopted homeland as a moral beacon and indispensable nation for resolving international conflicts”

From a Washington Post obit by John Otis headlined “Madeleine Albright, first female secretary of state, dies at 84”:

Madeleine K. Albright, who came to the United States as an 11-year-old political refu­gee from Czechoslovakia and decades later was an ardent and effective advocate against mass atrocities in Eastern Europe while serving as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and the first female secretary of state, died March 23 in Washington.

Before Dr. Albright, the inner sanctum of U.S. foreign policymaking had been an almost exclusively male domain. In many ways, her politically fraught early life — enduring Nazi and communist repression — impelled her rise to the highest levels of international politics.

Her family, which was Jewish, narrowly avoided extermination at the hands of the Nazis. They fled to England shortly after Hitler’s tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia in 1938.

Several of Dr. Albright’s relatives, including three grandparents, died in the concentration camps of Theresienstadt and Auschwitz. After the war, Dr. Albright’s father, a Czech diplomat wary of communism, feared he would be arrested following a 1948 coup by hard-line Stalinists in Prague. The family escaped once more, this time to the United States.

“I had this feeling that there but for the grace of God, we might have been dead,” Dr. Albright said much later. She said that she was drawn to public service to “repay the fact that I was a free person.”

Her ascent in the foreign policy establishment reflected the traditional roles of women in the 1950s and 1960s and her ambition, influenced by the nascent feminist movement, that encouraged women to pursue professional careers.

After studying political science at the all-female Wellesley College, she married a wealthy newspaper heir and began a family. When her twin daughters were born prematurely and placed in incubators, Dr. Albright passed time in the hospital by teaching herself Russian.

She became an influential Georgetown salon leader and skilled fundraiser at Beauvoir, the elite private school in Washington that her daughters attended. In 1976, she earned a doctoral degree in public law and government at Columbia University, where she studied under Zbigniew Brzezinski, a fellow refugee from Eastern Europe.

When Brzezinski was named national security adviser following the 1976 election of Jimmy Carter as president, he brought Dr. Albright into the White House as his congressional liaison. She was one of just two women on Brzezinski’s staff and occupied a windowless cubbyhole in the West Wing, but Dr. Albright relished her proximity to power.

The biggest catalyst to Dr. Albright’s career may have occurred in 1982 when her husband left her for another woman. Although she was initially devastated, the divorce settlement made her a millionaire.

She began raising money for Democratic presidential hopefuls, which led to jobs as foreign policy adviser to Rep. Geraldine Ferraro (D-N.Y.), the first female major-party nominee on a presidential ticket, and to Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis (D) during his doomed 1988 presidential run.

While working for Dukakis, Dr. Albright met Bill Clinton, a onetime Rhodes scholar who was then the governor of Arkansas and wanted build a national reputation for himself. Dr. Albright wrote a letter of recommendation that helped Clinton gain membership to the Council on Foreign Relations, a prestigious New York think tank. When Clinton was elected president in 1992, Dr. Albright ran his National Security Council transition team and was named ambassador to the United Nations.

Assertive multilateralism

Like many immigrants from the World War II generation, Dr. Albright saw her adopted homeland as a moral beacon and an “indispensable nation” for resolving international conflicts. As Clinton’s top U.N. envoy, she argued for vigorous U.S. engagement abroad at a time when many Americans saw the end of the Cold War as a signal for their government to focus on domestic problems.

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