WASHINGTON (AP) – A true who is who of Washington’s political and foreign policy elite gathered on Wednesday to show their last respects to the late Madeleine Albrighta child of conflict-ravaged Europe who arrived in the United States as an 11-year-old girl and became America’s first female Secretary of State.
The pioneering diplomat and champion of her adopted country as the world’s “indispensable nation” was fondly remembered by President Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton as a no-nonsense, valued adviser who did not suffer fools or tyrants and was most concerned about Russia’s war with Ukraine when she died last month of cancer at the age of 84.
Biden said Albright’s name was synonymous with the idea that America is “a force for good in the world.”
“In the 20th and 21st centuries, freedom had no greater master than Madeleine Korbel Albright,” he said. “Today we honor a truly proud American who made us all more proud to be Americans.”
He said he had become aware of Albright’s death while flying to Brussels for an emergency NATO summit on Ukraine, and was struck by the memory of her key role in pushing for the expansion of the alliance in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. to protect Europe from a repeat of the carnage of World War II and the ideological struggle between communism and democracy in the Cold War.
And Clinton, the man who first appointed her her UN ambassador in 1993 and then secretary of state in 1996, said his last conversation with Albright a few weeks before her death was dominated by the situation in Ukraine and her fears for the future of democracy. National and international.
He recalled that Albright did not want to talk about her declining health at a time when the West is on the brink of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Albright, Clinton recalled, assured him she was getting the best care she could, but she did not want to “waste time” talking about it.
“The only thing that really matters is what kind of world we want to leave to our grandchildren,” Clinton recalled, Albright told him. He added: “She made a decision with her last breath she would go out with her boots on.”
Biden and Clinton, along with former President Barack Obama and several of Albright’s successors as Secretary of State, including Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, John Kerry and current Secretary of State Antony Blinken, were about 1,400 mourners who attended the funeral at Washington National Cathedral.
The service was at times marked by tears, laughter and applause in remembrance of Biden, Bill and Hillary Clinton and Albright’s three daughters, Anne, Alice and Katharine, who remembered her as a lovely “mother” and “Grandma Maddy” to their own children themselves in the midst of a hectic work schedule that often took her around the world.
That schedule did not slip when she left public service in 2001 and returned to teach at Georgetown University, started a successful international consulting firm, sat on the boards of several women’s and human rights groups, and became a bestselling author.
Hillary Clinton recalled stories that she had lobbied for Albright to serve as Secretary of State, a role that Clinton would serve in herself under the Obama administration. “It has been said that I encouraged my husband to nominate her as our first female foreign minister,” she said. “Contrary to much that has been said, this story was true.”
The two developed a strong friendship over the years. and Hillary Clinton recalled a few stories about her and Albright visiting abroad, where they were linked together.
Once on a trip in a driving rainstorm in the Czech capital Prague, Clinton said they laughed so much that they forgot they were wet. On another occasion in Beijing, Clinton recalled that she and Albright had marched through mud in a torrential downpour and confronted Chinese security forces to meet women’s rights activists.
Clinton recalled in her own tribute some vivid memories of Albright, including the time she taught Botswana’s Secretary of State Macarena and danced the night away with a young, handsome man at her daughter Chelsea’s wedding. She also remembered Albright as a fearless diplomat who broke barriers and then advised, persuaded and inspired women to follow in her footsteps.
“The angels better put on their best needles and put on their dancing shoes,” Clinton said. “Because if Madeleine thought there was a special place in hell for women who do not support other women, then they have not seen anyone like her yet.”
On the eve of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a month before her death, The New York Times printed what would become Albright’s last published publication. She wrote that the Russian president, Vladimir Putin’s invasion, would be a “historic mistake” that would cement his legacy as a “disgrace”. “Until recently, she was still busy doing good,” Clinton said.
Other current top officials who attended the service included Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, CIA Director Bill Burns, Chief of Staff General Mark Milley, and White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. The members of the VIP audience were masked as Albright’s family had requested.
Foreign dignitaries invited to the funeral included the presidents of Georgia and Kosovo and senior officials from Colombia, Bosnia and the Czech Republic.
Albright was born in what was then Czechoslovakia, but her family fled twice, first from the Nazis and then from the Soviet regime. They ended up in the United States, where she studied at Wellesley College and rose through the ranks of the Democratic Party’s foreign policy circles to become an ambassador to the United Nations. Bill Clinton elected her Secretary of State in 1996 for her second term.
Although Albright was never in line for the presidency because of her foreign birth, Albright was almost universally admired for breaking a glass ceiling, even by her political opponents. Several senior Republican lawmakers, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, attended the service.
As a Czech refugee who saw the horrors of both Nazi Germany and the Iron Curtain, she was not a dove. She played a leading role in pushing for the Clinton administration’s military involvement in the conflict in Kosovo. “My thinking is Munich,” she often said, referring to the German city where the Western Allies surrendered their homeland to the Nazis.
As Secretary of State, Albright played a key role in persuading Clinton to go to war against Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic over his treatment of Kosovo Albanians in 1999. As UN ambassador, she advocated a tough US foreign policy, especially in the case of Milosevic’s treatment. of Bosnia. NATO’s intervention in Kosovo was eventually dubbed “Madeleine’s war.”
She also took a hard line against Cuba, which famously said at the UN that the Cuban shooting down of a civilian plane in 1996 was not “cojones”, but rather “cowardice.”
Bill Clinton remembered the moment in his tribute, remembering that Albright at the time faced criticism that the sharp barb was “undiplomatic” and “undamaged.” He absolutely loved it.
“I called her and I said … ‘This is the best line developed and delivered by anyone in this administration,’ Clinton said.
In 2012, Obama awarded the Albright Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, and said her life was an inspiration to all Americans.
Born Marie Jana Korbel in Prague on May 15, 1937, she was the daughter of a diplomat, Joseph Korbel. The family was Jewish and converted to Roman Catholicism when she was 5. Three of her Jewish grandparents died in concentration camps.
Albright was an internationalist whose point of view was partly shaped by her background. Her family fled Czechoslovakia in 1939, when the Nazis took over their country, and she spent the war years in London.
After the war, when the Soviet Union took over large chunks of Eastern Europe, her father brought the family to the United States. They settled in Denver, where her father taught at the University of Denver. One of Korbel’s best students was Condoleezza Rice, who would later succeed her daughter as foreign minister.
Albright graduated from Wellesley College in 1959. She worked as a journalist and later studied international relations at Columbia University, where she received a master’s degree in 1968 and a Ph.D. in 1976. Then she went into politics and what was then the male-dominated world of foreign policy professionals.