The Breakfast Table

Madeleine in Washington

Dear James,

I thought my reactions to the shootings were bizarre because so contradictory. Horror, self-doubt, skepticism and anger all passed through my brain in the course of about 30 seconds. But then, I suppose that is the effect of seeing violent images out of context. There I was sitting in that same coffee bar where they serve 18 different kinds of decaf latte, and there I was looking at a photograph of dying American teenagers. The most psychologically healthy reaction, I suppose, is to turn the page and read about something else, just as so many television viewers change channels when the word Bosnia is mentioned (it’s true, they do, someone in Britain did a survey, don’t ask me to remember the numbers) and as so many will soon do when they hear the word “Kosovo”–including, as you put it, our elected representatives.

My views on Madeleine Albright are mixed. On the one hand, when she is feeling self-confident she is a marvelous PR artist, and I don’t mean to belittle that skill. In the age of global television, it is as important for the secretary of state to articulate and project American foreign policy as it is for her/him to determine what that ought to be; the era of the gray, behind-the-scenes secretary of state is over (this is something that Warren Christopher, for example, never really understood). I thought her speech to the Serbs in Serbo-Croatian was a particularly good touch. The Poles, by the way, absolutely love her, associating her ascent with the Clinton administration’s switch to a policy in favor of NATO expansion. They tell the sorts of admiring jokes about her that they used to tell about Mrs. Thatcher, full of risqué references (not repeatable for a family online magazine) to her masculine attributes.

On the other hand, while I don’t know what went on precisely inside the Rambouillet talks, I was troubled by her behavior outside them. She kept appearing on television, angrily declaring that “an agreement has been reached, but the Serbs refuse to sign it.” Well, if the Serbs refuse to sign it, then there isn’t an agreement, is there? Maybe you need to negotiate longer? I have wondered how diplomatic her diplomacy is, particularly given that she, for understandable personal reasons, clearly has the Holocaust analogy in front of her mind at all times. Nor is “Albrightian” yet an adjective–I’m not sure that I could define her worldview any more than I could define President Clinton’s worldview. In any case, we’re probably going to learn a lot more about her in the next few weeks, as I suspect she will largely take the blame if this war goes badly wrong, and as I also supsect our Teflon president will somehow evade responsibility once again.

But those are views garnered from a distance: Whether in Warsaw or Palo Alto, I’m generally outside the Beltway these days. What does she look like from inside the magic ring?