Johns Hopkins Gazette: December 16, 1996 Form

Albright Strong
"On Right Side
Of Things"

Secretary of state-designate--and former Nitze School of Advanced International Studies student--Madeleine Albright is the first woman nominated for the U.S.'s top foreign policy post. Gazette editor Steve Libowitz spoke with SAIS dean Paul Wolfowitz about the challenges facing the current U.N. ambassador--and his longtime friend--and what strengths and skills she will bring to bear on U.S. foreign policy.

Gazette: What attracted the young Madeleine Albright to Hopkins and SAIS?

Dean Wolfowitz: In her application, she said something to the effect that she did not want to end up as a second-rater. And she continued to believe that. This past spring, in her commencement address at SAIS, she told students, "Although I taught at a competing institution across town, I was a student here, and I can tell you that no one could enter the world of international relations better prepared than you."

Gazette: Why did she leave?

Dean Wolfowitz: Family priorities; she and her husband and young twins moved to New York. So, Columbia [University] gave her her degrees, and she taught at Georgetown, but she got her start with us.

Gazette: Has her academic background served her well in her career?

Dean Wolfowitz: I think her academic background helps her realize what she doesn't know, which isn't the inevitable product of an academic mind. Her training has not only taught her a lot but also to understand the limits of her own knowledge, and to know when she needs to go for help.

Gazette: What does her nomination mean for U.S. foreign policy?

Dean Wolfowitz: I am well-known for having a lot of reservations about this administration's foreign policy, and I remain deeply skeptical that President Clinton has learned a lot about foreign policy. But it's an enormous improvement to have Madeleine as the secretary of state over Warren Christopher.

Gazette: What strengths and skills does Ambassador Albright bring to the post?

Dean Wolfowitz: A lifelong commitment to the whole subject of foreign policy. Too often people make fun of the impracticality of academics, and I think there is often something to those jokes. She knows a lot about the subjects before she even touches them. She also knows how to go about learning them, and has some appreciation of the depth of knowledge required. I think that's a real plus.

What I like most about her is that she's a fighter. I don't always agree with the things she's fighting for, although I agree far more than I disagree.

Gazette: What sorts of things did she fight for at the U.N.?

Dean Wolfowitz: I don't know the track record day-to-day, but it's been clear that she's been one of the strongest advocates within the administration for giving support to the Bosnians and seriously going after war criminals, for example. She's also been a staunch advocate of keeping pressure on Saddam Hussein. And on the issue of NATO enlargement, I think the right thing is to bring some of these new democracies of Eastern Europe into the organization, and she's been a strong advocate of that as well. She's still a team player, and ultimately she will uphold the administration's policies. But she has been strong on the right side of things.

Gazette: What weaknesses might she have to overcome?

Dean Wolfowitz: If anything it's that she's so suspicious of Russia that she could have difficulty building up good relations with them. But I know that her professionalism will lead her to treating the U.S.-Russian relationship as a crucial one.

Gazette: Based on your extensive international experience, do you think she'll find resistance because she's a woman?

Dean Wolfowitz: I don't think it's a big issue. If she gets into any sort of trouble people might say, "What do you expect, she's a woman." But in fact, there are certain aspects of her personality that remind me of [former British prime minister Margaret] Thatcher: tough and firm in her positions. There's nothing wrong with that. No one's going to dismiss Madeleine as a housewife, as happened with [former Phillipine president Cory Aquino].

Madeleine has, I'm sure, found out there's a great advantage to being the world's leader. And I think if anything, frankly, it gives her an edge.

Gazette: In what way?

Dean Wolfowitz: Because it does make her a historic figure, and there are people who are going to want her to succeed and take extra pleasure when she does. I would not underestimate the number of people who get excited about the idea that a woman can do these sorts of jobs just as well as men. It may be a problem for some in the Middle East, but they've made their peace that they have to deal with Jewish Americans, black Americans. They may not like it but they've learned to live with it.

Gazette: What hot-spots await her when she takes office?

Dean Wolfowitz: There are a few: Iraq, Iran, the Middle East. Then there's Bosnia and the whole question of U.S. troops, what their role will be, how long they'll stay, what's their mandate going to be. Madeleine Albright has strong views that I think are the right views.

Gazette: What do you suspect she'll tell the president when she has the chance?

Dean Wolfowitz: Well, she's too polite to say, "You may have backed into this situation, Mr. President," but she might say, "No matter how we got into this, Mr. President, it's very important to make it succeed." I think she'll argue more strongly about taking a hard line against war criminals.

These demonstrations against Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade present an incredible opportunity for American foreign policy. Slowly, this administration is being dragged into a slightly stronger anti-Milosevic position. If Madeleine were really in charge--and hopefully this opportunity will still exist when she's confirmed--I think she'd say that supporting Democratic opponents in Yugoslavia is something we should do because we believe in the peace process in general. It'd be a terrible mistake if our solution meant propping him up and keeping him in power, especially against Democratic opponents. I hope that would be her instinct and her reaction.

Some people say Madeleine doesn't have a grand strategic vision, just instincts. But sometimes instincts are very important, and I don't think you can have a grand strategic vision about a complex situation like Bosnia.

Gazette: Is there a region that Ms. Albright is not as familiar with as, say, Europe?

Dean Wolfowitz: I'd have to say Asia, which is a very important part of the world in terms of long-term significance.

Gazette: Is China our biggest concern?

Dean Wolfowitz: One of the troubles is that people who don't know Asia well get mesmerized by China in isolation. But part of the effectiveness with dealing with China is demonstrating to them that the rest of Asia is with us, particularly Japan. So, it's important to take Asia as a whole.

You asked before if being a woman might hinder her effectiveness, and this region might well be a problem for her because she's very blunt and direct. They don't like this in general, and they like it less from a woman.

Gazette: What would you advise her on the eve of becoming secretary of state?

Dean Wolfowitz: I would tell her to get as much time with the president as you can, because you're going to need him to support your efforts. Of extraordinary importance are the people who work for you. Pay extreme attention to who they are and getting the right mix. The career diplomats at State are very demoralized after four years of Christopher and the budget cuts.

I would say figure out your priorities and try to stay focused on them, even though you inevitably will get drawn into the issues of the day. Have a list of what you want to get accomplished.

And I would say in that, because Asia will be so important-- and it's not one of your strengths--pay a lot of attention to how you staff up on Asia. Spend a lot of time on it, get out there early so that you send a message to that part of the world that you're ready to learn.

Go back to Previous Page

Go to Gazette Homepage