Madeleine Albright

United States Secretary of State from 1997 to 2001

Madeleine Jana Korbel Albright (born Marie Jana Korbelová; May 15, 1937March 23, 2022) was an American politician and diplomat who served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and the 64th United States Secretary of State from 1997 to 2001 under President Bill Clinton. She was the first female secretary of state in U.S. history.

I'm for democracy, but imposing democracy is an oxymoron. People have to choose democracy, and it has to come up from below.




  • It is the threat of the use of force [against Iraq] and our line-up there that is going to put force behind the diplomacy. But if we have to use force, it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future, and we see the danger here to all of us.
    • Stated on NBC's Today Show (February 19, 1998)


  • My deepest regret from my years in public service is the failure of the United States and the international community to act sooner to halt these crimes.
  • Little effort was made to explain Saddam's culpability, his misuse of Iraqi resources, or the fact that we were not embargoing medicine or food. I was exasperated that our TV was showing what amounted to Iraqi propaganda...I must have been crazy; I should have answered the question by reframing it and pointing out the inherent flaws in the premise behind it. Saddam Hussein could have prevented any child from suffering simply by meeting his obligations. Instead, I said the following: 'I think this is a very hard choice, but the price, we think, the price is worth it.' As soon as I had spoken, I wished for the power to freeze time and take back those words. My reply had been a terrible mistake, hasty, clumsy, and wrong. Nothing matters more than the lives of innocent people. I had fallen into a trap and said something that I simply did not mean. That is no one's fault but my own.
    • Comment on Stahl interview in Madam Secretary (2003), pp. 274-275
  • I was taught to strive not because there were any guarantees of success but because the act of striving is in itself the only way to keep faith with life
    • On her upbringing, Madam Secretary (2003), p. 512
  • Mahmoud Abbas is a puppet.
    • (BBC HARDTALK 17-MAY-2004) uncut version.
  • I never should have made it. It was stupid.
    • Comment on Stahl interview, BBC Radio 4 Today Programme (October 19, 2005)
  • What really troubles me is that democracy is getting a bad name because it is identified with imposition and occupation. I'm for democracy, but imposing democracy is an oxymoron. People have to choose democracy, and it has to come up from below.
    • When asked what she considered the greatest mistake of the George W. Bush administration, interview with Deborah Solomon, New York Times (April 23, 2006)
  • There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women.
    • Keynote speech at "Celebrating Inspiration" luncheon with the WNBA's All-Decade Team, quoted in Mechelle Voepel, ESPN (July 13, 2006)
  • I'm not a person who thinks the world would be entirely different if it was run by women. If you think that, you've forgotten what high school was like.
    • Quoted in Time (July 18, 2006)
  • Armageddon is not a foreign policy.
    • Speech at Harvard forum (April 11, 2007)
  • When we're trying to solve difficult national issues its sometimes necessary to talk to adversaries as well as friends. Historians have a word for this: diplomacy.
    • Speech at Harvard forum (April 11, 2007)
  • There is a significant moral difference between a person who commits a violent crime and a person who tries to cross a border illegally in order to put food on the family table. Such migrants may violate our laws against illicit entry, but if that's all they do then they are trespassers, not criminals. They deserve to have their dignity respected.
    • On illegal migrants to the United States from Mexico and Central America, in Memo to the President Elect: How We Can Restore America's Reputation and Leadership (2008), p. 225
  • I'm a critic. I think the administration has really undermined America's power and reputation and that Iraq may go down in history as the greatest disaster in American foreign policy, which means that I think it's worse than Vietnam in its unintended consequences and for our reputation. This president, because his administration is imposing democracy, which is an oxymoron, has, I think, hurt the concept. It is not just that the administration has been unilateral but that it has been unidimensional. It has paid attention primarily to one part of the world, without enough attention being paid to other parts.
    • When asked what the George W. Bush administration's legacy in foreign affairs would be, interview with Thomas Omestad, U.S. News & World Report (January 2, 2008)
  • Get out, you disgusting Serbs!



Putin Is Making a Historic Mistake (2022)

In early 2000, I became the first senior U.S. official to meet with Vladimir Putin in his new capacity as acting president of Russia. ... I have been reminded in recent months of that nearly three-hour session with Mr. Putin as he has massed troops on the border with neighboring Ukraine.
Opinion Guest Essay: "Putin Is Making a Historic Mistake", The New York Times (23 February 2022)
Should he invade, it will be a historic error. ... Instead of paving Russia’s path to greatness, invading Ukraine would ensure Mr. Putin’s infamy ...
Ukraine is entitled to its sovereignty, no matter who its neighbors happen to be.
  • In early 2000, I became the first senior U.S. official to meet with Vladimir Putin in his new capacity as acting president of Russia. We in the Clinton administration did not know much about him at the time — just that he had started his career in the K.G.B. I hoped the meeting would help me take the measure of the man and assess what his sudden elevation might mean for U.S.-Russia relations, which had deteriorated amid the war in Chechnya. Sitting across a small table from him in the Kremlin, I was immediately struck by the contrast between Mr. Putin and his bombastic predecessor, Boris Yeltsin.
    Whereas Mr. Yeltsin had cajoled, blustered and flattered, Mr. Putin spoke unemotionally and without notes about his determination to resurrect Russia’s economy and quash Chechen rebels. Flying home, I recorded my impressions. “Putin is small and pale,” I wrote, “so cold as to be almost reptilian.” He claimed to understand why the Berlin Wall had to fall but had not expected the whole Soviet Union to collapse. “Putin is embarrassed by what happened to his country and determined to restore its greatness.”
  • I have been reminded in recent months of that nearly three-hour session with Mr. Putin as he has massed troops on the border with neighboring Ukraine. After calling Ukrainian statehood a fiction in a bizarre televised address, he issued a decree recognizing the independence of two separatist-held regions in Ukraine and sending troops there.
    Mr. Putin’s revisionist and absurd assertion that Ukraine was “entirely created by Russia” and effectively robbed from the Russian empire is fully in keeping with his warped worldview. Most disturbing to me: It was his attempt to establish the pretext for a full-scale invasion.
    Should he invade, it will be a historic error.
  • In the 20-odd years since we met, Mr. Putin has charted his course by ditching democratic development for Stalin’s playbook. He has collected political and economic power for himself — co-opting or crushing potential competition — while pushing to re-establish a sphere of Russian dominance through parts of the former Soviet Union. Like other authoritarians, he equates his own well-being with that of the nation and opposition with treason. He is sure that Americans mirror both his cynicism and his lust for power and that in a world where everyone lies, he is under no obligation to tell the truth. Because he believes that the United States dominates its own region by force, he thinks Russia has the same right.
  • Instead of paving Russia’s path to greatness, invading Ukraine would ensure Mr. Putin’s infamy by leaving his country diplomatically isolated, economically crippled and strategically vulnerable in the face of a stronger, more united Western alliance.
  • Mr. Putin’s actions have triggered massive sanctions, with more to come if he launches a full-scale assault and attempts to seize the entire country. These would devastate not just his country’s economy but also his tight circle of corrupt cronies — who in turn could challenge his leadership. What is sure to be a bloody and catastrophic war will drain Russian resources and cost Russian lives — while creating an urgent incentive for Europe to slash its dangerous reliance on Russian energy. ... Such an act of aggression would almost certainly drive NATO to significantly reinforce its eastern flank and to consider permanently stationing forces in the Baltic States, Poland and Romania. ... And it would generate fierce Ukrainian armed resistance, with strong support from the West.
  • Although Mr. Putin will, in my experience, never admit to making a mistake, he has shown that he can be both patient and pragmatic. He also is surely conscious that the current confrontation has left him even more dependent on China; he knows that Russia cannot prosper without some ties to the West.
  • Mr. Putin must know that a second Cold War would not necessarily go well for Russia — even with its nuclear weapons. Strong U.S. allies can be found on nearly every continent. Mr. Putin’s friends, meanwhile, include the likes of Bashar al-Assad, Alexander Lukashenko and Kim Jong-un.
    If Mr. Putin feels backed into a corner, he has only himself to blame. As Mr. Biden has noted, the United States has no desire to destabilize or deprive Russia of its legitimate aspirations. That’s why the administration and its allies have offered to engage in talks with Moscow on an open-ended range of security issues. But America must insist that Russia act in accordance with international standards applicable to all nations.
  • Ukraine is entitled to its sovereignty, no matter who its neighbors happen to be. In the modern era, great countries accept that, and so must Mr. Putin. That is the message undergirding recent Western diplomacy. It defines the difference between a world governed by the rule of law and one answerable to no rules at all.

Quotes about Albright

  • Consider Madeleine Albright. The U.N. imposed draconian sanctions on Iraq, pushed by the U.S. and Britain after it invaded Kuwait. Before that, in 1989 Iraq was reported to have “one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world, as well as universal, free healthcare and education.” (“Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq,”, 1-15-05) Iraq’s remarkable health was due to President Saddam Hussein nationalizing the country’s vast oil resources, and investing certain of its revenue in the Iraqi people. This policy did not set well with Western oil corporations, which saw Iraq’s bountiful oil reserves as a gold mine to be controlled and tapped. The sanctions prevented Iraq from importing supplies of food and medicine and other necessities. A survey by two scientists, Drs. Mary Smith Fawzi and Sarah Zaidi, found that “as many as 576,000 Iraqi children may have died since the end of the Persian Gulf war because of economic sanctions imposed by the Security Council.” (“Iraqi Sanctions, Kill Children, U.N. Reports,” By Barbara Crossette, The New York Times, Dec. 1, 1995)
    • America’s Respectable War Criminals, William Alberts , CounterPunch, 2019
  • Shortly after the end of the Cold War, virtually the entire American foreign-policy establishment succumbed to a monumentally self-destructive ideological fever. Call it INS.... Indispensable Nation Syndrome, along with the militarism that it’s spawned in this century... Back in 1998, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright not only identified INS, but also captured its essence. Appearing on national TV, she famously declared, “If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future.” Now, allow me to be blunt: this is simply not true. It’s malarkey, hogwash, bunkum, and baloney.,, The United States does not see further into the future than Ireland, Indonesia, or any other country, regardless of how ancient or freshly minted it may be.,, To charge Albright with lying, however, somehow rates as bad form, impolite, even rude...To be fair, Albright herself is not solely or even mainly responsible for the havoc that INS has caused. While the former secretary of state promoted the syndrome in notably expansive language, the substance of her remark was anything but novel. She was merely reiterating what, in Washington, still passes for a self-evident truism: America must lead... we make the rules.
    • Belief in America as the "Indispensible Nation" Is Bullshit—And Always Has Been, by Andrew Bacevich, TomDispatch, August 5, 2021
  • There was now a bipartisan consensus on war, and it extended into the next conflict, Iraq. Indeed the predicate for that war had been laid by the previous administration, which hyped the threats of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction program. “No one has done what Saddam Hussein has done, or is thinking of doing,” Clinton’s secretary of state Madeleine Albright told the audience at a town hall meeting at Ohio State University in 1998. “He is producing weapons of mass destruction, and he is qualitatively and quantitatively different from other dictators.” When some in the room expressed skepticism, Albright attacked their character. “I’m really surprised that people feel they need to defend the rights of Saddam Hussein,” she said. At least one person in the crowd wasn’t intimidated. “You’re not answering my question, Madame Albright,” he yelled. Albright’s response: “As a former university professor, I suggest, sir, that you study carefully what American foreign policy is. Every one of the violations has been pointed out on what is not right, and I would be happy to spend fifty minutes with you after the forum to explain it.” She never did. Nor did Albright explain how exactly Saddam was “qualitatively and quantitatively” different from other strongmen around the world. She didn’t need to. Everyone back in Washington already agreed with her.
    • Tucker Carlson, Ship of Fools: How a Selfish Ruling Class Is Bringing America to the Brink of Revolution (2018)
  • I really am tired of all the Clinton Democrats running around getting all-sanctimonious over Iraq. It was them who killed 1.5 to 2.2 million Iraqis through sanctions. Sanctions that Madeline Albright, their illustrious Secretary of State, when confronted with the fact of 500,000 dead Iraqi children, said it was a price she was willing to pay.
  • About half a million Iraqi children have died as a result of the sanctions. Of them, Madeleine Albright, then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, famously said, "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price-we think the price is worth it." "Moral equivalence" was the term that was used to denounce those who criticized the war on Afghanistan. Madeleine Albright cannot be accused of moral equivalence. What she said was just straightforward algebra.
  • Maybe it wasn't such a great idea for Hillary Clinton to invite Madeleine Albright to campaign for her in New Hampshire. During a campaign event in Concord on Saturday, the former Secretary of State declared: "Young women have to support Hillary Clinton. The story is not over!...They’re going to want to push us back," she continued. "It’s not done and you have to help. Hillary Clinton will always be there for you. And just remember, there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other." And while it was not the first time Albright muttered that phrase, the backlash was swift and severe. Pointing to Albright's notorious defense of the 1990 sanctions on Iraq, during which she said that the death of 500,000 Iraqi children was "worth it," observers speculated about someone else who may end up in that "special place."
    • Rebuke Swift After Albright Declares: 'Special Place in Hell' for Women Who Don't Vote Clinton, by Lauren McCauley, Common Dreams, February 7, 2016


  • Hugh, I know I shouldn't even be asking you this, but what we really need in order to go in and take out Saddam is a precipitous event—something that would make us look good in the eyes of the world.  Could you have one of our U-2s fly low enough—and slow enough—so as to guarantee that Saddam could shoot it down?
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