A former university professor, Capitol Hill and White House aide and ambassador to the United Nations, Albright was a Washington insider with core beliefs centered on anti-communism and an immigrant's appreciation for and love of democracy.
By the time Albright became Secretary of State the world had begun to change in a fundamental way. The Cold War was over, communism was in retreat, the Soviet Union no longer existed, Russia was not a superpower and, in fact, nowhere on the geopolitical horizon was there a true rival to America's political, military and economic dominance.
Thus, for the past eight years, the Clinton Administration has grappled with a reshuffled deck of foreign policy issues, a combination of old problems such as the Arab-Israeli conflict and Northern Ireland and some distinctly new ones, like NATO expansion and creating a new framework for working with Russia.
There were also challenges like the economic collapse in Asia, recognizing the world's need to fight HIV Aids, the spread of terrorism and narcotics trafficking and placing the rights of women and the problems of Africa on the world's foreign policy agenda.
If Albright's job as Secretary of State in President Clinton's second term has been made easier by the fact that America is, as she has so often put it, the world's "sole remaining superpower," it has also been made more difficult because the old, Cold War foreign policy templates used for the last fifty years did not fit new realities.
It was no longer a contest, Albright would tell audiences, "between the red and the red, white and blue."
The operative question is, how well have these problems been dealt with? Was a new foreign policy construct offered or has the approach been more workmanlike, with current problems simply "managed?"
Not surprisingly, the answer is a mixed bag.
Expanding the NATO alliance bringing the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland back into western Europe "where they belong," according to Albright was a major political achievement for the Clinton team, and an emotional one for Albright.
Similarly, leading the West's fight to push the Yugoslav military out of Kosovo with NATO's first ever offensive military action allowed hundreds of thousands of refugees to return to their homes.
Ultimately, with sanctions and other pressure from the West, Yugoslavia's leader, Slobodan Milosovic a man under international indictment for war crimes was ousted in democratic elections. It was clearly another highlight for Albright, "having the Balkans piece of the European puzzle fall into place," as she put it.
As U.S. policymakers worked their way through these problems, one eye was warily kept on Russia, a nation economically weak and politically volatile.
Albright and her colleagues were able to cobble together enough positives to prevent the Russians from upsetting the diplomatic apple cart during NATO expansion efforts and numerous Balkan crises.
In the end, the U.S. and its NATO allies found several roles for Russia to play in the Balkans, including having Russian troops serve alongside NATO's own forces in a peacekeeping role.
On other issues, however, the Russians were less than helpful. They pressed their brutal military campaign in Chechnya and continued their arms trade with Iran. Russia is one among several nations taking steps to reopen relations with Iraq.
Ten years after the Gulf War "victory" over Iraq, Albright told reporters last week that she was "really sorry that we had the issue of Iraq on our plate when we arrived, and I am equally sorry to say we are passing it on."
The mantra for four years has been that Saddam Hussein "has been contained" or "kpt in a box" by U.N. sanctions and that he cannot now threaten his neighbors.
But in the last year, an increasing number of America's allies appear to have grown weary of the U.S.-led sanctions regime. Russia, France, Germany, Jordan and several other countries have recently allowed flights to go into Baghdad. A delegation of U.S. citizens arrived on a recent flight from Jordan.
Iraq is a prime example of "managing" a problem, not solving it.
No foreign policy issue has received more attention from the Clinton administration than the Middle East peace process.
Albright's role was important but not dominant, since her boss decided to take on much of the actual negotiating himself during the past two years. And even with Mr. Clinton's legendary powers of persuasion, Israelis and Palestinians have not been able to reach the critical compromises necessary for a final agreement to end the conflict between them.
"An 'A' for effort," is in order here, says one senior diplomat, but, as Albright so often said of the search for peace, "we can't want it more than they do."
A surprising foreign policy uccess with North Korea came in Albright's last months in office.
Taking advantage of improving relations between South and North Korea, negotiations were held with North Korea, which led Albright to become the first U.S. Secretary of State to visit Pyongyang. There was not enough progress for a presidential trip, but Albright said she hopes the incoming administration will "pick up where we left off" to pursue the effort to "change the dynamic on the Korean peninsula."
America's first female Secretary of State also had other, less traditional foreign policy agendas: she elevated the issue of women's rights, especially in Third World countries; she pushed the growth of democracy and civil society in countries formerly ruled by communist regimes or military leaders; she visited Africa in each of her four years as secretary of state and worked with the president to raise Africa's profile on the foreign policy agenda.
So-called transnational issues such as terrorism and drugs also were highlighted. Albright traveled more than a million miles a new record as secretary of state, often in search of international support to recognize the administration's attempt, as she put it, "to adapt our foreign policy to the demands of a new era."
Whether her successor, Colin Powell, continues to emphasize these areas is an open question. In various farewell interviews and news conferences with reporters, Albright has talked about some of the advice she is giving him. Near the top of her list is not to "re-create enemies" in dealing with Russia and China.
"Foreign policy does not come in four year blocks there is a continuum," Albright notes, and referring to the problems faced in the administration of President-elect Bush's father, Albright says eight years is a long time.
"The issues are so different. I never thought I would be discussing genetically modified corn," she says, offering an example of new items on the agenda as she met with fellow foreign ministers in Europe.
One critic of Albright, a former foreign service officer, says she leaves the State Department "demoralized, under-funded and ineffective." Her defenders credit Albright with taking the foreign policy debate to the American public and working well with a Republican-dominated Congress.
No one is likely to rank Albright as the most innovative Secretary of State, nor as an outstanding strategic thinker. She had her successes and her failures just like each of her predecessors.
Albright worked very hard at what she called "the greatest job in the world" as she struggled to come to grips with the new realities of the post Cold War period.
By State Department Reporter Charles Wolfson
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