Madam Secretary: A Memoir, by Madeleine Albright with Bill Woodward, New York: Miramax Books, 562 pages
The Bubble of American Supremacy: Correcting the Misuse of American Power, by George Soros, New York: Public Affairs, 207 pages
Winning Modern Wars: Iraq, Terrorism, and the American Empire, by Wesley K. Clark, New York: Public Affairs, 218 pages
Of all the historical precedents that paved the way for President George W. Bush's war against Iraq, the most directly relevant was Bill Clinton's 1999 bombing of the rump Yugoslavia.
Like Gulf War II, the 78-day NATO air campaign in Kosovo was waged without the explicit authorization of the United Nations. (Of the two, the Iraq war had much more of a U.N. mandate, through Resolution 1441, which gave Iraq a "final opportunity" -- one it did not take -- to comply fully with all previous Security Council resolutions or else face "serious consequences.") Like Iraq, Yugoslavia was a sovereign country that was bombed into submission for essentially internal infractions. Both wars were expressions of American exasperation at European impotence in the face of dictatorial slaughter. Slobodan Milosevic, like Saddam Hussein, was described as a modern-day Adolf Hitler, eager to practice genocide against minority tribes while scrambling for horrible weapons to menace peaceful neighbors. Supporters of both wars frequently invoked the Munich Agreement of 1938, in which the West appeased Hitler rather than defend allied Czechoslovakia. Opponents of both wars warned that the target countries were colonially conceived multi-ethnic basket cases not conducive to postwar democratization. And the United States led the fight against both dictators despite urgent warnings from antiwar activists and multilateralism enthusiasts that each new bomb would lower the threshold for waging modern war. Kosovo made Iraq possible.
So it is of pressing interest to see what the architects of Kosovo, and its predecessor campaign in Bosnia, have to say about Bush's controversial war. As luck would have it, there are recent books from three key Yugoslavia warriors: Madeleine Albright, the Munich-haunted Czechoslovak émigré who was the most influential anti-Milosevic hawk in Clinton's cabinet; George Soros, the Munich-haunted Hungarian émigré and billionaire philanthropist who was among the earliest and most influential nongovernmental voices to urge military action against Serb nationalists; and Wesley Clark, the retired supreme allied commander of NATO who directed the Kosovo War. Since Clark was one of the top four Democratic candidates for president, and Soros has redirected his considerable energy and at least $15 million to effect "regime change" in the United States, their distinction between Kosovo and Iraq arguably looms as the defining foreign policy difference between Democrats and Republicans in 2004. And for those of us who supported Clinton's Wilsonianism but not Bush's, these books should help answer two questions we really ought to be asking ourselves: Is our support for America's activist role dependent on high moral principle, or is it tethered to partisan politics? And did we lower the bar for military intervention?
Albright's Madam Secretary, a surprisingly intimate and detail-rich memoir, does the best job of laying out the philosophical groundwork for why Clinton suddenly reversed three years of muddling policy by getting violent with Milosevic in 1995. After four years of watching horrendous, evocative images of civilian slaughter and concentration camps on the European continent, Clinton was, she says, finally persuaded by the insistent voices around him whose lives had been directly mangled by Munich.
"When I was still a little girl," Albright writes in the preface, "my family was driven from its home twice, first by Fascists, then by Communists. While in office I was able to fight against ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia, a country where I had lived as a child."
That kind of jarring juxtaposition of the personal and political runs throughout the book, making the story of Albright's U.S. government service look like a Czech wish fulfillment fantasy. It also illustrates how the administration's tilt toward Central Europe -- the White House was influenced also by Polish-born Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman John Shalikashvili and by the president's close relationship with Vaclav Havel -- focused attention on that part of the world, rather than on more genocidal hot spots such as Rwanda.
"In one of his books," Albright writes, her diplomat father Josef Korbel "quoted the Czechoslovak patriarch, Tomas Masaryk: 'Love of one's neighbor, of the nation, and of humanity imposes upon everyone the obligation to defend oneself and to resist evil constantly, at all times, and in all things.' For me that obligation was triggered by the campaigns of brutality launched by Serb President Slobodan Milosevic."
Albright, who was U.N. ambassador in Clinton's first term and secretary of state in the second, has spent a lifetime focused on the former East Bloc. She wrote her undergraduate honors thesis on Czechoslovakia's postwar period, enrolled in graduate Soviet studies under Polish émigré Zbigniew Brzezinski, wrote her dissertation on the Prague Spring, won a Woodrow Wilson fellowship to document the Solidarity uprising in Poland, and was hired for her first government job by son-of-Polish-immigrants Ed Muskie. She describes her relationship with Havel as "one of the most precious friendships of my life" (the two have vacationed together in Bermuda) and confesses "mixed feelings" at turning down his suggestion to succeed him as Czech president. Famously, she discovered soon after being sworn in as secretary of state that she was Jewish, and that three of her Czech grandparents had been killed in concentration camps. As she was fond of telling State Department reporters, "Munich is my mindset."
Problem is, Munich has been the mind-set of just about every other administration in recent history, from Bush II back to Harry Truman, regardless of analogical accuracy. The ghost of Neville Chamberlain has been exhumed to justify American interventions in Korea, Iraq (twice), a ragbag of Third World hellholes, and Vietnam. Albright's contemporaneous reaction to the Vietnam War neatly illustrates the limitations of letting Munich do the thinking for you: "For a long time it didn't occur to me to question [it]," she says.
Evil is never in short supply, regrettably, and choosing which Hitler to confront is a complicated business, especially when you have the most powerful military in the history of the planet and the rest of the world obsesses about your strength. Albright's approach to this dilemma was embodied in her famous comment to then-Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell in 1995: "What are you saving this superb military for, Colin, if we can't use it?" She consistently lobbied for the use of force -- threatening invasion of Haiti, bombing Milosevic to the negotiating table, levying and tightening sanctions all around the globe. When military adventures went awry, as in Somalia, the "firepower was insufficient." The failure to intervene in Rwanda? "My deepest regret." Did Albright worry much that an ever-more-activist America might encourage unhealthy dependency, sow global resentment, and create unholy temptation in the White House? Something close to the opposite: "For all the power of the United States," she laments at one point, "we were not able to dictate events."
A person so committed to combating dictators with American might -- without U.N. approval, if need be -- could be expected to support the ouster of Saddam Hussein, and so she does, albeit with caveats. In a book that takes pains to avoid criticizing any current or former secretaries of state, Albright admits to "many doubts about the Bush administration's diplomatic timing, tactics, rationales, and postwar plans in the months before and after the 2003 war."
So the great Albright/neocon split comes down to Bush's style more than his substance. This is largely the message communicated by George Soros, the wealthy hedge fund operator and philanthropist, who has in recent years become a surprisingly harsh critic of the same global capitalism and American-led democratization he had long championed (and profited from). "One of the reasons I was so opposed to the invasion of Iraq," Soros writes in his brisk little polemic, The Bubble of American Supremacy, "was that the action was liable to give nation building a bad name."