|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Interview on The PBS Newshour With Jim Lehrer
Washington, DC, June 10, 1999
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
MR. LEHRER: And to a newsmaker interview with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. I spoke with her earlier this evening from Cologne, Germany.
Madame Secretary, welcome.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Good to be with you, Jim.
MR. LEHRER: The Serb withdrawal has begun; the bombing is suspended. Did you ever doubt this day would come?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No, I didn't. I know that there were those who did doubt, but we did not because we knew that we were following the proper strategy. But it took a long time, I think, for people to understand what we were doing, and we were patient and persevered, and the President really stayed the course.
MR. LEHRER: Why were you personally so confident that Milosevic would eventually give in as he did?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that it was clear that NATO had overwhelming force, and that it was impossible, I think, for anyone to ultimately be able to survive this kind of constant bombing.
At the same time, I really think that he could see that his military was - some of them were defecting, there were riots in a variety of places, and some of the people really were revolting against it. But I don't want to sit here, Jim, and say that we all knew everything all the time, that it would work out. We are very glad that the Serbs have surrendered; it's very important. And now the refugees have to go home.
MR. LEHRER: Yes, as you said, it did take a long time. Longer than you planned or hoped for, did it not?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I'm not going to say - we never had a specific time frame for it. I remember you asked me would it be relative - would it be long or short; and I never thought it would be long, because in my mind I was thinking of a long, protracted war. I never thought it was going to be short -- I said "relatively short" - and I think in the overall scheme of things, that is what it has been.
MR. LEHRER: We had that conversation, in fact, on the night the bombing began, 78 days ago.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Exactly.
MR. LEHRER: But 78 days: Was that even in your frame of reference at the time - that it could last that long?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I don't think we actually thought in terms of a timeframe. We thought in terms of a job that had to be done. The sustained bombing, I think, really did work. There was widespread support through the Alliance for this. And I think that you never exactly know when the moment of cracking comes, but we're very glad that it has, and the Serbs have surrendered.
MR. LEHRER: President Clinton, in a statement this afternoon, spoke of your - and I'm quoting here - "your [Secretary Albright's] passionate commitment to this cause." Why did you feel so passionately about Kosovo?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Because it isn't just Kosovo, Jim; it is what was going on in the region. I have thought a lot about what we've seen in the 20th Century, and what it has done to all of us, whether we lived in Europe or in other parts of the world.
When we were fighting Hitler, it wasn't just Hitler; it was fighting against fascism. When we were fighting against Stalin, it wasn't just the cruelty of a totalitarian dictator like Stalin; it was against communism, that extinguished people's ability to be free. And when we're dealing with a now-indicted war criminal such as Milosevic, it isn't just him. It is struggling against a concept, which is that it is not appropriate, possible or permissible for one man to uncork ethnic nationalism as a weapon, and poison the atmosphere by exiling people from a place they live only because of who they are.
I think that by what we have done now, and by the victory that has been achieved by the NATO alliance, we have shown that we will not live in a world where this kind of crimes against humanity can be committed with impunity.
MR. LEHRER: What about the precedent that is set here, though, that this was an action taken by the international community against the sovereign state or actions that state was taking against its own people.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all -- I have said this before -- I think that Milosevic gave up the right to argue his sovereignty, since he has started four wars against his neighbors, and what he was doing with his own people. I think that it then becomes, really, something that the international community has to look at, when one leader has decided to just take on, unilaterally, a decision that he will exile a part of a community that lives within his borders.
So, the arguing for sovereignty doesn't cut anything with me, because he has undercut the sovereignty of those around him.
MR. LEHRER: Do you think this is going to cut a lot with history - this move by NATO?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that, obviously, each condition - each case has to be judged on its own merit. But I do think that we have shown that it's very important that, when there is a case of such huge humanitarian injustice, and there is an organization that is capable of undertaking an action like this, with the support of 19 democracies, that there is a case to be made; and that it has shown that when we are united, we can fight against an evil such as this spread of crimes against humanity.
MR. LEHRER: So it would not be a mistake, then, from your perspective, to see this as a precedent for the future?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I'm not going to predict that, because I think that every situation is different. I think that we have to look - you know, there are horrible situations in other parts of the world, and we have to look at what we are capable of doing, with whom, and how to best attack the problem.
I also think, Jim, a lot of people have said, why haven't you been in X country or Y country? Just because you can't be everywhere doesn't mean that you don't go anywhere. I think that we had the ability, through the existence of NATO - the most powerful alliance - in an area that is strategically important, against an action that was a crime against humanity. It doesn't always come in that particular package, but I think we have to look at each case individually, and decide what the appropriate method for dealing with it is. So I don't want to say that this is a precedent.
MR. LEHRER: Back to the more personal, I saw on the wires awhile ago that the German Foreign Minister said to you this afternoon, "They call this Madeleine's war and you won it." How did you reply to him?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I replied to him that we did it together; because I think that the Alliance has been fantastic, and especially the German Foreign Minister. We have talked practically every day because Germany has the presidency of the EU.
I have been totally, really very pleased by the way that the Alliance has worked together. I can't even tell you how many hundreds of phone calls I've had in the last 70-plus days, because we are all in it together, and it was everybody's war and it's everybody's victory.
MR. LEHRER: Does it bother you when people called it Madeleine's war?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, it never occurred to me that anybody would call a war after me, but it doesn't bother me at all that people know that I believed, as did President Clinton, that this was a situation that could not go on.
MR. LEHRER: Tell me what role you did play, because a lot has been written; and how informed was what has been written about how strong an advocate you were within not only the Alliance, but within the Clinton Administration for NATO action in Bosnia - I mean, in Kosovo - as well as Bosnia before?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, Jim, I think that we have been - and this is not just, kind of, "spinning" - we have been a very united team. We have had many, many discussions about Kosovo - Secretary Cohen and Hugh Shelton and Sandy Berger and I, Leon Fuerth, who works with the Vice President. We have met on a daily basis; we have talked this through; we have all presented our views. I think that we have all believed in what we were doing; and I think it's that team that also made it work.
MR. LEHRER: But you were pushing - were you pushing harder than anybody else?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I don't want to say that. I think that this has been an issue that I have thought about a long time, and I was very concerned, as were others, that we couldn't let this go on. This was where my position was early last year. I felt that we needed to take some action, and that started out a whole diplomatic process.
But we all agreed on it; we've all worked together; I think we all have the same understanding. The President is the one who has said, over and over again, that his mission has been to see a Europe that is whole, united and -- for the first time in its history -- able to function as a unit. He worked on this with the enlargement of NATO; he has been systematically working on this. So he is the pusher.
MR. LEHRER: There were many Americans who doubted that this effort would be successful - Members of Congress, some in the press and elsewhere. Did the lack of unified support back here hurt this effort in any way?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think a lot of people didn't understand it, especially in my discussions with my foreign colleagues; because they couldn't understand why, on one day, Congress voted three different ways - against, for and tied. I think it kind of confused people. But I would hope very much that the Congress would now look at what our military has accomplished; look at those refugees that are still in the camps; and understand that our victory actually will come when those refugees are at home, and that we need to continue with this effort; and also understand - and I'm going to tell them when I come home - the extent to which the Europeans are ready and able to pick up their share of this. They are the ones that are going to be carrying the bulk of the load on the reconstruction.
I think that this is a huge effort. I think Americans should be very, very proud of the leadership role that the United States has had in this.
MR. LEHRER: Did it discourage you at all that the so-called "foreign policy establishment" here in the United States was not overly supportive of particularly just the air war part of this?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that there have certainly been an awful lot of armchair strategists, but I've been very interested - even in the last 24 hours - about some of them -Mr. Keegan, for instance, is a leading military expert who just flat-out came out and said that he was wrong. I think that takes a lot of courage, and I would hope that some of the others might do the same thing.
MR. LEHRER: You mentioned the Congress. Was the vote of the House of Representatives, or the failure of the House to support the air war -- was that a serious blow when that happened?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that it would have been better if they had supported everything that we had done. But, you know, we are a democratic system. What has been so interesting for me, Jim, is that here I have been dealing with 18 other democracies. A lot of them are parliamentary democracies, which means that a lot of the foreign ministers are elected officials. Many of the countries have coalition governments, or even cohabitation. So they have very, very complicated political situations. So the stories that we would exchange as the foreign ministers talked was, you know, how each country's public opinion or legislature was acting. It really was an exercise in democracy to see 19 democracies united for over 70 days, on behalf of a mission which was the basis of democracy, which is that people ought to be allowed to live where they want to, be whatever religion they want to be, and live in the place that they were born in, if that's what they want to do.
MR. LEHRER: Was there no moment in these last 70-some days when you didn't wake up in the middle of the night and say, oh my goodness, could I be wrong?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I woke up in the middle of the night every night, thinking about what we could be doing better, knowing that we were doing - that the cause was right, but that there were many things that we could be doing - talking to more people, persuading more people, working harder. Yes, I woke up in the middle of every single night, wishing that we could have done one more thing on any given day. But I wake up every night anyway.
MR. LEHRER: But you didn't wake up and doubt the course, doubt the commitment, doubt the --
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I did not doubt the course; I really did not. And I didn't because, one, I truly believe in this; and two, there are an awful lot of people that didn't doubt it with me, starting with the President of the United States, and a lot of members of Congress who would call up and say, 'atta girl, stay with it, you're doing the right thing.
Then, Jim, what was so interesting is that I do travel around the United States, and there were a lot of people out there who said this was the right thing to do. They agreed with what we were doing. It sure felt good today in Cologne when I got a nice round of applause on the street.
MR. LEHRER: Have you ever had a better day as Secretary of State than today?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Pretty good day; it's hard to say. But as you know from having talked to me so much, it is my greatest honor to be Secretary of State of the United States. This has been a particularly good day, and it's an honor to represent the military of the United States, too, that have done such a fantastic job.
MR. LEHRER: Madame Secretary, thank you very much.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you.
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